Good Old Habits Should Always Die Hard

Old habits die hard

Remarkably, I find myself in the strange position of having been in one industry – research, pipelining and insight – for over 13 years now. I say remarkably because, at the grand old age of 38, it genuinely feels like it was last month (not 1999) that I was graduating from university, packing up my things in our student house and, as my parents drove me back home, wondering what on earth I was going to do.

The very idea that I’m now considered ‘experienced’ in my field (well, I think so anyway…) seems crazy to me given I didn’t even know what I wanted to do by way of a career back then.

Things have changed an awful lot within recruitment in the last 13 years. What we now take for granted – companies with big talent acquisition/resourcing functions, LinkedIn, ATS’s, the use of social media to engage with candidates, Boolean search strings, Sourcing Ninjas and such like – didn’t exist when I became a Research Consultant for the first time in the early-00s.

Undoubtedly, most of these changes have improved what we do (some – in my opinion – haven’t, but that’s for another article…) and there is no denying that both technology and the recognition of talent acquisition/resourcing/recruitment as a function in its own right has allowed serious progress to be made.

That said, there are some fundamentals that existed back in 2003 when I was first learning the ropes that absolutely still exist today and should never change:

Speak to people“Durrr!”, I hear you all say. Yes, an obvious point to make, but you’d be surprised. Email, InMail, Twitter, etc, etc, have all made communication easier and quicker, but in some respects it’s also stripped communication of its focus, power and personal nature. I repeatedly tell new starters to our business that if somebody wanted to headhunt me they would get a far more engaged response if they picked up the phone and said: “Look, there is something I want to tell you about that I think could interest you given your background…” as against dropping me an email asking me if I’m interested in some paragraphs that have been pulled from a job spec. Potential candidates want to learn about you and be educated on the opportunity and the organisation you’re representing. They also want to feel special and not just someone who has replied to one of the 50 or so contact emails you have sent out that day. Pick up the phone and engage with people from the off – you’ll soon notice the results.

Network… as mentioned above, technology has thrown the gates wide open to millions of people that back in the mid-00s we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere near. I have nearly 1,800 1st connections on LinkedIn – how many 2nd and 3rd connections around the world does that give me access to? Often, the quickest way from A to B is a short, straight line. If you’re trying to understand the structure of a business, get your head round a particular function or if you’re looking for some killer referrals on a really niche role for a client, identify some people in your wider network that look like they would know what they’re talking about (and, more importantly, what you’re talking about…) and pick up the phone to them. Hours and hours of desk research, head scratching and assumption could be saved by 2/3 focused conversations with people who know more than you do, believe me.

Don’t entirely rely on technology… don’t get me wrong; I’m no luddite – LinkedIn is good. It unquestionably helps our business with its business development activity and it also helps our research team deliver projects for clients. But that’s the key word – “helps”. As with all databases, it can only give you answers from the data that it holds. What do you do if a client asks you a question that LinkedIn, Google, etc, can’t answer? I’d probably encourage you to re-read the previous two paragraphs if you’re unsure of the answer. The internet as a whole is only as good as the information that other people put on there, so be wary and don’t view it as the silver bullet.

Listen and then thinkmany a time over the years I’ve seen young, bright and keen colleagues come off a client briefing call and go straight into 100mph ‘work mode’. Whilst I’ll always applaud the effort and desire, I would argue that it’s more sensible to sit back, breathe and just think about what you’ve been told & the task ahead. Digest the information you’ve been given, chat it through with some colleagues who weren’t involved in the call (“I’ve just been given this assignment briefing by a client, what do you think about this…”)  and even pick up the phone to some trusted contacts in the sector you’ll be working in to get some of their thoughts (see ‘Network…’). Some of the best work comes from taking a small amount of time out before a ball has even been kicked just to process everything you need to know and soak it in. A “busy fool” will have no doubt typed the job title that the client is hoping to hire into LinkedIn and will be printing off profiles of people who don’t even match 50% of the brief before you can even say ‘project plan’.

Have open conversations… we often spend too much time labelling those that we deal with each day – ‘colleague’, ‘client’, ‘candidate’, ‘supplier’, etc – and forget that we’re all in this together as people. Yes, we have to have internal meetings with colleagues, speak with candidates about job specs, interview arrangements, feedback, etc, and update clients about assignment progress, but out with of all of this I would always encourage my teams and colleagues to pick up the phone to these groups of people for a more open chat. Some of the most insightful conversations I have with clients often start with: “Just thought I’d ring you away from the current work we’re doing for you to see how you are…”; no sales spin and no assignment updates; just a quick (or long – up to them!) chat between two people who are, albeit on different sides of the fence, in the same line of work and wanting the same thing. I’d say the same for candidates you’re currently dealing with and colleagues in other offices you rarely get chance to see. It stops you from viewing others as ‘someone I have to deal with’ and allows you to learn from a wide array of people, engaging with them in different ways.

Those that marry up these long-held principles with the best that advances in technology has to offer will be more than on the right track in my opinion. It is, after all, an industry where relationships, engagement and people working together makes everything tick. Hopefully that’s something that doesn’t get lost as both recruitment and the wider world continues to change.

What do you think? Feel free to agree/disagree/engage below.

David is Practice Director: Consumer & Services for Write Research and has over 13 years’ experience of talent research, insight and pipelining solutions. Write Research help clients make better informed people decisions, based on real time insight from research: www.writeresearchcompany.com.

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