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“Back to the future” in the world of professional recruitment

Recruitmentjob vacanciesrecruitment historyprofessional recruitmentGary Watsonjob boardssocial media recruitingrecruitment consultantsrecruitment consultancies+-

Most of you will have seen something like this diagram - or perhaps you’ve seen the old slogan “We offer three kinds of Service: Good, Cheap, Fast. You can pick any two!”


Despite protestations to the contrary, CHEAP (better known as Cost per hire) has dominated the recruitment agenda over recent years. This is hardly surprising in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis as organisations struggled to adjust in order to survive.


However, there is increasing evidence that the agenda is beginning to change and that FAST (Time to hire) and GOOD (Quality of hire) are both making a comeback. Much of this change can be attributed to a strengthening economy and an increasing number of frustrated and over-worked line managers finding their voice.


We now live in a world where we’re getting ever closer to having access to a global database of 6 billion people - and whilst technology has undoubtedly brought significant benefits to the recruitment industry during the past 30 years, I wonder whether the stakeholders of the past would feel that all of the changes have been for the better?


The 80s

In the 80’s, many organisations were still quite paternalistic in their approach and there was an expectation that employees could have a career for life. The “command and control” management style was alive and kicking.


Recruitment at this time was a relatively small and unknown sector. Back then, the most popular way for organisations to recruit was for “Personnel” to advertise for candidates in the local and national newspapers like The Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, The Guardian or the Sunday Times. The process was often slow with no Plan B if the advert failed to produce a sufficiently strong shortlist.


Recruitment consultancies started to fill this gap - initially with the rise of the generalist recruiter and then increasingly with the emergence of the specialist recruiter.


Organisations soon began to appreciate the value of proprietary databases, full of candidates who had been pre-screened and were willing and ready to look at opportunities in the market-place. The concept of “No win no fee” quickly gained traction and the world of contingency recruitment gathered pace.


Most compelling of all was that it was FAST.


Given the lack of technology, this may come as something of a surprise to people. The recruitment consultants in the 80’s had no mobile phones, voicemail or computers. The CRM system was basically a number of boxes full of handwritten cards for candidates, clients and jobs. When the candidate boxes got full, it prompted a lot of updating during the evenings and weekends, at times when it was easy for the candidate to talk. All CVs were sent by post - getting CVs out quickly meant using a 1st class stamp or the new-fangled fax machine - and for exceptional candidates, the CVs might have been sent over by courier.


Nevertheless, the recruitment industry grew quickly because the service it provided was perceived as GOOD.


The 90s

The 90s saw the arrival of the Internet and as a result the boxes of candidates, clients and jobs were locked away to be replaced by computer databases. Mobile phones also started to appear - initially in cars as the handheld ones were too chunky with poor battery life. The first job boards were also launched and recruitment started its journey towards e-recruitment. The first job portal was launched in 1994 by Monster followed by Netstart which is now CareerBuilder.

Recruitment consultants began to change their recruiting habits and the balance from off-line advertising in print newspapers and magazines slowly but surely started to shift to the online world.


Nevertheless, proprietary databases still dominated the market and the recruitment industry enjoyed a golden age with several years of strong economic growth following the harsh recession at the start of the decade. The market reached a crescendo with the emergence of two phenomena: the dotcom boom and Y2K.


By this time, the recruitment industry in the UK had firmly established itself as world class and able to compete across the globe.


It was FAST and it was GOOD.


After 2000

The momentum of the late 90s spilled over into the new millennium. There was a collective sigh of relief that Y2K didn’t see a global collapse due to computers not being able to handle the date change. Sadly this proved to be the “calm before the storm”. The dotcom bubble finally burst and the economic slide that started in early 2001 gathered significant pace post the terrible events of 9/11.


Nevertheless the recruitment industry continued to evolve as recruitment consultants became more and more tech savvy and job boards became their favourite tool. In 2003, 46% of job seekers were looking for new career opportunities online, a number which dramatically increased by 2006 when over 96% of job seekers used online resources in their job search. The market continued to recover reaching its peak in 2007 before the global financial crisis hit in 2008 with dramatic effect all around the world. The number of vacancies dropped and the unemployment rates increased significantly in a short period of time.


Understandably, organisations needed to reduce their cost base and as a result FAST and GOOD gave way to CHEAP in order to save money and over 40% of employers turned to alternative ways such as outsourcing or a direct hire model to fill their vacancies.



Today, organisations have access to a multitude of digital solutions which are designed to make the entire recruitment process faster and more efficient. Recruiters can now advertise vacancies on their company website, on job boards as well as on different social media channels like LinkedIn, Glassdoor or even Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, the introduction of cloud technology has increased efficiency and accuracy, making it easier for recruiters to handle compliance and administration tasks.


Social media websites have opened up a gateway to the passive job seeker and the introduction of LinkedIn has had a huge impact on the way recruiters headhunt candidates allowing them to search, find and connect with people in just a few clicks.


On top of that, the job search ‘trends’ have changed quite a lot. A recent Indeed report shows that 55% of people are now searching for jobs on mobile devices. Companies and recruiters are currently working on addressing mobile compatibility in everything they do.


The future

There has been a huge change in the recruitment industry over the past 30 years and I count myself lucky to have had the chance to witness it. I remain excited and optimistic to see what the future holds although, in the war for talent, I believe that the humans will still outperform the machines.


However, the recruiters of the future will only survive if they excel at what recruiters, past and present, have always strived to do: to save time for candidates and clients because if recruiters don’t save time, they serve no useful purpose.


At Investigo, we will continue to maintain and develop strong relationships with our clients and candidates to boost their businesses and their careers. Not surprisingly, we still believe in GOOD and FAST so if you are looking to hire the best talent in the market or considering your next career move, please call us today on 020 7194 7850.

Gary Watson
Posted by Gary Watson
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