The latest thinking, news and events from the world of Recruitment

Recruitment in Review: The Last 20 Years


This month James Taylor, managing director of recruitment experts Macildowie, celebrates 20 years with the Midlands-based firm. Here he reminisces on his early days in the industry, considers how recruitment has evolved over the years and suggests how it might change in the future.

I often get asked how new recruits in our industry would fare if they’d started out in recruitment in 1997. Most agencies were still using index cards and handwritten notes, but when I landed my first role as a trainee at Macildowie – the result of a begging phone call following an unsuccessful first interview – my primary task was to upload five years of file notes onto the company’s first database.

This foray into technology set an appropriate tone for the coming years, where digitisation has been the primary catalyst for change in our industry, as it has in every workplace. However, while many advancements have had a hugely positive impact and have sped up the process for both candidates and recruiters, technology has also enabled a lot of recruitment professionals to become one dimensional, occasionally lazy and reliant on tactical emails to try and enlist suitable candidates.

This isn’t a practice we encourage at Macildowie – after all, how well would a prospective employee believe a recruiter could represent their interests, following a vanilla ‘dear candidate’ email? We have instead always looked to find the highest impact ways of working, including seeking out the biggest opportunities provided to our sector through technology.

For example, back in the day, recruiters traditionally worked from a database of candidates, which was often outdated before we even got our hands on it. This meant that during the initial conversation with the candidate they’d have to correct basic information such as salary, home address or their current place of work – which doesn’t give a great first impression!

When Friends Reunited launched in the early 2000s, I immediately spotted the opportunity for our industry. Here was a tool where the candidates kept their own information up to date! It gave us an edge over our competitors and was arguably the first ever social media network. Then, the meteoric rise of Facebook was also a turning point for us, as it meant that we could search for people by job title. As it also detailed their current place of work, we were able to target areas where candidates were in high demand and then call them to speak to them about a potential career opportunity during the day. Until this particular social media network locked this functionality down, we made a material number of placements from Facebook data. In the near future, holding this data will not be allowed under new GDPR regulations.

Recruitment office working hours are very different now than they were back then, too. We thought nothing of working from 8.30am right through to 8.30pm, with a slightly easier, Friday that often resulted in an important meeting at the local pub. We spent weekday evenings trying to get hold of candidates once they’d left their offices, when they would more easily be able to discuss the prospect of a career move with us. Tuesday evenings were the prime time for scooping the best candidates and so we often didn’t leave the office until gone 9pm – we just don’t see that these days and I for one, am glad and believe that it will mean recruitment becomes more of a career choice than just a job.

I was always looking for ways to improve my results, and quickly found that ditching a script and just engaging candidates in a natural conversation delivered far better results. This is still a principle on which we pride ourselves at Macildowie; we will never put forward a candidate without having a meaningful conversation with them about their needs and aspirations. It’s key to building the kinds of relationships that we need with our candidates to set us apart from the competition.

At Macildowie, we never underestimate the power of a face-to-face meeting. Wherever possible we will always meet our candidates before putting them forward for a position, which allows us to build a proper relationship with them, fully understand their skills, experience and ambition, and therefore most effectively represent them to prospective employers. Of course, Skype and Facetime mean that if it’s hard for the candidate to free up sufficient time to meet us, at least we’re better able to communicate with them via video call.

This approach, by picking up the phone and getting to know people properly, supports our ‘candidate’ ethos. Our clients know that the potential employees we have found for them have all been vetted and considered against the unique specification they have provided for the role.

This is increasingly becoming a crucial USP for us, as building personal relationships with some clients is becoming more and more challenging. Blue chips in particular are now relying on CVs uploaded to an ATS (applicant tracking system), restricting the opportunity for a meaningful business relationship. When it comes to SMEs, however, technology has not replaced relationships, and we still have the opportunity there to build strong, personal relationships with our clients. In the digital age, I believe that more traditional forms of communication can help to make an impact. Handwritten letters can deliver a really personal message through a (now) unusual, and therefore memorable, medium.

With the sector changing on what feels like a quarterly basis, it’s hard to predict what we will experience in the next 20 years. We obviously have Brexit to navigate, and I am eagerly anticipating the next tools of the trade. Perhaps someone will invent the recruitment equivalent of Tinder – swipe left or right if the candidate’s skills meet your requirements?

I strongly believe that video presents an interesting prospect for employers – perhaps an opportunity for candidates to ‘meet the manager’ before committing to applying for a position. After all, our research shows that the primary reason for candidates seeking a new role is a difficult, or dead-mans shoes, relationship with their current line manager. With Employer Brand becoming strategically important in both the attraction and retention of staff, the use of video will undoubtedly increase in the next few years.

I would also like to see how our use of smartphones will change in the future. I don’t necessarily think that being online and accessible all of the time has made any of us any more efficient, and I wonder if the world will wake up to this and move on from the current practice of becoming addicted to our phone or tablet 24/7.

I think WhatsApp (or an SMS equivalent) will overtake email for communications, and will help candidates and recruiters cut through the noise that we all experience, and are annoyed and distracted by, in our inboxes.

When I left university, I felt unemployable. My 2.2 was certainly a “drinkers degree” so I was highly motivated to work hard to achieve success and hopefully enough money to buy a house and a nice car. I had studied accountancy but I definitely didn’t want to become an accountant. My Dad, who was head of sales for a FTSE 250 business, has always inspired me and I saw a real appeal in sales, marketing and relationship building. I decided that my degree would be best put to use in accountancy recruitment, so decided to pursue that.

But today, my personal motivations have certainly changed. With my family, my goal is to make sure my children are proud to call me their dad and of the fact that I have helped so many professionals to enhance their careers over the years. I want to inspire them in the same way that my own mother and father did to me.

My aspiration for Macildowie itself is to continue with our success of being the best-performing recruitment consultancy in the Midlands. We fill 38% of vacancies when we are up against other agencies (boosted by the launch of Macildowie One, where we fill 98%), and whilst this is far higher than the national average, we still want to do better. I have a dream that we only work on vacancies that are exclusive to us, this is the reason that we continue to invest in our globally recognised, market-leading Client Value Proposition.

I also believe that by doing everything that we can to make Macildowie the best firm to work for, that great success will follow, allowing us as always to re-invest back into the business. Ultimately, our ongoing success will be defined by building excellent relationships with our employees (Glassdoor suggests we’re doing very well at this), and encourage them to build excellent relationships with their candidates and clients – the one principle that hasn’t changed in the past 20 years, and that I strongly believe will remain crucial for the next 20.

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