Dale Swords, Founding Director of Understanding Recruitment reflects on performance during the pandemic.

As the recruitment industry races into September it’s hard to believe how much has changed since the majority of us walked out of our offices back in March. Many of us had barely heard of Zoom or MS Teams let alone relied on them as part of our everyday lives and whilst flexible working was becoming ‘a thing’ the thought of a fully remote workforce would have been laughed at. But how things have changed (unprecedented you might say!) and so too has the recruitment industry, including us here at Understanding Recruitment.

In a period of time that will go down in history and which in my opinion will change the way we live and work forever, aside from the sheer mayhem and heartbreak its caused so many people and businesses, for me its also been a fascinating experience of how teams and people (myself included) have responded to the most unexpected and arguably most challenging circumstances the recruitment industry will (hopefully) ever see.  And in particular to witness first-hand how Covid has shaped and in many ways changed the landscape of the recruitment market forever as we slowly but surely see the road to recovery on the horizon.

Winding the clock back to March and following ‘lockdown’ the immediate aftermath was palatable and despite the tech market within which we operate historically being more resilient to change than most (and in many cases being the catalyst for change itself) even it couldn’t withstand the initial barrage that Covid brought with over half our vacancies slashed overnight and a healthy pipeline of business suddenly disappearing into a black hole.

We’ve all lived through the crisis and seen first-hand the devastation it’s had on so many people and businesses across the board, so rather than digging up what we already know as recruiters (i.e. vacancies down, recruitment spend down, etc) I want to focus on the future but also what lessons I’ve learned along the way and where I believe we’re going as an industry (well as I see it anyway) as well as remembering that this is a huge opportunity for us as industry to adapt and redefine recruitment standards.

So what have I learned?  Firstly, and by a country mile, has been the importance of creating and cementing a truly powerful culture.  A culture which when times get tough, can withstand anything that’s thrown at it.  Several years ago we collectively defined our culture in 5 core values, which is the foundation we’ve built the business on from the hiring process and throughout everyone’s career with us and in everything we do.  They’re not just words on a wall, and the togetherness, fight, sheer grit and determination to get through this crisis ‘together’ is something I’ll never forget or ever take for granted.

“Long before success teammates are tested.”

A big part of our culture has always been our transparency and open communication.  Particularly during this crisis we never wanted people to feel like they were second guessing our decision making so we took this a step further, presenting our longer term vision for the business, reminding people that we will come through this but also detailing our costs and break-even points to the business and making sure there was total transparency and knowledge of where we were and what we needed from the team to help us to get through it.

We also engaged with recruitment leaders from across the sector, sharing knowledge, ideas and trying to work out as an industry what we needed to do, after all there’s no text book for this.  And in an industry where all too often we see the competition as ‘the enemy’ this was the time to come together and have strength in numbers, help support each other and come through it stronger as a profession.

Several years ago we’d taken the bold but important step to move away from being a generalist tech recruitment business and develop deep rooted specialisms in high growth areas within the tech market and by doing this establish deeper and more loyal relationships with our clients and candidates alike.

This approach also enabled us to build out new service lines, in particular engaging more on retained projects with clients and embedding ourselves within the very fabric of their business.  Establishing ourselves as a true recruitment partner and its these relationships that have been incredibly important for us as a business, both in terms of committed revenue and contractor growth to underpin our permanent division during the turbulent months.

A bold statement we also made as a leadership team as we entered the crisis and a commitment we were determined to make happen, was to be a bigger but also better quality team than when we entered.  And as such we set in motion some key projects we believed would help us to achieve this, rather than standing still.  We had an opportunity to reshape our business and our service proposition for the better, in preparation for the bounce-back.

We also quickly adapted to the world of remote working and using our digital platforms to run as smoothly as possible and with the minimum amount of disruption.  MS Teams has been our communication platform of choice and has enabled everyone across the business to remain engaged at all times, something which from a cultural perspective was really important.

And over and above everything, and in many ways going back to culture, remember to have a bit of fun along the way, launching our weekly newsletter and rolling out over 60 quizzes, all of which we’ll be continuing with well into the future such has been the reaction from the team.

A huge part of the recovery and which I’m sure will continue to re-shape working practices as an industry will  has without a doubt been our adaption (whether we wanted to or not) to remote working – and what a seismic shift that’s been and I expect we’ll see continue as we come through the other side.

It’ll be the companies who adapt best to the post Covid world who in my opinion will thrive whilst others less willing to adapt will find themselves going backwards. The rules have changed, and employers within the industry need to embrace them.

And with this shift, the approach to hiring is also changing. Remote interviewing and remote onboarding across so many organisations has broken down the barriers that would have existed before and in many ways make the recruitment process from both sides much quicker and simpler than ever.

It has also opened up a whole new talent pool for companies looking to hire with far fewer restrictions on location as a barrier and in turn, providing even greater options for the rich tech talent out there too so a win-win for everyone – well almost.

Recruitment talent now more than ever needs to be nurtured and supported and the winners will be those recruitment companies more willing and able to engage and provide a community (in many cases remotely) that keeps people feeling valued and with a clear sense of purpose that goes well beyond their day to day job, invigorating their Employee Value Proposition (EVP) at every opportunity.  This is something we’re constantly working on and constantly asking for feedback from the team on.

There will, of course, be challenging times ahead and tough decisions for recruitment companies and people to make however the comeback is on and it’ll be the recruitment businesses and the talented professionals within the industry who will be a huge driving force in us coming through the other side better than ever before.

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