By Mark Dexter
14th July 2015

My 20th anniversary in the recruitment industry has prompted me to look at how the world of recruiting has changed since this nervous recruitment rookie started out in May 1995.

When I started out, recruitment was very much a sales led industry. My job as a trainee recruitment consultant was to make as many exploratory sales calls as possible to a target client list, trying to get to speak to someone who needed an IT contractor and who would be willing to let me try and provide them.

This target list was almost exclusively drawn from our office’s bible, The Computer Users Yearbook, which listed companies of a certain size along with perhaps an idea of the size of their IT department and possibly the name of a contact or two. These details would be entered onto a card file which was stored in a plastic box in ‘date last called’ order and methodically called round until someone was eventually desperate to give this obviously clueless and nervous kid a break.

Eventually someone did give me a job to work on. It was about a month into my employment, I don’t know how many calls later, and I could have (and probably did) jumped for joy. The fact that they wanted a Network engineer with detailed wide area network skills completely passed me by as I sent them half a dozen local area Novell Netware specialist CVs. Not surprisingly I never heard from them again. Hard lesson number one learned.

Incidentally these CVs had been found by rummaging through the wall length rack of filing cabinets which were sorted into candidate’s surnames alphabetically, with a ‘skills summary’ sheet stapled to the front of their file. These CVs had in turn been faxed in in response to one of our full page adverts in ‘Freelance Informer’ trade magazine or sent to us on request by a company called Fax Me, who sent out a summary sheet of who was looking for work that week. That company later became www.jobserve.com so someone had obviously spotted the potential of this new-fangled World Wide Web that might become quite big one day.

I stuck at it though, started to refine my sales skills, and eventually more people seemed prepared to let me try and fill their vacancies.  Finally after about four months in the job, I placed my first contractor; an IBM RPG programmer was taken on for a three month contract and promptly sacked after a month.  One constant in recruitment that remains to this day is that you have to learn to take the lows along with the highs. Hard lesson number two learned.

Over the next few years I learned that although I worked for a generalist IT contract agency, to be able to provide a proper consultative service to my clients and candidates alike, I needed to specialise in a few niche areas. This meant that I could really get to understand not only which companies might have a requirement but also to scratch below the surface of the technologies I was recruiting.  This way I could understand the requirements and also get to know the best people who might not even need to apply for work.

I progressed from general help desk work with the occasional Cobol programmer thrown in, to becoming a bit of a specialist in IBM’s cc:mail email system which was replaced by Lotus Notes. But the bottom line was that this was still a sales role. No matter how busy I was, I still had to make a good number of sales calls and visits to ensure a pipeline of future work because I never really knew if I’d be able to find a candidate to fill a particular role. If I’m honest, I probably still didn’t know enough to be able supply quality candidates consistently. 

Recruitment in an analogue world

Tune in for part two next week to read why I believe I now run a data management company rather than a recruitment business.

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