“Those who are unaware of history are destined to repeat it.”
When I started in the IT recruitment industry back in the early 1980’s, for a company called Myriad Appointments, it was a very different world. Before you could get a ‘job-on’ you had to sell the concept of using an agency to clients rather than them doing it for themselves.
All communication was via the phone or post. Finding and sourcing good candidates was key and running client branded advertising was the best way to attract them. This was how I made my money, selling multiple campaigns to Clerical Medical, British Aerospace, GEC, Plessey, Imperial Tobacco and many more. Happy days!
Over a coffee the other week I was asked by some young delegates on the course I was running ‘What have been the biggest changes in recruitment’. After a 30-minute discussion it occurred that this perspective might be useful to others.
So in chronological order:
Mid 1980s – The Facsimile Machine: Machines to transmit messages had been around in the form of ‘telex’ and ‘telegram’ machines for years but the ability to photocopy a candidates CV or resume and send it to a client rather than sending it ‘snail mail’, changed how we in the industry sold our candidates and contractors.
It created urgency, and the ability to close clients with more immediacy. It changed how we canvassed, arranged interviews and confirmed interviews. It also changed how IT contractors were placed too.
Naturally as sales people we saw the advantages of a fax machine immediately and tried to convince our MD it would change our business forever and we’d sell more candidates. We did initially but like all good process changes our competitors caught up quickly.
End 1980s-91 Mobile Phones – Again these had been around for years and I received my first mobile back in 1989 when I began establishing a new office in the North of England. It was a second hand one with the phone the size of a brick and a battery pack the size of four tins of baked beans. For others the big revolution came in the early 1990s with (2G) technology.
It gave us as consultants better access to candidates and clients especially during the day so interviews could be arranged during office hours rather than in the evenings or via cryptic calls to their work numbers.
We also could be contacted away from the office rather than using telephone boxes. Once again it increased speed of communication and theoretically made us more efficient. Like the fax machine the competitive advantage disappeared.
1990 Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) – These came in around the end of the 1980s but really in earnest in the early 90s. IBMs Talent was one I used. They didn’t really change how we canvassed clients but enabled us to find and source candidates much quicker. We could do ‘key word’ searches on CVs and find people faster. ‘Buzzword’ Matching entered our jargon. Candidates and recruitment consultants alike filled their CVs with ‘Buzzwords’.
Candidates sadly learnt the hard way that ‘Not Interested in jobs in Bristol’ on a CV or covering letter resulted in hundreds of calls about ‘jobs in Bristol’.
Clients discovered through their own experience that just because an interviewees had ‘COBOL, CICS and DB2’ on their CV 15 times didn’t make them good at the role.
Sadly recruitment consultants buzzword matching and just sending anyone, became a common place. Prior to this as agents we could do this but we had to read the CV in the first place and work harder to find people so they tended to submit only the best. Measuring KPIs started to come in aggressively to counter act this.
These tools enabled uneducated agencies to ‘blitz’ their clients like a second world war AK-AK Gun with any CV that looked remotely like the spec.
Once again over time as everyone acquired these systems the advantage you had sourcing candidates disappeared though interestingly enough I still see companies with better ATS systems than others retaining that advantage.
1993 Electronic Mail – Again like the Fax machine before it this was seen as a way of revolutionizing the industry. The appearance of the CVs the client received was better. We could log and trace what we’d sent. Theoretically they weren’t lost. We could also prove we sent our CV before the other agencies and therefore claim the fee in disputes. All great stuff and once again we promised our directors we’d generate more fees when we had one and as early adopters we did but only whilst the advantage lasted.
When email was connected to an agencies ATS system the indiscriminate emailing of CVs became a reality on a scale clients could not imagine. SPAM arrived in the client’s inbox in bucket loads. Quantity replaced quality as some clients desperate to find certain skills rewarded these indiscriminate agents with fees. So they continued to do it despite the protests of the majority of customers.
1994 Deregulation and Contracting Out Act – Prior to this date there were barriers to entry into the recruitment industry. You had to demonstrate you were a fit and proper person, apply and be granted a licence, which took some days if not weeks. You were inspected by HMI regularly and there were supposedly rigorous controls. The Conservative Government abolished licences and except for the occasional court cases recruitment agencies were relatively unregulated.
Some may say this was not a good thing but it massively improved our economies ability to recycle unemployed workers.
My three to fours working in mainland Europe at the turn of the millennium taught me that and to this day the relatively deregulated UK Recruitment Industry is one of the primary reasons why our percentage unemployment levels are much lower than our European neighbours. Naturally Social Security Benefit levels provide the ‘stick’ to encourage people to accept work that is offered but that’s another debate.
with no barriers to entry agencies could set themselves up quickly. With our ATS’s we could identify candidates and with email secure an up to date CV and send it to a client rapidly. Mobile phones meant candidates and clients were accessible quicker. These were the boom years and recruitment became a major industry. Agencies sprung up everywhere and for every niche imaginable.
Late 1990’s Websites and 1999 Job boards – Tim Berners-Lee’s Internet Revolution of the 90s created the need for businesses to have their own presence on the web, ‘websites’ were born. It was seen as the future and the ‘Dotcom Boom’ came along bringing with it all sorts of businesses.
The answer to every recruiter’s prayers was ‘the job board’, Monster, Stepstone and Jobserve, all arrived and quickly captured the imagination of candidates and agents alike and took hold. Recruitment in the off-line press started to decline.
In 2000 a VNU Computing sales director told me Job Boards were not here to stay and they had no intention of entering the market. (I think his Dad rejected the Beatles as an average bunch of boys from Liverpool!)
Now all lazy recruitment agents had to do was find a job, post it on Jobserve, go home, come back in the morning and with the minimal of CV sifts, email the resulting response to their clients! More SPAM.
Until the recession of 2008 the average recruitment consultant lost the ability to ‘sell’ a complaint most recruitment directors I meet lament.
Whilst none of us wish to return to the ‘old days’ it did demand certain basic intercommunication skills be learnt in order for consultants to succeed.
Each of these changes has affected the industry we are all apart of. All revolutionised what we do and how we do it and few would dispute their impact.
In all cases the early adopters gained a competitive advantage and in some cases have gone on to be hugely successful, whilst those that were slow to adapt in most cases no longer exist. There is a lesson in there.
So what next?
For me there is another revolution happening today which is changing the face of recruitment forever.
2013 Social Recruiting: Social Media is transforming the way we interact in our society today and with job board traffic in the main declining, most major off-line titles struggling, ‘Social Sourcing’ (the sourcing of candidates via social media) is going to be the key as we enter the impending Talent War. (For more info read this blog: Can You win the Global Talent War)
This is not the crude broadcast of your jobs continuously as though it was a revolving job board but the sharing of useful and engaging content that encourages prospective candidates to contact and engage with your business. Whilst this should be easy for the niche suppliers, I currently see no niche agency doing it successfully but would be delighted to be corrected.
Costa Coffee does it successfully with their clients and even steals from the competition. One of my contacts recently visited Starbucks in Liverpool on his way to work to buy his team teas and coffees and on discovering they had run out of tea tweeted it. Within 30 seconds of his tweet Costa Coffee responded that if he visited their store in Liverpool One they’d give him a tea for free. He did and guess where he now goes every morning for his beverages! Interestingly last I heard Starbuck never even responded to his tweet!
Many other leading brands do this too; Virgin; Pepsi, Network Rail just to name a few.
Do you think tomorrow we could see Adecco, for example, responding to an irate candidate’s tweet after attending an interview organised by another agency, for which they were badly matched. May be but I think not?
In the five sectors I highlighted recently in my blog (Top five recruitment sectors to be in for next 5-10 years) where the candidate is soon to be king, it will happen soon. Think about it a Subsea Engineer in oil and gas or a frustrated Nurse in healthcare tweeting their frustration would be very impressed if a competitor agent responded with another job almost immediately.
Let me know if you do it, I promise to write a follow up blog but only if you are happy for me to.
As I mentioned in my other blog Recruitment Agency MDs – Will you Adapt or Fail? Millennials (Generation-Y) totally live and communicate it this social media world. So if you wish to attract them in the future you need to learn to ‘social-source’.
The other dimension of ‘social-sourcing’, which again most business have not woken up to, is that most of this activity takes place on mobile platforms. At Recruitment Expo this year Mike Taylor of Web-Based-Recruitment.com gave some interesting facts:
- 75% of all mobile traffic is to Facebook
- Amongst Millennials Twitter is overtaking Facebook as the preferred medium of communication
- 8 out of 10 phones now sold in the UK are smartphones so it should be no surprise to Recruiters that so many job seekers are now expecting to be able to search and apply for a job using a mobile device.
- According to Google, 1 in 5 of all job searches are carried out on a mobile device (source: 2012 Mobile Recruitment Conference)
- Some of the leading UK job boards are now seeing 30% of their traffic come from a mobile device
The Mobile Recruiting Outlook Report issued by Simply Hired in January 2013 showed that:
- 70% of job seekers had used mobile technology to look for a job.
- 86% of job seekers would use mobile technology if there was an easy way to apply for a job.
However, the recent iMomentous Fortune 500 Mobile Readiness Report, showed that:
- Only 33% of companies had a mobile careers section
- Only 3% had a mobile apply function
Mikes own research showed that 94% of the FTSE 100 companies had a mobile enabled careers section on their website.
Mike has some more interesting facts which are worth checking out on his website.
So the recruitment industry has been through revolutions many times over the past thirty years. Each time it has changed and every time those that were too slow to adopt the new models disappeared.
By 2020 I predict that our industry will have transformed again and almost certainly several of the household industry names we know will either be no more or greatly reduced in size. ‘Social-Sourcing’ is going to be critical to businesses success yet so many don’t even have a Social media Strategy
It may seem incredible today but back in 1998 there were many agencies claiming they did not need a website. Only last year Morrison’s Supermarket saw its Christmas sales decline because they had no on-line shopping site.
As George Santayana says:
“Those who are unaware of history are destined to repeat it.”
My question is ‘Are you?’