Thinking about a career in recruitment?

There are 10,000 agencies with a turnover of over £250,000. The sector is worth £35.1 billion. For a lot of students nearing the end of their degree recruitment will be a career they might consider. But how can you tell if it is really the job for you?

If you’re a student and anything like me, you picked a course when you were 17/18 because you liked the subject. You didn’t really consider what career would follow because, frankly, that’s years into the future. Plus you didn’t want to be a doctor so it wasn’t like you had to take a specialist degree. But hang-on, suddenly it is the future. Two-and-a-half years went by pretty quickly and you’re graduating this summer. Sh*t. What next?

About a decade ago, that was me! I studied international relations and politics, but I wasn’t cut out for lobbying, and party politics didn’t interest me enough to commit myself to it through an internship (unlike some of my friends). The people I knew doing those things had more passion than me for both. What I had done was a whole load of extra stuff; student radio, newspaper, sport, volunteering. I’d been a student union person, I loved student representation and I’d won elections. So I thought more of that. Work in a university. That’ll fit… But I struggled to find a job. First off there aren’t many around and it’s really competitive. I came second and third on a few occasions to people with more experience. So I had to go back to the drawing board and I felt a little lost. One day I saw an advert for a job I didn’t understand, but sounded like it described me. It talked about being good with people (generally I’m not too bad despite what my wife says, and she married me so must be lying or a hypocrite), and being driven (when my heart was in it, absolutely), and ambitious.

Before I knew it I was a trainee recruitment consultant.

I think this is a shared experience for a lot of people in recruitment. Honestly you don’t dream of being a recruiter when you’re 14. Sorry, if you did you’re a bit odd. I think it’s a career that finds you. And that is a shame because it’s a very misunderstood role that is of huge value, no matter the lazy stereotypes.

So let’s lay some foundations for you and dispel any myths. The job is a sales job and it is not a quick or easy route to money. It’s hard, because there is a lot of competition. You have to be able to convince people that they should work with you instead of the next consultant at the next firm, or even instead of the algorithm or product that’s just been released. So fundamentally whatever firm you work for you have to be able to sell yourself.

So you need formal sales experience, right? No! Send any idiot that tells you that in my direction and they can argue with my career to date. If you are thinking about recruitment you need to ask yourself; do my peers like me, do they respect me? If you are the captain of a sports team, head of a society or have been voted into some kind of position of authority then you probably have the skill set to thrive in recruitment.That will help you form relationships based on trust and credibility. Working in retail won’t. I’m not saying that it means you’re unsuitable, just that there may be other experience that are better indicators the role is for you.

Money is often cited as an area that’s key to entry level consultants. You’ll be told you have to be money hungry; rubbish. If that’s the only thing driving you then don’t bother because you’ll lose interest fast. Of course we all want to be able to have luxuries in life, and there is certainly the opportunity to earn a lot, but it takes time to develop the relationships needed with clients to do that. So you need to be a determined and ambitious individual but you should be driven by wanting to be rewarded more broadly: recognition in good work, in helping a client or a candidate, in being valuable to those you work with. If that is your driver you’ll earn the money and be more likely to make it (professionally) in the long run.

You also have to be curious and want to learn. If you’re sitting with a business leader you want to recruit for you have to have knowledge and enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter what brand you work for if you aren’t interested in them, and their problems, and the market or sector they work in. They aren’t going to trust you with something as critical as talent if you don’t!

I also want to share why I think you should definitely work in the sector… it’s exciting!

Honestly, I have found myself talking to people who brief the government, making the coolest technology, run the biggest companies, have the best ideas. I get to network in a group of genuinely extraordinary people. Aged 23 I was at a swanky restaurant having dinner with board members of a huge company talking about the strategy behind a joint-venture that was all over the media. That’s incredible. Not many other jobs give you the same kind of exposure to such a varied and interesting working environment.

Recruitment gets a bad press but that isn’t fair, and as I’ve already said, I think it’s lazy. Sure bad recruiters leave a sour taste in the mouth and I have plenty of room for improvement. But done well you are providing a valuable service that helps transform companies and individuals careers. You will help them to unlock some of the most successful and rewarding experiences they’ll have. It is a sales job with room for an individual and innovation. The fierce competition will force you to find ways to be different and memorable. It can be a hugely rewarding career path.

When I started at Harvey Nash I told my parents it’d be a good experience for six months to a year at most. I’m still here. It is the most happy accident of my life and one I’d push you to consider fully.

If you want to explore a career in recruitment, then get in touch.



Why does GDPR matter so much? Because you employ people like me! 

You might be getting sick of all the posts and articles about GDPR lately. You might be actively ignoring them thinking it’ll all be ok. But honestly this is legislation you have to be acting on now if you’re not. Only one company has been mentioned to me as being prepared, and they started work on this 7 years ago.

To highlight why this is so serious I thought I’d paint three simple scenarios.

Firstly you hire trainees who tend to be quite young. When I started at Harvey Nash I was 22. All of my university friends were in London and the idea of going out on a Wednesday night didn’t always seem particularly dumb. If you then also went out on Thursday and Friday you were a little tired by the weekend. I’d regularly fall asleep on public transport. Once I fell off my seat on a bus and ended up in A&E, another time I hitchhiked back into London after discovering my ‘phone and wallet had been taken from my boozy unconscious form. If that mobile had been my work mobile that would be a breach by Harvey Nash.

Secondly we all work long hours and make honest mistakes. I’ve hit reply when I’ve meant to hit forward and sent information about a contractor back to a client I shouldn’t have done. I’ve not noticed that when I typed one person called Jonathan (a colleague) it’s sent it to someone entirely different. I’ve lost count of the times clients have accidentally copied me in on confidential meeting documents rather than a David in their own office. Don’t pretend you’re immune, you’re not. Guess what… that’s a breach too!

Thirdly we all have contacts. Lots and lots of contacts. I’ve spent a decade building a network that makes me useful (hopefully valuable!). My work mobile has 7933 contacts on it, backed up in outlook. If I ever moved company I wouldn’t want to lose that work and I’d back up the numbers and emails. The minute I arrive at my new place of work and upload them all I’ve caused my new employer to commit a breach!

You see it is very, very easy to commit a breach when you hire people. Lots of people doing things we all do. The massive problem for you is that negligence (“I’m so sorry I had no idea”) is likely to be hit with the maximum fine. €20,000,000 or 4% of your company’s global revenue in the last year. Intent isn’t considered.

So you see you will have a breach, probably multiple breaches carrying multiple, potentially company ending, fines. 97% of breaches are caused by your staff and the best you can do is put yourself in a legally defensible position. So if you haven’t sought legal advice I’d do that now… the clock is ticking and you’ve only 48 weeks left.


Whilst we’re talking about this, if you don’t have a Chief Privacy Officer you have to have one, and you can’t promote from within. I don’t fall off bus seats anymore so maybe think about giving me a call for a little help on that one?

I’d pay more tax Theresa, and my mum’s experience of health care is why. 

My mum recently had a hip replacement. Unfortunately she then dislocated her hip around two months after the operation.

She lives in rural Northumberland and only one ambulance was serving the area. That one ambulance was on a break and legally couldn’t help my mum. For an hour and forty-five minutes she had to wait in unbearable pain.

When the ambulance did arrive they had to take her to the nearest accident and emergency department in Ashington, because closer departments have been closed. That is thirty-seven miles and a journey that typically takes fifty minutes.

The paramedics, doctors and nurses that helped my mum were fantastic, but they are stretched to breaking point. If she’d had a heart attack I’m reasonably sure she’d be dead.

I’d love to go home to Northumberland one day but my wife, not unreasonably, won’t tolerate that idea due to local services.

Public services need funding, not just healthcare. If Labour won I’d be hit by the taxes proposed. But I think that’s a fair price to pay if my family is kept safe, don’t you? 

A manifesto for Digital Disaster.

Digital matters to this government (unsurprisingly).The digital economy is growing at twice the rate of the wider economy, contributing £97bn last year, and by 30% in the last year. Here’s what the PM had to say on the sector;

“The number of digital tech jobs across the UK has grown at more than twice the rate of non-digital tech sectors… from analysts to web developers to software architects, these pioneers of our digital economy are at the forefront of a great British success story.”

She then went onto reiterate the government’s commitment to supporting technology. “We will expand the scope of our digital tech industries, funding artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, smart energy and more.”

This sounds like good news for startups and technology, but it hides a deeper lack of understanding. The government doesn’t understand our unicorn and gazelle success stories and manifestos are not being written with them in mind.

The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) describe their role as “the policy voice of UK-wide digital and tech startups”. They exist because of a feeling that bodies such as the CBI don’t adequately represent the views of the digital startup community. The government can’t seem to grasp the needs of fast growing digital startups, viewing them as companies run out of bedroom and not taking them seriously, or SMEs; which they simply aren’t. It is vital that those views are represented. The challenges facing the very companies our PM describes as our success stories are specific.

Immigration highlight this disconnect. Over a third of technologists working in London are not from the UK, and 3 in 10 initial hires a startup makes are foreign. Coadec are estimating a skill shortage of almost 800,000 roles by the end of the decade; it’s clear the sector needs to protect its ability to grow and remain competitive. But the visa system can’t cope with the level of influx needed to meet this demand. Already almost half of all Tier 2 skilled worker visas are going to technology professionals. A government pursuing a policy to leave the single-market needs to undertake a thorough review of our visa system, especially if we’re to believe the PM when she promises we’ll expand the digital industry. This highlights that plans to cut immigration to the tens-of-thousands aren’t just unfeasible but dangerous to the long term health of the fastest growing part of our economy.

Whilst Brexit is framing this election our politicians need to look forward. Fixating on the fallout of the referendum is troubling as it means we don’t put policy in place to help more success stories flourish. We could spend a decade debating the wrong issues when technology has the ability to be transformative for communities who are struggling. In my recent podcast with Alex Depledge (Chair of Coadec) she rightly points out that she can employ people in Barnsley on a London salary. Unicorn and gazelle companies aren’t tied to the same constraints surrounding the makeup of their workforce we often find in legacy enterprise corporations. Technology and digital can disrupt in a wholly positive fashion, but only if our politicians get to grip with an industry many have no understanding of.

Whilst these views are my own, if it sparks interest why not listen to Alex (Coadec Chair) talking about how she views their role in helping the sector

Why I run a podcast series.


Moore’s Law is the most famous example of the increasing rate of change in technology. Whilst many people claim it is slowing down, Brian Krzanich (Intel CEO) declare in January that Moore’s Law was “alive and well and flourishing”.

So as a society we are propelled faster and faster to new destinations. Just pause and think about the impact of Uber, AirBnB, CityMapper, Twitter and Facebook on our lives today. How far back do you need to go until none of these companies and offerings existed? 2004. The first three have all existed less than 10 years – all apps I use and my friends use like we depend on them. All made possible by big data. In fact change is so fast you feel like eBay, Google and Amazon are all old brands. Which is crazy!

New ways of working are making huge differences to the workplace. A generation of workers used to Instagram and Facebook are challenging working practises (as many people who’ve watched the wildly popular TEDTalk with Simon Sinek will grasp). Cyber Security presents new dangers and the war on talent is intensifying.

This is the most exciting and surprising period of change ever (I’m sure it has always felt like that but it is as true now as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow). It is with this world in mind that makes sense. Why would we not want to share what works, and what doesn’t work? If you work in technology, like I do, and you talk to lots of other people in technology I feel you almost have a duty to knowledge share.

If you have a story to share then let me help share it, and if you simply enjoying listening to the episodes – please share them!

Artificial Intelligence; the recruitment killer?

AI is a hot topic across many industries. However, many still struggle to grasp how it might affect them at an individual level, even if they accept it will disrupt numerous jobs across differing markets. I think, ultimately, AI will drive the recruitment industry to be more creative, and better placed to help our clients.


At the end of last week I was idly browsing through LinkedIn, and stumbled across a post by a recruitment consultant. It was a post querying whether recruitment would be made redundant by software or an algorithm. The post said no, relationships are too important. No machine can replace human to human connection. Anyway wasn’t LinkedIn going to be the recruitment killer a decade ago, and aren’t there more of us around today than ever before? In reply was comment after comment agreeing recruiters are here to stay, and recruiters stating those saying otherwise probably hadn’t worked in the industry.


But how many employees at Uber had worked in the taxi industry, Graze in the grocery market, or AirBnB in the hospitality sector? I’ve been in the industry for quite a few years now and I definitely feel under threat and look for innovation happening around us, not from within.


Before Christmas a client approached me for market information they needed a CTO. However I nearly didn’t get a meeting to pitch our services because their chairman had a personal relationship with another firm. However we did meet and we had tools available to us that gave my client the confidence we could pull together a shortlist in hours, not weeks. Because of the urgency we won the business.


Great! Well done us! Although isn’t that a little worrying? The key driver in us winning the role was down to our available resources and our data, not personal experience. Surely if someone had the means to do it faster they’d have pipped us to the finish line.


On Wednesday I sat in an internal focus group, the question posed was “what is our CRM strategy?”. That is really a question about our data. During the session we were asked what is important to the recruitment process. What knowledge allows us to succeed in meeting clients’ needs. We initially produced a huge list of important to know information, all of which certainly helps. Then we were asked what was critical to doing our job. That list shrunk rapidly to just six key pieces of data. My immediate thought was – hey a chatbot could collect that.


But hang on we’re a recruitment business? Relationships matter. Well why can’t we be a software business where relationships matter? After all what are Uber, Graze and AirBnB? They are all data businesses where location and resources (drivers, cars, food, accommodation) matter, not a traditional competitor in their given market.


The reason that Uber have been so successful is they have fantastic data, and a very clear understanding of how to use that information. They get feedback from customers and drivers in a continuous cycle and make sure their service is tailored to the individual. Sure, sometimes just looking at data can cause problems, as recent PR troubles have highlighted. It doesn’t alter the fact that in modern business unlocking the potential of your data is paramount to success, and recruitment is no different.


A lot of a recruiter’s day is taken up with tasks you could draw on a flow-chart. Taking a search criteria, applying that to a data set and finding a match. That’s before you find out if a candidate is interested in what you have to say. That initial piece is repetitive and time consuming. The non-critical factors follow and tend to be the more interesting part of the job. The real value add comes from the next stage of the process. But let’s be honest, we all get a little transactional at times and fail to meet the standards we should. The problem is that those individuals who consistently fail to go beyond the fundamentals give the industry a bad name.


LinkedIn couldn’t kill the industry because it didn’t alter the behaviour of a recruiter. LinkedIn is full of incorrect and non-critical data. You have to go onto the site and scroll through a lot of information making assumptions about who may or may not be suitable for a role. There is no automated element that makes that any more or less difficult than it used to be. In fact it’s almost more difficult, because it is such a content rich social media site.


Data can change that environment. At the core of the reason we won the CTO pitch was the fact that we had better structured and readily available data. But if someone comes along with a better list of CTOs, applies an algorithm to that list and completes the matching process more quickly than me, with greater accuracy, I have a problem. We can see it already in a number of talent offerings coming to the market. What’s even more troubling to a recruiter not doing their job to the best of their ability is that you cost quite a lot of money to employ. An AI agent does not (once developed) it doesn’t get bored, tired or makes mistakes. Relationships matter but so does money.


But you know what? I’m happy about the coming evolution of our sector. Recruitment is valuable, that is not up for debate, and relationships will always matter. I think a lot of bad recruiters who talk a good game but really aren’t adding value will come under severe pressure. But if they’re giving the industry a bad name then good riddance. If fewer of us are left, able to add value and propose new solutions that really meet client needs, I’m all for it. AI agents will become colleagues rather than competition. It’s forcing the industry to be creative and to think about culture and strategy. It also means that real relationships, expertise and understanding will make a genuine difference. Just like every other industry we will be disrupted and AI will take some jobs, but that can be a positive thing.  

Why are we obsessed with women in technology?

Why are we obsessed with women in technology?


Perhaps context helps answer that question. I have a friend who attended a conference in Minneapolis last week. Of the 2,500 attendees she counted 5 women. I’m sure you know there is a problem, but the scale of the issue is still surprising.


It means that every time I talk to a woman in technology the conversation turns to the topic of women in technology. Most of the time I’m the one driving it there, because I want to do what so few women do and shout about their achievements.


But maybe that’s unhelpful? Surely when I’m in front of a successful, inspiring women the least interesting thing about that person is her gender. I know Elizabeth Varley (TechHub CEO) has expressed that view. I should be talking about her many achievements that define the person in front of me, not her genetics.


There is a clear need to improve diversity, not just gender but racial and sexual orientation too. Diverse environments bring people with different outlooks and opinions together, and that is a breeding ground for innovation.


I think if we’re going to get more women to consider a career in technology it’s down to showing them success and giving them idols to aspire to. Always framing the conversation by gender devalues the many achievements of wonderful professionals in tech. I think men need to champion women in tech, help give them a platform to share their success, but leave gender at the door when they do so.


Tech can be seen as a boys club, and an unwelcoming one to those who aren’t part of the crowd. I personally need to do more to change that perception.


That’s why I want to be diverse and inclusive; not to talk about what a person is, but who they are, so that they can inspire the next generation of high achievers.


If you can add a diverse voice to my podcasts, get in touch!