30 Years Later

My route into recruitment was pretty typical. I started with a high street chain who trained me in the basics through a series of three one week courses. Like conscripts, we were given basic instruction and told to get on with it, as I recall there were: How to Interview, How to Make Lots of Calls I and How to Make Lots of Calls II. Others will no doubt remind me of the correct titles in due course.

I found out quite early on that my three weeks of scripted training was about three weeks more than anyone else was getting, especially in the area of cold calling. The standing gag was that we were the agency that trained everyone else’s staff. Eventually, the training team turned the joke into reality by leaving to set up a new company to train everyone else’s staff.

Someone at some point had worked out that if you could get lots of people on the phone saying the same thing every day to lots of people then, by the law of averages, you would make a bunch of placements. My first employer in the trade might have struggled in the area of issuing non-collapsing furniture in offices with carpets that you didn’t stick to, but it excelled in showing lots of people the basics of what to do in recruitment. If you survived a year or so and made some placements, you went on a management course and got a branch. Mine was Aberdeen – sorry Aberdeen.

Of course, it was all a long time ago. I went through a bunch of adventures in the ’80s and ’90s. I like to think of them as movies, like the Marvel series but with poorer suits and worse hair: Headhunting 101, Headhunting 102 – the Oil Industry, Back to the High Street (Rated 18), IT Contracting, IT Contracting – the Millennium Bug and finally Headhunting and Other People’s Delusions.

My early conditioning from the How to Make Lots of Calls era was reinforced regularly during the 14 years I worked for other people. If I was living in a movie, it was Glengarry Glenross.

In 2001 I started the ongoing arthouse production that is Snedden Campbell.

Last year we launched a new website, and I started on the discipline of a monthly blog. One of the first pieces I wrote was how headhunting is like doing a complicated jigsaw and not having the box lid with the picture of what you’re doing on it.

Reading it back again plus some of my other early pieces, I’m struck now that I assumed that everyone knew what I was talking about. A few did. The analytics show that the article scored well amongst the small group of search and other consultants that I spar with daily and who all follow each other on social media. It also went down well with some clients who had done some challenging recruiting in their time.

What it didn’t play so well to was the broader market I was pitching it to. I think that I’m getting my head around why this is the case.

I’ve mentioned this before. I attended a recruiting trade show about 18 months ago in Birmingham. It was the first trade event that I’d been to in 20 years, and I allocated a day and a half to it and signed up for a bunch of presentations.

The presentations were almost uniformly crap. It was the same, “make lots of calls and here’s how” message that had been thrashed into me in three weeks in 1987, just with PowerPoint. What struck me was that not only were some of the worst ones full to bursting but the audience was taking pictures of the presentation as if it was holy writ inscribed by fire on tablets of stone.

In recruitment it seems, the default environment is still management by motivational coach. The snake oil merchants in our trade do very well because, on the evidence of that event in Birmingham, we haven’t moved far at all in over thirty years. Tell a recruitment business owner that you can boost their billings 47% by making their troops make lots more calls and they’ll ask where to sign. It follows that the lot of most recruiters is still to be measured by daily activity and not long term objectives that require them to think for more than five minutes.

That weak and, to my eye at any rate, clownish buffoons can make a great deal of money telling a broad audience of recruiters what to do and be stoutly defended in turn by cultish acolytes goes to the nub of the issue.

A friend of mine Darren Ledger often makes the point that to be taken seriously as a trade we have to act seriously. In my opinion, many of us are holding the whole industry back by showing our clients and potential clients that we’re suckers for a motivational quote and not much more.

Posted on: 6th May 2019 by Ivor Campbell

Into his fourth decade of search Ivor has a voice with stories to tell, observations to make and the odd picture to share. Mostly related to the day job.

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