recfest logoEvery so often recruitment conferences (of which there are many,) need defibrillators strapped to them and set to 50,000 volts! They need a serious jolt – you know they do!

Too many conferences use the same format over and over again, based on the ‘that’s the way it has always been done, so why change’ approach. It seems tradition trumps innovation, in our industry. Obviously there is the unconference style of conferences that are now established across the world.

But they can sometimes be too random and unorganized for many a corporate recruiter.

What about something that merges the two together?

Last week in London, I attended a recruitment conference with a difference – RecFest 2014 – a combination of a recruitment conference and a festival with a tagline of ‘Peace, Love & Talent’. The venue was awash with sunflowers and grass (ok they were plastic, but good gardeners are hard to come by in East London in June!)

The organisers, Jamie and Lois Leonard, have never run a conference before, but they had a vision of what recruitment conference delegates actually want through their innovative business, Reconverse. Their business is all ALL about the conversation – connecting people (typically in-house recruiters) and then facilitating a conversation around specific recruitment conversations of the moment. It is tremendously successful.

At a Reconverse event there are tables of 12-15 people. At RecFest this was ramped up to 100. Would their business idea and model scale? Would the level of interest and conversation that can be obtained around one large table, transfer to a room of 100 people?

The structure of the conference was a simple one:

  1. You need to feel relaxed during the day, so festival wear was encouraged, including shorts and hats! This was a winner from the start with all the delegates feeling chilled and conversational from the start. It’s amazing how the removal of work attire can liberate the mind!
  2. There were 10 tables, each seating 10 people. On each table was a resident expert, who was there to facilitate the conversation and ensure all the people seated at the table participated.
  3. Each speaker got to speak for 20 minutes only. They covered a particular subject then posed questions for discussion around the table.
  4. After the presentation, the table discussed the subject for 25 minutes.
  5. Then everyone delegate moved to a different table to start the cycle again with a different presenter.

I told you it was a simple concept.

And it worked. Delegates (who normally wouldn’t get so involved at conferences) were joining in the debate around the tables.

Recruiting Table Dances

As a table ‘expert’, I can only comment on my table’s experiences directly. This format allowed delegates to ask and answer questions based on their own experiences at their companies, and provide some insights that we (outside those companies) would never hear about. Very revealing indeed!

The relaxed approach of the conference seemed to enable delegate’s ability to talk freely about their roles, challenges and situations they are currently experiencing.

As with every conference these days, the #RecFest hashtag was very busy through the day – and it is worth checking out here on Tagboard (see below).tagboard

As with every conference and festival, the content of the speakers is the critical part, and as with every event some of it worked well to create debate and some of it was less effective.

The morning speakers covered off:

  • Employer Branding In A Candidate Scarce Market: Care UK
  • Recruitment Blah Blah Blah: Matt Burney, Group Online Resourcing Manager at G4S
  • Hiring Manager Maturity Model – ‘Don’t Expect What You Have Not Inspected’: Grant Weinberg, Director of International Talent Acquisition – Gilead Sciences

Interestingly all three presentations ended with similar table discussions (on my table, at least)…

There is always lots of discussion around employer brand, and how the perception of your brand (from candidates) creates huge challenges for recruiting the hard to fill roles. Changing brand perception takes a long time – and what about the immediate problem, the recruitment needs of today, how do you make the changes effective soon?

Social media isn’t the answer, according to Matt Burney as he is fed up with all the social BS floating around the recruitment industry. He did concede that if social is to work it needs to have a purpose and a value to the business. Agreed!

Grant Weinberg introduced us to a new initiative at his company – the Hiring Manager Maturity Model. This would be worth a post on it’s own, but basically they have recognised that hiring managers are a big potential weak link in their hiring process. They are setting about assessing, benchmarking, training them and then monitoring them in the whole hiring lifecycle. It is a great idea – but one that will take longer than they think, in my opinion.

The common denominator at the end of the table discussions were employer brand, attraction, brand perception, social media attraction and career sites.

Recruiting Female Talent

After some ‘interesting ‘ lunch the afternoon resumed with Mr. Mobile himself – Matt Alder – talking about persuasion and the power of the message. A good point to remember from Matt was that you can have the best message in the world, but if it lands in front of the wrong audience, you have just wasted your time! And just for the record, Matt did of course give us ‘recruitment is now mobile’ pitch 😉

Two very different presentations were next but they were the best of the day.

SAB Miller’s Global Head of Talent Acquisition, Jennifer Candee, decided to scare us all talking about the future of talent. In simple terms Jennifer was talking about the huge knowledge gaps that are appearing now in companies as the Boomer generation retires, with the knowledge simply not being replaced. Companies are trying to address this but not nearly enough.

If we thought that wasn’t enough, she covered off diversity gaps in an equally insightful way. There are some serious problems in companies that are simply not being addressed at all by senior leadership teams. Jennifer highlighted how shortages of specific talent can have huge financial implications for companies.
That got our table talking!!

Recruiting Porn

Then we moved into porn. That is not a typo, as Alex Hens from HarbourATS, decided that he needed to get our attention; he certainly did that! Alex was all about back to basics on technology. The latest technology porn seduces too many people in recruitment because they think they want it, but they don’t need it, and in many cases don’t actually know what they want. “There is no point having a flash sports car, if you can’t even drive a family saloon car properly!”

A refreshingly honest presentation that was damn funny, but also very true. My favourite quote of the day came from Alex:

 “many recruitment statistics are just pornographic PR.”

This presentation resulted in the best conversation on the table afterwards by a long way.

One of the recruitment industry legends, Matthew Jeffrey closed out the conference with a comprehensive presentation, looking at many of the faults and misconceptions of recruiting. As always a great presentation from Matthew, keeping the audience both amused and interested to the end.

At the end of the day the room was still very nearly full of delegates. That is how good the day was. No one wanted to leave.

So did the different format work for a recruitment conference then? Damn right it did, and I hope other conferences are brave enough to innovate a little more as well. Yes there a few issues during the day, and some things I am sure Jamie and Lois will change next time, but overall it was a good experience. Next year make sure you get yourself a ticket!

andyandy2d2f414About the Author: Andy Headworth is an independent consultant, blogger and author and works with companies helping them improve their recruitment strategies, recruitment processes, candidate attraction and social media integration. He also writes an award winning blog over at

Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyHeadworth or connect with him on LinkedIn.