What phrase is guaranteed to immediately alienate a room of recruiters? ‘Back in my day.’ Cue eyes rolling, phones idly checked and people sliding down their chairs a little further. Recruitment has changed with the world, but with significant lag. People who excel at sales tend to be creatures of habit and resistant to change; if it worked for them, it’ll work for you. It can take a lot to convince a sales leader to embrace new modes of working when the continual pressure of targets.
This creates a challenge; the world is changing quicker than ever but sales organisations may struggle to adapt. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem; technology enabled businesses have experienced double-digit growth in just a handful of months, I’ve spoken to many on my podcast Tech Talks. While this is sustaining the recruitment sector (who are eager to eulogise about the effect of technology and its transformative power), many working in the industry risk being left behind.
“We’ve hit a point of no return, this is normal.” – Jason Brennan, CEO of Luminance
Luminance are a legal tech firm who use natural language processing to reduce the workload of junior lawyers. Rather than reading through contract after contract, the technology (once deployed) allows junior staff to focus on higher value work, developing their skills quicker. The effect, of course, is that legal firms need to hire less junior legal staff; fewer jobs, but a clear path to progression in the firm with their role being augmented.
In the first six months of the pandemic Luminance saw a 30 per cent growth in their customer base. Faced with a competitive market, firms saw the opportunity to hire a different skill set and nurture that talent. Suddenly the war for talent is less acute and retention is aided by the ability to truly meet the aspirations of their staff. Luminance was being adopted pre-pandemic, but not at the rate it has been post-pandemic.
Dealing with change
Jason, the CEO, has a fairly traditional mergers and acquisition background; by his own admission he was resistant to change. But the twin forces of COVID and technology advancement have forced him to reappraise the role of tech within his own organisation; he now enthuses about the remote-office and its benefits. Tools which had been deployed but not adopted, are now being embraced as a means to survive. We are beyond the point of return to the world we experienced just 18 months ago as technology changes what we’re selling and how we operate.
So, what does this have to do with the recruitment industry? We have been talking about the need to change the way we operate for years. The model of local market expertise is expensive and out of step with today. In the technology sector, our market has evolved to include a much greater degree of flexibility than the traditional recruitment model allows. One client of the Harvey Nash Group started the pandemic on the cusp of moving into shiny new offices just outside New York. The ambition was that the whole company would be on a campus, bringing their whole community together. The same firm hired a technology engineer in Saudi Arabia just a few months into the COVID outbreak. Would that have happened without a pandemic? Absolutely not. But with many workers in the tech sector shut away in their living rooms, kitchens, bedroom, and dining rooms the remit for finding the best talent broadened.
“If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today.” – Mikhail Gorbachev
At the end of the Soviet era, Gorbachev recognised the USSR needed reform to survive. Perestroika was intended to extend the life of the USSR and bring it inline with modern-Western powers. The changes unleashed were like letting the cork out of a bottle of champagne. There was no turning back and Moscow lost control leading ultimately to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The war on talent has been crying out for new ideas and ways of thinking. To imagine that after you start to build truly global teams and change the way you operate, that you can also return to ‘normal’ is naive at best. If our clients start to move quickly down this route we will be forced to follow.
Both culturally, and technologically, the traditional recruitment model is being stretched. Local market experts often sit on contingent, transactional roles from volume accounts. A cheaper alternative is exploring near-shore and off-shore delivery. I don’t imagine it is long before a Luminance-like offering utilising natural language processing is built into a CMS.
What does that mean for the recruiter? Fewer needed, but in an evolved and elevated role. The successful consultant of the future will work in a newly digital global village, specialising in deciphering the political nuances and idiosyncratic needs of senior hires rather than finding five engineers. Technology hasn’t killed recruitment. LinkedIn wanted to eat the recruitment industry for breakfast, but their strategy is now to partner with agencies. At the start of this article I stated the number of LinkedIn users in 2010 and 2020; good recruiters will be needed to find the value in amongst 700 million users.
When I sat at my desk on day one I had a telephone, email, and a very Atari-like database. Over the year’s technology made the recruiters world increasingly fragmented, noisy and (at times) easy. Now technology threatens to make the lazy recruiter obsolete with the emergence of machine learning and natural language processing. That said, some of the skills needed when you were armed with little more than a telephone will make you relevant post-pandemic, and ‘back in my day’ may take on new meaning. It’s a new old world.