Why the recruitment industry needs to up its talent attraction game

Bradley Lewingon

CEO, Spencer Ogden

Bradley joined Spencer Ogden in June 2012 and moved to Singapore to establish the company’s first office in the APAC region. In 2015, he was relocated back to Spencer Ogden’s London HQ to lead the EMEA sales alongside Asia.

For all the time recruiters spend on finding and securing the right candidates for their clients, they can often find it difficult to source the right internal hires. Indeed, running a global talent business presents multiple challenges, but the biggest of all is finding and retaining staff.

This challenge didn’t come out of nowhere. It has two converging points of origin.

The first is the advance of technology: retention has always been a problem, but by lowering barriers to entry, software has made the industry far more fragmented than it used to be. Back office functions that were once prohibitively expensive can now effectively be automated – to the point where anyone with an internet connection and a bit of start-up capital can start a talent sourcing business in 2017. This has made the industry more competitive, and given recruiters any number of places to work. Keeping good employees around is invariably more complicated when they have a buffet of options at their disposal.

At Spencer Ogden, we spent years enticing people to stay with incentives such as holidays to Ibiza, company trips to Miami, and various other workplace perks that reward long-time employees. They had a fantastic effect on morale, but they weren’t an effective long-term strategy in and of themselves.

This is largely because of the second reason that firms have such difficulty retaining staff:  graduates simply don’t grow up dreaming of careers in recruitment. In fact, it’s not unheard of for agencies to lose their best talent to other industries, rather than direct competitors.

So why isn’t recruitment considered an attractive industry to work in – and what can be done to change that?


Time for change

The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of opportunities for career progression and career satisfaction within the recruitment industry. I started my career as a junior-level consultant, and eventually worked my way up to become CEO of a global multimillion pound business. I’m not the exception, either: plenty of others have done the same. For those with the drive, the motivation, and the passion for recruitment, it’s possible to have a very successful career.

The problem is that last bit: passion. Recruitment is often seen as an industry where people ‘end up’: they don’t design recruitment careers so much as let recruitment careers happen to them.

This needs to change. The recruitment industry needs to address its image problem – to develop a passion for itself rather than a kind of weary resignation. It must be alive to the possibilities of the market – and it must communicate them to prospective employees.


Promoting recruitment

When placing job adverts for internal hires, recruitment firms should emphasise the opportunities for career advancement and professional development: they should offer competitive salaries, to be sure, but it should be clear to prospective employees that if they show the right commitment and drive, they’ll have the chance to earn more money and more responsibility. They should look at the industry and see their future, not a mere stop gap position or a launchpad to future roles elsewhere.

It will also be necessary for the industry to professionalise somewhat, and that will require self-regulation and perhaps even governmental regulation. In Singapore, a license is required to supply recruitment services and would-be industry professionals must pass an exam to receive it. In the same sense that nobody really wants to be part of a club that would have them as a member, recruitment must become more exclusive – without becoming inaccessible.

It’s also vital that recruitment is highlighted as a viable career choice at school/university level. This isn’t within the industry’s control, necessarily, but if it can pressure educational authorities to emphasise relevant transferable skills – relationship building, networking, persuasive messaging – it will see many more potential hires coming out of these institutions.

Recruiters require confidence, self-assurance, and excellent communication skills – but they apply it to everything except their own job. The industry contributes a great deal to the enterprise community and the wider community. A career in recruitment can be rewarding professionally and personally. It’s time, that we as recruitment leaders, start shouting about it.