22 January 2020

10 Lessons from 5 years as a recruitment consultant

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5 years ago I began working as a digital marketing recruiter in Belgium, and I think it’s time to reflect on some of the things that resonate in me after all this time.

How it began: some assembly required

I was really lucky to join Ariad from its start (at that time, it was called Conversion Talent). I had the great opportunity to join this project from the beginning and such a high-quality team. Back in early 2015, the possibility of working with so many leading clients and some of Belgium's brightest digital talent so personally was just a dream.

Being a part of this adventure from the beginning, I also was fortunate to play a key role in building Ariad from the ground up. I can't deny that we had a very humble start: imagine that on my first day, my very first task was to assemble my own desk and office chair from two big boxes, freshly arrived from Ikea.

This can really be seen as a metaphor for everything we've built up over the last few years step by step: we've opened up two additional markets: the Netherlands and Spain, the number of clients in our portfolio has grown significantly, as well as all the digital experts who work with us, all of whom I personally thank for being part of the A-team.

To be honest, the experience has been a roller coaster ride. Sometimes I have the feeling of riding a rocket at full speed, other times we have to tighten our seatbelts and prepare for the turns, and of course, sometimes we suffer intense setbacks. Like any company, we make mistakes but I feel that we always try to put a good face in the bad weather. Perhaps that is our best virtue, our ability to reinvent ourselves quickly and turn our faults into virtues.

The thing is, my experience offers a different perspective on the staffing industry. When someone brings up recruiting in conversation, I’m used to seeing how people's faces change. They’re wondering, what is the added value for companies in this sector? Aren't they just a kind of middleman looking for a bigger and bigger piece of cake? And what about those recruiters, do they care, do they ever give feedback? Do they even have a soul? And most pressingly: why do they send such heinous messages on LinkedIn?

Well, the truth is that I don't have a universal or general answer for all of those questions, but I can talk about my personal experience acquired over all this time. And, what the hell! Sometimes I can screw up, but my Linkedin messages are not so horrible (...at least I think so)!

Lessons from my life as a recruiter

So, here it goes. These are my insights into how thrive as a recruiter:

  1. Be curious and gain knowledge.

    In this job I have the gift of talking to a ton of super interesting people. I view each conversation as a learning opportunity, and I have learned so much this way. I also try to read as much as I can. These are some of the most significant books that have inspired over the past few years:
    • Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux
    • Don’t make me think by Steve Krug
    • Agile Talent by Ralf Knegtmans
    • The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stainer
    • Scrum the Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland
    • Coaching with Design Thinking by Jon Elejabeitia
    ...and many more!

  2. Build a powerful network and especially put effort into maintaining long term relationships with your contacts. A good follow up is a must.

    In this aspect the quality of the connections is much more important than the quantity. Combining my presence online with attending MeetUps and events has proven to have good results. After all, there is nothing better than the good old human-to-human interaction! In the long-term the stronger my network is, the easier it is to get the job done. Repeat after me: Network always wins.

  3. Treat people with respect and value every second they offer you.

    I do my best to offer quality interactions and conversations, and always provide honest feedback to the candidates that I’m in touch with. They invest their time in talking to me so I aim to always make that investment profitable for them. Whether the selection process is successful or not, I try to ensure that they can extract some key learning at the end of the process that can help them grow as professionals and give the best version of themselves in the future.

  4. Be a good listener.

    The Pareto 80-20 rule applies here well. We are making a mistake if we listen to reply, but don’t actually understand. Actively listening is a much harder task. I try to be compassionate; this is showing a strong feeling of sympathy for people and a real desire to help them. In my experience, the best success stories come after a lot of feedback and in-depth understanding of emotions, desires and expectations.

  5. Establish a strong personal brand.

    To do this, I really get to know myself and my target audience, figuring out what my professional objectives are and focusing my efforts in that direction. The more powerful my online reputation on Linkedin is, the more trust I generate within my connections. They all take time, but these are some of the strategies that have worked for me: writing my own content, specialization, offering added value in the form of portfolio advice, coaching, training suggestions, career counselling…

  6. Be unique and fight our corner.

    This industry is highly competitive so differentiation is a necessity. In my case, I’m hyper-specialized in sourcing UX & CX experts. Over the last 5 years I've been recruiting UX teams for Belgian A-brands resulting in the hire of 100 UX professionals. Specialization also helps when establishing a personal brand.

  7. Go beyond expectations: don’t contact people only to tell them about a new job, but also to offer them coaching and career advice.

    The more I know about the candidates that I’m in touch with, the easier it is to build mutual trust and ensure a good match between people and jobs. I strive to keep the recruitment process from being an uncomfortable and unpleasant journey, and instead I try to make them feel at ease, so they can be themselves and I can engage with the real person behind the CV.

  8. Enjoy the awesomeness of being a change agent.

    I think that I help to change people’s lives, or in other words, this is what I call “the social aspect of the job”. I love to guide people towards new jobs where there is a better alignment between who they are (their personality) and what they work on (the role). This leads to a higher sense of empowerment, happiness and a positive impact on their lives.

  9. Accept that I won’t always be successful.

    I consider essential to keep promises realistic and learn from failure. Sometimes I just can’t help a candidate for different reasons, or my client doesn’t provide feedback in due time and the process gets delayed for what feels like forever… in those moments, I’ve learned that informing my contacts with honesty and transparency is the best solution--and believe me, this is a huge relief! On the positive side, and if you’re aiming for a long-term relationship with the candidate (which you should be, or you are in the wrong career), you know that sooner or later the right opportunity will pop up and you will be there ready to help.

  10. Maintain a holistic approach.

    As a recruiter, recruitment is an important part of my duties, but not the only role and responsibility I have. Talking to so many people on a day-to-day basis allows me to easily connect the dots and to be aware of their problems and tensions at their jobs. This then motivates me to help and try to come up with solutions. Therefore in a normal week I wear many different hats, as my job and Ariad as organizations are fluid. My activities go from being recruiter to acting as sales person, a HR facilitator, a trainer or a coach.

If your perception of recruitment was sending cold emails, copy-and-paste spam and trolling LinkedIn, I hope it has changed by now! My inside view of the industry is completely different: it’s all about people, being passionate about the digital world and always thinking about how to optimize the recruitment experience for the next candidate.

It’s been a wild 5 years of meeting cool people, working with great companies on exciting projects, and learning! I can’t wait to see how the next 5 evolve.

This article was also published on LinkedIn. Let's connect!