Open Communications

Simon Kent reports from an industry discussion in association with CloudCall on the subject of recruitment business communications

As the coronavirus crisis continues with huge repercussions across the recruitment market and in terms of how recruitment businesses operate, the issue of communications – cross company and along supply chains – is undoubtedly a crucial one. At The Global              Recruiter’s UK summit, held before the outbreak delivered such a severe impact on the country, a number of recruitment business leaders came together to discuss communications within their companies. Held in association with CloudCall, this was an opportunity for recruitment leaders to reflect on their current practice, how they had ended up using the channels they did, and what they might do in the future. In attendance were:

Anthony Goodwin, Chairman, Antal

Yvette Cleland, CEO, Clinical Professional

Greg Western, Divisional Head, HCL Mental Health

Nicola Phillips, Permanent Nursing Team Manager, HCL Workforce Solutions

Sam Seehra, Client Services Director, Korn Ferry

Mark Mitchell, Non-Executive Director, Meridian Business Support

Holly Addison, Partner, Head of Digital & Communications Technology, Odgers Berndtson Ben Batten, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Europe and Asia, Volt

Jeanette Barrowcliffe, Finance Director, Meridian Business Support

James Wakefield, CEO, Cobalt Recruitment

Christopher Hauge, Enterprise Manager EMEA & APAC, CloudCall

Simon Kent, Editor, The Global Recruiter

There was a general appreciation around the room that the recruitment industry had evolved its communication practice alongside the changes and innovations made in the way people communicate in general. Having moved on significantly from the idea that ‘bring your own device’ into a recruitment business had the potential to wreck a carefully designed IT infrastructure it is now more than acceptable for consultants to be using WhatsApp for communicating with colleagues, candidates and clients – a channel over which recruitment companies have practically no sight. It was also noted that while it had been commonplace to tout certain platforms, job sites and online social/business networks as heralding the end of the recruitment industry, none had actually done so and indeed some had even been bought out by recruitment businesses along the way.

WhatsApp and LinkedIn were certainly uppermost in the minds of these recruitment leaders. WhatsApp seems to be the communication method of choice among a lot of consultants, but provides recruitment business directors a corporate governance issue with the challenge of firstly ensuring the communication carried out through that platform is appropriate for the business, and secondly the challenge of monitoring and measuring successful use, given that the solution is encrypted and will not integrate with anything.

There was a discussion over the links between communications, networks and a recruitment business’ CRM – and on top of that, the true value of a recruitment business’ candidate database. In the age of LinkedIn it was asked whether an in-house database actually was important, given instances where consultants clearly go straight to LinkedIn to find talent and to the company’s database at a later point, despite the fact that the same candidates may exist on both.

The worth of a CRM system was also challenged if it cannot integrate with all methods of communication being used by a recruitment business. Is it ever going to be possible to understand how a business works and how it works most effectively if there are elements and activities which simply can’t be recorded and so don’t show up?

Waiting for proof

James Wakefield suggested that with all technology and communications there was always the need to wait before investing to ensure it really was a solution which had value rather than jump first and regret it later. “All too often recruiters fall into two categories, those who are keen to embrace all technology and those who are instinctively resistant to it,” he said. “The simple reality is there is good and bad tech, the trick is filtering one from the other and that’s best done by networking with peers and finding out what works and what doesn’t”.

Ben Batten also gave a revealing example of the need to keep up with new communication channels. His company in Singapore carried out a leaflet drop outside a train station to advertise opportunities. Having received a disappointing response the leaflet were redesigned to include bright colours, emojis and a WhatsApp contact instead of a landline. A second drop with this design produced a far higher response rate.

It was interesting to find that even in this international business world where recruiters and their businesses work across borders there were examples where a network or platform used in one country did not have acceptance by the business in another. It was felt that the UK market is one of the most competitive and forward thinking markets where technology is required in order to keep in touch with clients and candidates and to keep ahead of the competition. In less competitive markets this isn’t so much the case. Therefore the emphasis on technology and communications is less and the methods used more ‘traditional’.

At the same time, it is clear that voice to voice and face to face contact is still very much valued by candidates and clients. Greg Western reflected that while WhatsApp could provide a useful first point of contact, a phone call was still valued and appreciated by contacts. Meanwhile Yvette Cleland explained how her company now arranged events and dinners where leaders from within the life sciences industry they serve could meet peer-to-peer to discuss leading industry issues or innovations with blue sky thinkers and researchers from the industry. While these discussions are not a direct sell of their recruitment services they can give exposure of the company to more than a dozen leaders within the sector where the business works, a task which if it were left to booking separate meetings would take a considerably longer time.

Interestingly both Jeanette and James told of recent experiences of letter writing – Jeanette receiving letters from candidates and James sending letters out to potential contacts. In both cases this seemingly ‘old school’ approach gained impressive traction. It’s a very personal touch, demonstrating care and intention and therefore much more likely to get a response from the receiver.

Across every platform and network however it was clear that the skills of a recruiter are still highly important. Empathy was highly prized among consultants by these recruitment leaders and there was a debate over whether this facet could be demonstrated through each communication method. Can an email or message actually hit the right note – the same note as an in person or phone conversation? It was also felt that the good, empathetic recruiter is able to do this, deciding which communication method is the most suitable for the person and circumstances in question.

Around the table there were many examples of when the correct communication method had been selected for the right scenario and achieved positive outcomes. Sometimes a channel such as WhatsApp is the only convenient way for someone to be contacted – due to current work or personal circumstances. Sensitivity around the method of delivery as well as the message itself will always deliver gains for recruiters, but it is clear that whatever means are used recruitment companies must never lose sight of delivering the personal touch.

“The biggest take away from the discussion perhaps unsurprisingly was the increasing use of social, particularly WhatsApp and LinkedIn for connecting with candidates, but there were universal concerns over control, reporting and ownership of that relationship,” commented CloudCall’s Christopher Hague. “It was unanimously agreed that although traditional communication methods are in slow decline they cannot be discounted. The ability to build relationships is paramount to any successful relationship and there were legitimate concerns that the younger generation may lack the personal soft skills to communicate – both in writing and verbally – effectively. Recruitment training needs to be developed to include personal communication skills.

Hague concluded: “The key point is that there is no one size fits all and a combination communications strategy is vital to ensure all channels are utilised to their fullest and controlled to enable effective activity intelligence.”

From the perspective of a few weeks after the event, and with the impact of Covid-19 permeating business, ‘virtual connections’ are now becoming the new normal. Businesses are therefore relying heavily on technology to facilitate communications, both internally and externally, and are embracing new platforms.

Holly Addison notes that in a recent online forum her company hosted for business leaders to share thoughts on communicating effectively through this difficult time, people and wellbeing were top of the agenda.

“There is a danger that people are ‘always on’ when working from home and that can be stressful – particularly when juggling home schooling and other family commitments – we need to be mindful of that,” she said.

“Leaders also need softer skills now to keep people engaged and motivated,” she continued. “There is an opportunity to keep people connected when they need it most. Try to keep doing things you’d usually do in the office – call someone when you make a cup of coffee or have a zoom call with a colleague over lunch.

“In the current climate, maintaining the human connection is vital and when all this is over, that’s what people will remember.”

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