Routes into the recruitment industry

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
March, 2016

With the sector continuing to grow, it’s a great time to consider a career in recruitment. Explore whether you’d be best suited to a large, well-established employer or a specialist agency

Figures from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) show that the recruitment industry is on an upward trajectory, with no sign of a slowdown. In 2014/15, fuelled by a rise in permanent and temporary placements, turnover reached £31.5billion - an increase on the previous year of nearly 10%.

It is little surprise then, with the overall jobs market improving, that many graduates are now looking to start a career in recruitment.

An ideal stage

Recruitment consultants are responsible for attracting candidates who are looking for work and matching them to vacancies.

It’s by no means an easy option. For example, Claire Houston was awarded the honour of being Adecco Group’s 2015 UK and Ireland ‘CEO for One Month’ - under the mentorship of CEO Peter Searle and the executive team - yet she still found the prospect of entering the industry as a recent graduate to be a daunting one.

Those who press on and overcome any initial concerns will find the industry to be exciting, innovative and full of opportunity. Ulster University graduate Claire says, ‘It’s the ideal stage for graduates to flex their creativity, flair and ambition - but make no mistake, you need to be prepared to work hard, fast and smart.’

Essential attributes

After graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in American Studies in 2001, Phil Cookson gained an early insight into how recruiters operated when he was searching for a job. He discovered that being able to talk to people and build relationships were essential to the profession - strengths that not everyone appeared to possess.

‘To be honest, I thought that some of the people I dealt with didn’t seem too good at recruiting, so I thought I could do better,’ says Phil, who is a director at Creative Resource, a recruitment agency specialising in marketing, digital, creative and PR roles throughout the North West of England.

With many years of experience in the industry now behind him, Phil is perfectly placed to comment on the key skills required. ‘Empathy for people is very important, both clients and candidates equally. You also need to have passion for the sector you are working in, and the willingness to immerse yourself within it,’ he adds.

Why work for a specialist agency?

Graduates looking to embark on a career in recruitment typically have two options: to work in-house for a large company, or for a recruitment agency that represents its clients.

By choosing to specialise in a particular sector for an agency, Phil says that following your clients through their development and growth as a business can be very rewarding - as is seeing candidates progressing from graduate through to director level. ‘Eventually the candidates become the clients,’ Phil remarks.

The working environment at a smaller recruiter can be very relaxed, reveals Phil. ‘We don’t operate as a target driven recruiter, which means that we’re totally focused on the service we provide.’

Phil also explains how you can draw great job satisfaction from hearing that you’ve made a positive impact on people’s lives.

Playing your part at a large company

With 6,600 offices in 70 countries, Adecco Group is a multinational that employs around 32,000 people. Claire points out that you only get to understand the complexity of such an organisation once you become involved on a day-to-day basis.

Relying on a number of teams to operate successfully, and indeed thrive, Adecco puts a lot of weight on its recruitment strategy. Claire credits its ‘Way to Work’ programme for giving her an insight into the business.

‘The role gave me a realistic view of how each section has to play its part and innovate in order to secure success for the group as a whole. It doesn’t matter that this is achieved in a variety of ways, and by very different cultures. If the task cohesion is there, it will work,’ says Claire.

The future is digital

For those contemplating a career in recruitment, Phil explains how digital has changed the industry completely over the last ten years. ‘The way we engage with candidates is far more proactive and less reliant on candidates responding to adverts,’ says Phil. ‘We’re now actively sourcing talent on a daily basis.’

This is only set to continue, with the increasing need for job-hunters to manage their social media/network profiles effectively and use technology to their advantage.

Claire stresses the importance of this by encouraging graduates to keep pace with the ‘ever-evolving machine’. By reading books, along with articles on LinkedIn and Twitter, this ‘demonstrates engagement with the industry, providing a wealth of knowledge, challenging you to think outside the norm’.

Digital has also changed how a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) such as Creative Resource manages its internal processes, with Phil finding that it allows for a greater level of efficiency, and the ability for its staff to carry out their work from any location.

Career development

Phil is adamant that a career in recruitment has great potential, whichever route you eventually decide to take.

While his experience of working for a small niche recruiter provided an opportunity for rapid progression, he is aware that some graduates may be enticed by the prospect of moving to the international offices of a large global recruiter, or even going it alone and forging their own path.

‘It is also a sector where many people choose to start their own businesses, so if you’ve got an entrepreneurial streak it’s a great industry to work in,’ suggests Phil.

His final advice to graduates is to ‘think about what sectors might be of interest to you, or are relevant to your background’. For your first role, it is recommended that you focus on what training and development a company can give to you, while finding out what their expectations of you would be.