Take It from the Top: Robin Beattie on Recruiting Candidates in the Digital Age [Episode 21]

Robin Beattie

Managing Director, Mortimer Spinks

Robin is a managing director of Mortimer Spinks and on the Chair of the Harvey Nash Group’s Innovation Board. He has an acute understanding of Technology and its essential value to today’s business needs. As an expert in identifying the exact pain points of clients; Robin knows how to build successful tech teams for his partners, he possesses a deep understanding of the strategy, culture and people planning skills required to advise on scaling a tech brand to thrive and succeed. Robin is an ambassador for diversity in technology, setting up the #YouEqualTech network to address the unbalance. The Technology world feeds Robin’s passion to consistently innovate and evolve services for his candidates, clients and Mortimer Spinks Employees.

Welcome to Take It from the Top, a podcast brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange (also known as RIX). On Take It from the Top, we interview leaders within the recruitment industry to discuss various pressing topics within the sector.

This week Robin Beattie, Director at Mortimer Spinks, joins Loick Pires, Manager of Enterprise Research & Strategy at Bullhorn, to share how his firm is embracing diversity and digital communication as a part of their engagement strategy.

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RIX: Hi, I’m Loick Pires. I’m joined here by Robin Beattie, Director at Mortimer Spinks, a subsidiary of Harvey Nash. Welcome.

Robin Beattie: Thank you very much.

RIX: I would love for you to tell us about your background and how you got into recruitment.

Robin Beattie: Absolutely. It wasn’t the conventional way, as is the case with most people. I actually got a degree in History at King’s College, London and I was thinking much more around foreign office or diplomatic services. Once I realized how long it would take to actually get anywhere successful for those kinds of things, I then got into international sports events/hospitality, by chance. That was my route into sales and I worked at the World Cup, then went over to Australia and set up business for the Sydney Olympics. When I came back, everyone told me that if I really want to prove myself within sales, I need to get into recruitment. So that’s how I got into it.

RIX: And you’ve been at Mortimer Spinks for 17 years?

Robin Beattie: That’s right. A long time.

RIX: What led you to your current role as director?

Robin Beattie: I joined as a senior consultant. I was actually working for another IT recruitment company at the time, and I focused the first five years of my life at Mortimer Spinks very much on backend Java market. It was a booming time and just after the dotcom bubble burst, so the market was re-establishing itself with credible tech businesses, and I really got to know who the big players were in London. I spent much of that time headhunting exceptional Java talent. That was very interesting.

I then realized I actually enjoyed training the junior people as much as I enjoyed doing business with my clients. I wanted to support them into becoming great consultants and share with them my passion for technology. That’s what I moved into. That naturally led me into more senior roles within the business and now I focus much more on the growth of our overall business. It’s interesting and also challenging at times. There are so many technology recruitment organizations out there and we really want to show that we (Mortimer Spinks) are different and are a community-led business. The other thing that’s worth noting, I suppose, is spending 17 years with the same company in IT recruitment is unusual!


RIX: Yeah. That’s unheard of.

Robin Beattie: Yeah. It’s partly because, as a business, Mortimer Spinks is that Goldilocks opportunity whereby we’re a fairly small boutique business within a much larger corporate group, so we have the backing and financial support of a larger organization, Harvey Nash Group, but we can be very agile and flexible when required. And that really works for me. That’s probably one of the reasons why I stayed, and another is also working in the technology sector. I love it. It’s about innovation all the time.

RIX: Absolutely. That brings me to my next point, what would you say has changed in those past 17 to 20 years?

Robin Beattie: Apart from the fact that we no longer stand around a fax machine trying to send our CVs–which was very much the case when I first started 17 to 20 years ago–so much has changed. To me, the industry has become much more professional and I love that. Those recruitment businesses that focused purely on sales and didn’t think about the candidate or the client experience – they’re gone. Customer experience is everything to us. It’s really important. Now, the recruitment industry actually offers real value to their clients, and I know our clients see us as an extension of their business, and that’s really great. We work with organizations that are sometimes five to 10 people and suddenly become 25, 50 or even 100 people. We see their growth and we know that we’ve been a part of it. We’re able to help on everything from GDPR issues to salary surveys, IR35 and Agency Workers Regulation (AWR). We offer a wide variety of advice.

RIX: That’s it, and there’s that shift from being just a vendor to also being an advisor to your clients.

Robin Beattie: We give strategic market expertise now. That probably wasn’t the case when I first got into recruitment 20 years ago.

RIX: Absolutely. It’s great that you’ve been at the company for the past 17 years. Unheard of in the IT industry, and I can still sense that enthusiasm coming from you. What currently interests you and keeps you up at night?

Robin Beattie: I’m really pleased to say I love my sleep and nothing keeps me up. That’s a good thing. [laughing] But I definitely do wake up sometimes during the night with an idea on how to engage with our candidate base more, or ways to enable certain clients to promote their brands within our tech community. I’ve now learned to keep a pen and paper by my bed because sometimes it’s at three or four in the morning when I come up with some sort of idea. I think, Ok, we should have done it this way. That’s the only time I’ll probably stay up awake.

But you talk about what current issues and challenges are out there. Tackling the talent shortage – it’s huge. And I suppose that’s the benefit of contingent versus onsite. The onsite model has really grown considerably over the last five to six years, whereas there’s still a place for the contingent recruitment company in there. And I’m actually pleased to say we’re working on ways to tackle both of those. We set up the future skills apprenticeship program to help tackle the talent shortage, but it won’t happen overnight.

RIX: When was that set up?

Robin Beattie: We started that in June last year. Our first cohorts are going through that training right now. But all these organizations. they’re looking for the same incredibly talented people. There is just a shortage of those people, but if they had a bit more thought around actually planning this out, they could start harnessing some really good people or cross-training staff, return to work mums or second jobbers or anything along those sort of lines actually saying, “We’re going to train you in these technologies. We’re going to teach you how to code.” And then, two, three, four years down the line, you won’t need to try and source that many candidates because you’ve got them all coming through.

And the other area is, we’ve actually developed our own Spinks onsite model. We can see the benefits around onsite. We get that completely, but also the onsite doesn’t always necessarily have the reach that contingent recruitment business could have, and you might be one person onsite as opposed to a team of  25 people in an agency. We thought, How can we marry the best of both of those? and we came up with the Spinks onsite model.

RIX: Absolutely. That makes complete sense. Our recent Global Recruitment Insights & Data (GRID) research found that 44 percent of recruitment professionals listed recruiting Millennials as the most difficult generation to reach and engage, followed by Post-Millennials/Generation Z at 20 percent, and Baby Boomers as the easiest generation to reach and engage at 16 percent. How is Mortimer Spinks currently approaching candidate engagement?

Robin Beattie: We felt for quite some time that you need to feel like a part of the candidate community and that meant going beyond just speaking to them when we had a role or when their contract was coming up for an extension. We realized that we needed to talk to them on many different channels. That would be via social media or other areas like that to ensure that we’re actually engaging with candidates all the time. Making sure that we actually give them something useful and relevant. The candidates are obviously key to our market, and we can’t be talking to them just when we have a role. We want to be engaged with them all the time.


A really good example is when we made a conscious decision two years ago to focus much more around events, and a lot of those are predominantly for our candidates, so we host a DevOps meetup (DevOps Battle Royale). We host Drupal meet-ups. We also host YouEqualTech, which is our diversity and inclusion brand.

RIX: Yes. We spoke about that last time.

Robin Beattie: Exactly. That is very much to give back to the candidate community. We want to show we’re part of the community, we care about them and we’re generally interested in what they have to say and we want to give them a forum to talk on those subjects.

RIX: When you go through the recruitment process of your own personal staff, you drum home the importance of candidate engagement as well?

Robin Beattie: Yeah.

RIX: That’s excellent. And are there any unique methods for candidate attraction?

Robin Beattie: So from a candidate attraction perspective, we’ve started to look at the use of video. Video is incredibly powerful. There’s so much research to show how many more people watch a video rather than listen to a podcast or would even read an email. We actually use a particular video interview platform where we work closely with our clients around their own brand awareness.

We will speak to clients and say, “You’ve got X amounts of roles to really get the biggest impact and the biggest candidate reach. Would you mind doing a short video with us around why you work at this organization and what it is about this role that you find so interesting?” For me, job specs are so two-dimensional. One thing I’ve noticed about millennials is they no longer look for a job. It’s a lifestyle choice. They’ll choose the company they want to work for – based on that. A job description is very difficult to give over that opinion of what it actually looks like. But, yes, going back to that point around the video interviewing, what we often do is engage with our candidates by that method because it has the greatest success rate.


RIX: Absolutely. And that’s good to know. That’s something that’s really advancing in the industry, and it’s good that you’re taking a foothold on that. In terms of specific events, what do you guys do from a diversity and inclusion perspective?

Robin Beattie: So we started talking about diversity back in 2012 when we realized that there weren’t enough women in technology. It was quite evident. We felt, especially within Mortimer Spinks, this is something that we wanted to help change. It didn’t feel right, and it seemed crazy, especially with the talent shortage, why are you missing out on 50% of the population?

So, in conjunction with our partner, Computer Weekly, we started a survey about women in technology and how we could get more women into it. It was very successful, but we realized a survey only goes so far and while we were banging the drum, unfortunately, we weren’t really in a position to get any further along the line of getting more women into tech. We then changed our tactics and we set up our YouEqualTech brand, and that was really to give a voice to women who were predominantly in technology, but it’s now very much all around diversity, and is very inclusive.


Just talking with and about successful entrepreneurs or founders, we can actually find real-life role models, and this is what they require. You can’t just get that from taking a survey. And funnily enough, the first two events we held were about getting more women in technology and then the women in attendance kept saying, “Can we stop talking about this now? We know there are not enough women in technology. Let’s just talk about the great things we do from our perspective.” And that’s what we do. For example, the last theme was ‘the art of failing fearlessly’. It’s not gender specific. It’s just coming from different perspectives: How they have failed fearlessly and how it’s made them better.

RIX: But it’s a good platform to have from an inclusion perspective.

Robin Beattie: Absolutely.

RIX: How effective are these events and how often do you have them?

Robin Beattie: So YouEqualTech is monthly. We started that almost two years ago and now we’ve got 4,000 people in the community, which is great. It’s predominantly a London-based community but we’ve just set up our first YouEqualTech in Manchester and we’re also setting up a YouEqualTech Germany as well. We wanted the brand to be as far-reaching as possible.


RIX: What’s the motivation for it being in Germany?

Robin Beattie: Our Harvey Nash colleagues are out there, and rather than try a completely new set up, we said, “Why don’t you just franchise this and just take it. We’ll give you some really good content and we’ll help you around areas that we’ve learned from and you can use some of the work we’ve done already.”

RIX:  That’s excellent. How has digital transformation impacted you? How’ve you set your agenda for 2019 moving forward?

Robin Beattie: Digital transformation hasn’t really impacted us just this year. Digital transformation has been happening for us over the last five years. So it doesn’t feel like we’re making any knee jerk reaction this year. We’re obviously aware of the market conditions right now. We’re aware of the potential “No deal/maybe deal” Brexit side of things, but a lot of our organizations are undergoing digital transformations, so we work closely with those companies. They face challenges and we work with them around that side of things. They want to protect themselves from those organizations that are disrupting their sector, but we also work closely with those organizations that are growing. That’s how we operate.

RIX: What’s the single biggest candidate engagement challenge the industry will face this year?

Robin Beattie: I’m going to be cheeky and take two. I feel engaging diverse talent is probably number one. It’s really important. There’s so much data to show a more diverse workplace leads to a greater diversity of thought, and that leads to greater productivity.


We need to help organizations realize that. We need to make sure that they’re hiring from a more diverse talent pool. Everyone at the moment seems to be fishing in a very small pond. That just doesn’t seem to make any sense. That’s an area. We’ve also got to change people’s mindsets to some extent. Unfortunately, hirers still do look for people to fit into their culture rather than for people to sit outside of it. A lot of organizations have a monoculture within them, and it doesn’t increase productivity. It doesn’t really increase the diversity of thoughts. We challenge our clients to think that way and not to reject someone because they don’t think they’re a cultural fit. That’s a challenge for us.

Secondly, dealing with the talent shortage with potential Brexit. That’s obviously an issue for many of us. But, I do think we have a few solutions. Our YouEqualTech brand definitely promotes why we should be engaging with a more diverse talent pool. And then we’ve obviously got the Future Skills programme to help with the talent shortage side of things.

RIX: Absolutely. And you encourage your clients to come up to YouEqualTech as much as possible?

Robin Beattie: Absolutely.

RIX: Moving forward, how do you gauge the success of these events?

Robin Beattie: For me, it’s about doing the right things and making sure that the people who go to those events have enjoyed those events. That’s what success looks like. A lot of people ask me, “How do you measure the ROI from that?” And they’re talking about from a financial perspective, and that’s not the way to look at it.


For me, it’s two-fold: Making sure that our clients and candidates can come to a place and they feel they’ve actually learned something. They can then walk away and say, “You know what? I’ve learned two or three things tonight that I didn’t know or I’ve heard from someone about something I just didn’t know.” That’s really important.

The second point is actually more internally focused. For me, I want to make sure that people that work within Mortimer Spinks generally feel challenged and each day is different for them. They themselves are the ones who have promoted this. The YouEqualTech brand didn’t come from me. It came from two people within our organization. The DevOps Battle Royale that I talked about, again, came from someone within Mortimer Spinks. It’s given these people a platform to engage with their communities. That’s how you can measure that success.

RIX: That makes complete sense and good to know. Our recent Global Recruitment Insights & Data (GRID) research found that 84 percent of recruitment firms feel they need to embrace digital transformation to remain competitive. What is Mortimer Spinks doing to embrace digital transformation to remain competitive and successful?

Robin Beattie: We’re quite an innovative brand and we’re always looking at what products or platforms are out there to better enable us and, hopefully, disrupt us. We have to look at both sides of things. And we look at it from a customer experience perspective, that’s the client and the candidate side. How can we make sure that our customer experience is premium and the best? And what innovations are out there that can enable us to be even better? I chair the innovation board within the Harvey Nash Group, based and we’re constantly looking at what innovations are out there.


RIX: With you being proactive it gives more visibility to the work of Mortimer Spinks with the wider Harvey Nash Group.

Robin Beattie: It definitely helps.

RIX: Brilliant. My final personal question: What’s in line for you in the next year or two?

Robin Beattie: Really, for us, is to look at a solution around where we can make an even better experience for our candidates and for our clients. One of the things that we’ve really focused around now is our onsite model. We realize there’s a huge benefit for onsite, but we also understand for a lot of organizations, it’s very costly and there’s also a need to then reach out to a contingency agency. We’ve worked the last five or six months engaging with our clients and our candidates asking them, “What looks like the best solution for them?” We come up with an onsite solution where we can marry the best of both of those worlds so it’s cost effective for the client but also it gets the best candidate reach from the community that we have. That’s where we’re going to be focusing massively on in 2019.

RIX: That’s a good focus to have and one we’ll be keeping a really close eye on.

Robin Beattie: Thank you.

RIX: Thank you for your time, and thank you for your great answers to the questions. This has been Take It from the Top with myself and Robin Beattie from Mortimer Spinks. Thanks for joining us and we’ll see you next time.

What do 2,000+ recruitment professionals say are the top priorities, challenges, and trends that matter to them in 2019? Find out at the brand new site for global recruitment insights and data.