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The recruitment sector tends to attract people that end up falling into two camps, those that join the band of recruiters and then leave pretty quickly and those that are smitten and stay for life. I’m coming up to my silver watch time and can look back on my recruitment career as both recruiter and recruitment trainer with what feels like a lifetime of memories and crucially learnings. If I had known then what I know now (as the famous phrase goes) I would certainly have got there quicker as an accomplished recruiter, but I wouldn’t change all the highs the lows, the successes, the failures and everything inbetween. It’s been character forming at the very least!

I’m often asked “What makes a great recruiter” and “What does it take to have a prosperous recruitment career” and several variations on that theme. So with those questions ringing in my ears here are my top 10 ways to get ahead in recruitment.

Get yourself a mentor. Having access to the experience and know-how of someone who already has a great recruitment career will escalate your success. It isn’t just about how a good mentor can coach, guide and look out for you, a mentor can stop you making mistakes that could be costly. And not just for your today but also to your tomorrows. It’s a bit like learning how to walk a tightrope with a safety net underneath you. You get to experience walking on the edge but if you fall there is no lasting damage done and they talk you through what went wrong and persude you to go again.

Pick a type of recruitment that suits your skills and personality. I’ve seen many recruiters really struggle running a temp desk and yet flourish when they switch to perms and vice versa. Headhunting isn’t for everyone and nor is junior or indeed senior end recruitment. If you get bored easily, love a challenge and need quick wins to keep your morale up and keep you interested in the task then do temp recruitment. If you prefer having all your ducks in a row and can play a strategic waiting game then get into the executive search methodology. When you find the type of recruitment that suits you it would be a shame to look back on too much time spent delivering an average performance in a different arena.

Be a specialist not a generalist. Much better to know a lot about a little rather than a little about a lot. Focussing on just one or two areas of specialism means your network in that area will grow much faster. Let’s say you talk to ten new candidates and five potential clients a day in relation to for example quantity surveying. That’s 3600 people all interested in the same subject and all knowing other people to help you expand your network. If you spread yourself across ten different job functions that’s only 360 people in each. Which one do you think will get you ahead in recruitment and give you a rewarding recruitment career quicker?

Don’t work with negative people. They almost literally suck the enthusiasm out of you and drain your confidence. What’s even worse is the know all negative recruiter whose results are average at best. Move desk to get away from them. If they are your boss move company. You need to be in an environment where failure is welcomed as a step along the way to success. Negative people seem to tell you in advance why something won’t work. The reason it doesn’t work (for them) is they have already programmed themselves to get a negative outcome. “I don’t suppose you have any vacancies?” and “You don’t know any good quantity surveyors, do you?” are styles of questions that prompt a negative outcome. “Your company is doing well. What vacancies do you have right now?” and “So who would you say are the best quantity surveyors you know?” aren’t just better questions. They come out of the mouths of positive people. And by the way don’t hang out with negative people outside of work either. They will be telling you that you picked the wrong career, that you could do much better than be a recruiter, what was the point of you getting a degree and get jealous and resentful when you are being successful.

Only compare apples with apples. Comparing your results after three months in recruitment with that of a colleague who has been in recruitment three years is apples versus oranges. Even worse throw different markets into the mix as well and that’s comparing New Year with New York. It would be better to compare your own results in month four versus your results in month three and so on. So use key performance indicators (KPI’s) to better your performance and focus on what is working and change or stop what isn’t. Quarterly take stock and make a list with just four headings, Stop, Start, More, Less. And ask yourself based on the previous period’s results what you should stop doing, start doing, do more of and do less of.

Get off the banter bus. Or at least get off it after one stop and don’t stay on for the whole journey. Having a good friendly atmosphere is one thing. Having an environment where fun gets in the way of work isn’t good. One of the main reasons recruiters stay late, come in early and take work home is because they spend too much time on the banter bus or even worse being the bus driver or bus conductor. One hour a day spent talking about irrelevant topics with 240 working days a year equates to 240 hours a year. And with salaried hours of 37.5 that’s more than 6 weeks! It will be mighty difficult to get ahead in your recruitment career working sensible hours when jumping aboard the banter bus more often than you should. Have a quick chat, have a laugh and get back to work! And by the way putting in some extra hours (while maintaining a healthy lifestyle) will escalate your recruitment career faster. World class no matter the job or skill comes down to three things. A bit of natural talent, a bit of luck and 10,000 hours. If you want to know more about that then consider reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_(book) Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.

Focus on your return on investment (ROI) when prioritising which jobs to work or which vacancies to pitch for and indeed which candidates to spend time on. ROI in recruitment is straightforward calculation: Take the size of the fee, divide it by the numbers of hours it will take to complete the assignment and factor in your chance of success. So lets say your fee for a perm placement is £5000 and it will take you 50 hours from start to finish then you will be working at an hourly rate of £100. If you have the vacancy on a retainer then your ROI is £100/hr. If you have it instead on a contingent and exclusive basis you have to factor in the client changing the brief, or hiring internally or getting a direct applicant. So with the client in ‘competition’ to fill it you have a one in two chance of success so your ROI is potentially now £50 an hour. With the law of averages then you will need two vacancies and work 100 hours to make £5000. Now let’s say you are up against three other recruiters (and the client). You now have a one in five chance of success and are working for £20 per hour. In a similar way with candidates it is about the likely fee divided by the hours it will take to get them a job and then it’s down to how many other jobs they have applied for themselves or how many other recruiters have their CV. Always keep your eye on your ROI.

If in permanent recruitment, sell on methodology not salary. Most recruiters charge a percentage of the successful candidates salary and increase the percentage through three or four salary bands, eg 10% for a salary up to £19,999, 12.5% between £20,000 and £39,999 and so on. One challenge when doing that is justifying the increase in your fee when supplying two candidates for the same job when one candidate is on band two and the other on band three. Why would a client want to pay you significantly more for a piece of work simply because they choose a higher paid candidate? The other major flaw with this way of working is in your terms of business (TOB’s) you are stating very clearly how low you will go, and that before the client try’s to negotiate. So your top percentage might be 20% and your lowest 10%. You will need to be world class to hang on and get 20% especially as that’s 20% of a chunky salary. And why would you only charge 10% for a low salary? Is the work easier? Can you find committed low level candidates easier? Its actually easier to identify the right people at a senior level, easier to have a mature conversation and less likely they will have multiple applications for other jobs. So in reality you are trying to charge £10k for a £50k role at 20% and £1500 for a £15k salary at 10% with candidate identification, approach and control being easier for your £10k. So charge according to the methodology you use. Your lowest fee for database/Cv job board type of work. A higher fee when partnering the client in an advertisement led recruitment campaign and your highest fee when headhunting. That way you can justify your fee by way of time, effort and expertise needed.

Concentrate on getting the candidate experience spot on. Every time. Without candidates you have no business. With candidates, you don’t necessarily need a vacancy. Put yourself in the candidates shoes and work out what you would want from a recruiter as a minimum and that’s the bar you should never go below. Then work out what it takes to be world class at every stage and step along the candidate process, not just when filling a booking or a vacancy but for the life time engagement that you could potentially have. Get this part right and you will get ahead of 80% of your competition by a country mile. In todays world you don’t have to be good to get a positive mention online. You have to be exceptional. You only have to be average to get a negative review. Whatever market you are in it’s a small world. The temp who complains to her colleagues that your payment was late. The ‘walk in’ who was kept waiting and was seen in the end by an administrator because you were busy. The mid level candidate who waited a week to hear they didn’t get the job. Learn quickly how to become a “disappointment manager” and you’ve cracked it.

Put process before personality. Too many recruiters are erratic and inconsistent and rely on their sparkling wit and repartee to pull a few rabbits out of the hat every month. Only they often miss a month or two. A dogged, determined recruiter that follows process consistently will deliver consistently. The maverick marmite consultant will burn bridges along the way. Even if your process isn’t quite there yet, consistency will highlight the areas within it that aren’t quite right or are missing so you can improve and replicate. When you put your personality on top of the solid foundations you are building, candidates and clients learn what to expect from you, know what they are getting and keep coming back for more. Instigate an IVO policy. Innovate – validate – orchestrate. Innovate, look to better at every opportunity a way of doing something or words you use. Then validate if it’s better than the current way by testing it enough times to make an informed decision. Then if it is orchestrate it. And make sure that’s the way you do it every time from now on. Constantly look to improve by way of IVO.

That’s it. That’s my top ten ways to get ahead in recruitment. There’s loads more I could write about and may well do just that in a future article or blog. In the meantime be lucky.