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Embracing change in the recruitment industry


Desmond O’Brien, head of Nigel Wright Group’s London office, explains how the company is embracing change, enabling it to operate differently in the industry.

Everyone with any reasonable exposure to the recruitment world knows the industry is changing rapidly. Internal talent teams are built almost exclusively of professionals with external recruitment experience, LinkedIn provides unprecedented access (for those willing to pay for it) to the market, and companies who use external providers are almost unanimously opposed to speculative approaches – a practice many recruitment companies were at least partially built on.

Given the new landscape you would expect the industry to acknowledge the need to adapt, yet there is a surprising reluctance amongst industry leaders to change behaviours.

A big part of why I accepted the offer to lead Nigel Wright’s London office was because they were willing to hire me. Without context that sounds daft, but I was honest throughout the interview process about how and why our industry must evolve and my attraction to the company had everything to do with their willingness to allow, and encourage, a meaningful change. I am still relatively new to the recruitment scene in London, but I have met too many people over the past four years who are struggling to embrace the kind of transformation necessary for us to continue to advance as a profession and add value as suppliers. Becoming more consultative is a necessary evolution and there is tremendous opportunity for leaders to influence the reputation of the entire industry.

Putting clients first

The consultants in our London office are not targeted on how many CVs they send in a week. They are not incentivised to make a certain number of phone calls in a day. They are not asked to introduce people they have never met to people they do not know and they are constantly encouraged to listen to our clients, candidates, and the market in general. Not exactly radical, but in an industry that was created based on certain types of output equating to revenue every month, it is a fundamental shift. It is also exactly why many big recruitment companies have been slow to adapt. Changing from a model that has been successful for decades is risky, but staying the same in a changing environment is even riskier.

This is not about eliminating KPIs. I have conversations about targets every week with individuals in our office, but they are rooted in meaningful interactions and sustainable relationships. We talk a lot about “shrinking the market” so we can add more value. Rather than working across all of Consumer (which Nigel Wright Group specialise in) every consultant works in a sub-sector – the smaller the better. We further our focus into functional areas so we can provide accurate, up to date insight to an increasingly loyal client base. We have consultants who work exclusively with marketing professionals in the cosmetics industry, others who work solely with procurement professionals within Food & Beverage. We get to know our markets intimately and we invest heavily in relationships instead of our own outputs. The conversations become more consultative and our relationships become more peer to peer. To date, this model is working for us, and more importantly, it is working for our clients.

The future of recruitment

As a group, Nigel Wright has over a hundred consultants working across 13 offices in Europe, almost exclusively in the Consumer space. We have had our four best months of trading in a row as I write this article. The opportunity for us as a company is immense, which is exactly why we are listening to what the market is telling us instead of telling the market what we want them to hear.

Recruitment can offer young professionals a career that is increasingly consultative. The industry provides an unlimited variety of experiences. The exposure we receive to the inner workings of companies (from start-ups to global giants) is one of the many reasons recruiters enjoy doing what they do, and the sooner we stop out of date practices the more attractive we become to the next wave of young graduates looking for a rewarding career.

It is incumbent upon all of us in the industry to have a wider conversation about how we can change recruitment for the better. If a transactional model continues to survive, the recruitment industry will suffer. If we work towards being more consultative, the future is bright, and a lot more fulfilling.


This article can also be found in Recruitment International's June magazine