My journey into the recruitment industry; and advice for anyone doing the same...

We’re lucky in the sense that every week we get to speak with and share our experiences with hundreds of people all expressing their interest in getting into the recruitment industry…

I remember my journey into the recruitment industry, I was one of the last of 30 Sales Trainers made redundant during the recession with a previous telco retail company, I’d just completed the purchase of a complete ‘doer upper’ Victorian house in Staffordshire with our first and eldest son ‘Archie’ on his way imminently, so the pressure was ON.

Trawling through ‘Trainee Recruiter’ adverts on the job boards promising the earth, I quickly reached the conclusion that recruitment was either a very lucrative career path or it was all a scam to try and lure applications. It seemed that whoever promised the highest OTE on their advert gained the most applications from the market.

I received a call from a North West based Rec2Rec specialising in trainees at the time, for the purposes of this blog we’ll call him ‘Sam’, he was pleasant, appeared knowledgable and gave me the usual glossy ‘sell’ on the industry and what it was like working in recruitment. Talks of company owners driving Ferraris, top billers driving around Porsche 911’s at 24 years old and boozy trips to Dubai and Marbella whet my appetite. After several ‘screening questions’ I was informed that I’d passed the telephone stage and was to meet with their ‘client’ later that week. As I was based a good 22 miles from their office they booked my interview for 8:30am to make sure it was ‘doable’.

It was an early start, the alarm was set for 6:00am. I’ll be honest, the night before I toyed with just sacking it off, telling them I wasn’t well or had got another job (all the excuses us seasoned recruiters are now accustomed to!) The reason? I’d done some research on the company and I wasn’t sure it sounded right and deep down in my gut I knew I was going because;

  1. I needed to earn good money and provide for my soon to be young family; and
  2. I didn’t want to let Sam down as he’d done an alright job and seemed a nice bloke

I was parked up for 7:50am, a quick coffee (espresso) at the local Starbucks and I was ready, best suit and freshly ironed white shirt with a skinny tie (think wannabe Jamie Redknapp) I was ready for the ‘interview’. Stood pressing the door buzzer as a white Lamborghini Gallardo roared passed me on the street I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the owner of the business on his way to work, I walked up the stairs and through the main door to be greeted by the Office Manager, was whisked into their boardroom and offered a glass of water (a coffee or tea might have been too much trouble until they knew if I was any good or not).

40 minutes later…

In walked the Team Leader, quick handshake, standard ‘did you find us OK?’ small talk and then proceeded into an onslaught (think Spanish Inquisition) off my CV, why I think I’ll be good in recruitment given I had no university degree or B2B sales experience. (These were the days where clients held all the aces, they had the luxurious position of being able to hand pick whoever they liked from hundreds of applicants and didn’t have to ‘sell’ their proposition whatsoever). After about 50 minutes of ‘grilling me’ I assumed it had gone badly, he told me to hang on a minute and exited the room, no opportunity to ask questions or feedback. About 15 minutes passed, I had packed up my notebook and was ready to slip away when in walked (unbeknown to me) the MD…

Armed with a psychometric profiling test, a general aptitude test and an overall intelligence test, a further 30 minutes’ grilling took place (basically telling me how I’d fail over and over again). I’d really shown my teeth back at this point and he dumped the tests on my side of the table informing me of the time constraints for each one, whilst he sat opposite me stopwatch in hand…

Now I’m not the most academic of individuals but aptitude, my competitive nature and general intelligence would probably be my stronger points. Tests complete, interview finished I called Sam (as he asked) with my feedback and after a short while was called back with some very generic positive feedback and offered the final interview. Now I won’t bore you with all the gory details from here on but it involved reading something beforehand, another 4 hour grilling from pretty much every senior(ish) person in the office and then some fierce negotiating (trying to offer me £16k to start having previously been earning £25k + a company car) with promises of commission and fancy holidays. In case you wondered I negotiated £18k in the end.

Here came the first of the holy grail trainee recruiter mistakes, accepting the first/only job offer that came along because I wanted my ‘foot in the door’.

Always trust your gut feeling.

If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. I’ve come to learn over my 8 years in recruitment that your gut feeling makes up a good portion of your daily decision making. Of course there’s more science behind it than a ‘hunch’ stuff like skills, experience, longevity, cultural fit, achievements, attitude, mindset, reliability, rapport, relationships etc but if something is niggling at you then always trust your instinct.

What happened next?

I accepted and started the role, was asked if I wanted to do perm or contract (on the day I started) and quickly realised that my hunches had been accurate, training was very basic, the tales of Ferraris and 911’s were nonsense (owner drove a Q7 and the top biller had a Nissan 350Z) and the company incentive was Chester Races followed by a night in the pub rather than Dubai or Marbella. Not one to base my career decisions on materialistic stuff I endured for 6 weeks and probably felt like quitting at least 8 times during what felt like a lifetime, I’d sometimes sit in my car in the morning hoping my son would be born prematurely just so I didn’t have to go in.

The day of my father’s 50th birthday party came around, I informed my Senior Consultant (mentor/buddy) that I’d need to leave on time (6pm) that Friday evening to which I was greeted with the following response…

If you’re already putting your family and social life before your recruitment career then you need to question whether this is the right career path for you.

Utter bollocks! I resigned, with immediate effect and that was me back on the job market hating recruitment and looking for alternative opportunities amidst the recession. Knowing what I know now there was a reason Sam called me every other day during that first month, quizzing me as to why my CV was back on job board X the poor lad probably lost half if not all his fee. Working 12 hour days was fine if I knew why I was doing it, but the ‘why’ and ‘how’ were always the missing ingredients.

  1. You need to get 10 leads today – Why? – Just get the leads please – How? – Just ring through the database and ask where people have interviewed…
  2. You need to pick up 2 new jobs this week (I knew the why for this one) How? – Just call clients and ask them if they need any staff…

After this ‘experience’ I almost quit the recruitment industry, it almost burned me and if it wasn’t for the next two managers that I joined in my next company I’d probably be in a very different position right now (even though in the end that company tried to ruin my life but that’s another story). All of the above is exactly the reason why all of the team here at AJC will try and put you off and we certainly don’t ‘sell’ the recruitment career path to anyone. See one of our adverts here if you need proof.

The biggest learnings and advice I try to pass on to everyone getting into the recruitment industry are as follows:

  1. Expect hard work, long hours and plenty of knocks along the way.
  2. Remember why you wanted to get into the industry each time something shit happens and makes you want to quit your job.
  3. Don’t be scared of making mistakes, outside of our comfort zone is where we grow as individuals, both as human beings and professionals.
  4. Trust your gut feeling, it’s almost always right.
  5. Give yourself choice and always put yourself in the strongest position you can when it comes to making a decision on your career.
  6. Perception is reality. The perception you give off is someone’s impression of you, for example: If you’re yawning on the phone or coming across all monotonous then instantly the impression we have is doing you a disservice.
  7. Be the hardest worker, most inquisitive, first and last in the office and the best version of you all of the time. Unless recruitment is not for you… In which case there are far easier low paid jobs and if you’re just in it for the base, seriously you shouldn’t be. Leave. Now. Please.
  8. The interview process is a two way street. Don’t be the one answering all the questions, you have to suss out whether this business is the right one for you!
  9. Choose a manager and ‘mentor’ as opposed to a business based on their awards or how shiny their website looks. Your new manager will be the difference between success, average and failure in the early years.
  10. Pick a sector you’re passionate about. My first job was recruiting IT Infrastructure professionals in London, something I knew nothing about nor had the slightest interest in. It probably showed.

Typically we’ll get 200 applications each week from people from all walks of life, from cocktail bar staff, professional golfers and cabin crew to university graduates working part time at their local supermarket alongside their studies. Your background (whilst important) shapes you as an individual, it’s never too late to write the future. I had about 10 jobs in the 8 years before finding the right career path for me.

Hopefully this blog helps those who are looking at getting into (or falling into) the recruitment industry avoid making similar mistakes, of course if anyone has any questions feel free to reach out to me. And to the experienced recruiters out there, we’d love to hear your stories of recruitment life in the early days and top tips too!