Those who can, talk. Those who can’t, listen. And those who don’t give a shit don’t turn up.
Like so many developed nations, the United Kingdom faces a teacher shortage described by a recent Daily Mail article as having reached “crisis levels.”
A recent survey found that nearly three out of four education authorities in the UK report to already experiencing pains related to recruiting and retaining educators, and the pangs are only expected to become more acute over the months and years ahead.
This looming disaster has prompted the Department for Education and Employment to take ‘decisive steps’ to make teaching more attractive.
These include signing bonuses for new teachers and immediate raises for existing ones, and launching an aggressive recruitment marketing campaign to raise the profile of teacher recruitment.
The campaign’s tagline, now ubiquitous in the United Kingdom: “Those Who Can, Teach.”
If you’re not familiar with this campaign, though, you will almost certainly be familiar with this high concept, a truism that has more or less devolved into a hackneyed cliche.
Last week, TRU once again returned to its prodigal roots in the City of London, and it was against this august, austere backdrop of bankers in suits, cobblestone streets and power lunching hotspots that the inevitable eclectic mix of hats, jackets, shirts, trousers (or lack thereof) gathered in the Old Dutch Church for some recruiting shop talk. Nothing says fashion quite like a recruiting unconference, and I, for one, was not going to let the sartorial side down.
This event was timed to coincide with the half century birthday celebration of its iconic talent talisman, a certain Marmite of a character named Bill Boorman, the internationally infamous brains behind the Global TRU operation.
While the event did a brilliant job of bringing some of the best and brightest minds in recruitment to talk about the top talent topics, trends and tools, here’s what stayed with me after two packed days of #TruLondon (not to mention the full on resourcing-related socialising in the interim):
The UK Recruitment Industry Just Doesn’t Get It.
It doesn’t get Bill Boorman. It doesn’t get the real point of recruitment events, and it certainly doesn’t get the real point of the concept of real ‘networking’ in the real world. The UK recruiting world, in short, doesn’t keep it real.
I know, you probably don’t quite understand what I mean by this seemingly simple statement. Well, then. Let’s go back to the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start. Or as good as any other place, I suppose.
I was never the fastest, cleverest, funniest or best looking, nor did I ever make the mistake of convincing myself or anyone else otherwise. I was never the first team captain, never excelled in anything in particular, and certainly have never been the World’s Top Recruiter.
My record, unfortunately, continues today, where I am not a thought leader, influencer or any of those other silly titles that seem to sell out recruiting events.
But you know what? I’m OK with that. I mean, Donald Trump once shared the same admission, although given the current political picture I’m unsure whether comparing myself with The Donald is necessarily a wise choice for proactive comparison. But if a self-made billionaire can get away with telling the truth, then who am I to hide?
Time to come clean.
I’m not the best at anything, apart from being the best at surrounding myself with the best people.
Being in the room at #TruLondon was somehow like being drawn back to my old Boarding School days, so before I go any further, go ahead and get all your little jokes and one liners about my halcyon days in now. But all joking aside, the eclectic lineup of attendees was like attending a general session of the UN of Recruitment.
The assembled practitioners represented every imaginable professional perspective, with world views as divergent as the actual accents informing the recruitment related shop talk: American, Dutch, Australian, Indian, some more Americans, and Johnny Campbell (below), whose Irish accent has somehow developed into the voice of reason capable of drawing in crowds from down the street and around the world.
There was, however, one badly missed contingent among the global band of recruitment misfits at #TruLondon; while the English were there, I do promise you, for many of us this event was a little like finding yourself stuck in a Shisha Café in Knightsbridge the week before Ramadan. The odd man out in your own backyard.
We were the minority.
And this is not OK.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And Hotels, Beer and More (Or Too Much)…
For those of you unfamiliar with the recruitment picture over here in the UK, here’s a brief primer. While we have a vibrant industry and packed calendar of recruitment events, conferences and expositions, it’s all centralized in a single location.
And while London maintains such a pull that people will board planes or get passports just to get there, it’s also a quite expensive, often inconvenient destination, particularly for those only coming in for the occasion.
But that doesn’t seem to stop event organizers from maintaining London’s ubiquity, and near monopoly, as the recruitment destination, nor does it seem to stop attendees from converging on the City from around the world.
Just as at TRU, these manifold events do not promise to teach attendees anything of actual value, nor are attendees guaranteed anything for the price of admission. But many of the best in the business simply open their wallets, show up, and hope for the best. No questions asked. Which is extraordinary, really, if you stop and think about it.
This of course begs the question as to why, exactly, people from other countries are only too willing to shell out quite literally thousands of pounds – or, most often, dollars – from their relatively limited budgets and restricted recruitment bandwidth just to come to London to hear people they’ve already heard talk about stuff they already know at an event hosted by someone they’re likely already friends with?
We all know that in this business, there’s no such thing as a Silver Bullet. But if such a thing did exist, my friend, are you more likely to find it here, in a church in the City of London, than any other place, event or venue? Of course not, and if you showed up looking for it, I pity you.
But here’s the thing. Learning is all about surrounding yourself with people who are better than you. Similarly, the only way to truly get better at something is to play with people who are going to force you to raise your own game.
Of course, like in any game, there are rules; the problem in recruitment is that it seems to be so multifaceted that we can’t seem to agree on any universal set of standards for disciplines as diverse as sourcing, engagement, copywriting, networking, negotiation and the host of other issues representing the requisite moving target any silver bullet could conceivably strike.
Even if you’re an expert recruiter, there had to be something you needed to know at last week’s event, or at least one person there that you could have learned something from. If you don’t agree with me, I’m co-opting a saying I picked up at last week’s event and calling BAWLSHIT (which is like Bull Shit, but way more American!).
You have to show up to win the prize. It’s really that simple.
Winners show up, and losers come up with excuses for not showing up. Those who did show up for TRU walked away, largely, as winners. At least from a recruitment perspective, which might not be saying all that much.
The Myth of the ‘Five Percent Rule.’
I’ve often been told (and too often told dismissively) that I operate in the “5%,” those handful of early adopters, tinkerers, doers and dreamers who represent the outliers at the cutting edge of the recruitment industry.
This is not, of course, because I am brilliant. It is, instead, a reflection of the time and effort I take upon myself to challenge myself to learn about what’s new, what’s next and what I can do right now for my clients, candidates and colleagues.
I think, of course, this is complete and utter bollocks. For example, do you remember when LinkedIn was seen as a “Professional Network,” like Facebook with a tie, or Glassdoor was the place you went to for confidential salary information instead of anonymized dirt digging and/or mud throwing?
Now ask yourself how right that short term perspective turned out to be over the long term.
It takes the unconventional to challenge conventional wisdom, and if you look at the above example, you can appreciate that this much mythologized “Five Percenters” who actually drove these changes, and our industry, forward, often with no end goal other than a crazy belief that recruitment could (and must) do a better job getting its job done. The other 95%, meanwhile, stayed on the sidelines, reading dusty resourcing magazines, attending stodgy CIPD conferences and rebranding bad habits as best practices.
Ignore change long enough, and if it doesn’t go away, it likely will come back to bite you in the ass – or in the case of the aforementioned, force you to spend a lot of money on solving the long term problems this short term apathy too often creates. You could try to see the future, or you can stay stuck in the past. I’m saddened by the choice I see so many of my peers making, for it is the wrong one.
I do not understand the mindset of recruitment leaders and professionals who, given the chance to meet these game changers, choose instead to stay away. Why on Earth do you not choose to vote with your feet, put up a little money and time today, and simply show up with an open mind. What’s the worst thing that could happen by attending? Ignorance might be bliss, but the costs of it should prove far worse than a registration fee and a day away from your desk.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss in Recruitment.
Imagine being able to go back to that office and know what tool you need or who you definitively need to talk to in order to actually improve the way your company recruits instead of sitting back and talking about change. Change, already.
But of course, the 5% aren’t the ones responsible for doing things differently at your company. You are. The 5%, I think, is a convenient crutch and as much of an urban myth as believing that seeing a pair of magpies bring good luck.
Think about it. While a sweeping majority of recruitment practitioners profess to wanting to be better, the reason that only a tiny handful of people actually lead and manage the forward looking conversation is because you didn’t bother to spend a handful of pounds and show up.
I, for one, simply cannot believe that anyone in recruitment in the UK would ever consider this option, not even for a moment. Because the world literally came knocking on your back door, and for some reason, you chose not to answer. Shame on you.
TRU featured game changers, and a sneak peek at the new rules of the recruitment road. Ever wonder how resourcing could utilize the Oculus Rift?
Well, Stan Rolfe travelled all the way from Perth, Western Australia, to show how he’s used this virtual reality technology (pictured) to change the way Barminco, a multinational mining and minerals extraction concern, uses to inform and screen new hires while also presenting a realistic preview to the day-to-day realities of working in a mine shaft to interested prospects.
After seeing it, all I can say is, I have seen something that looks, to me at least, a whole lot like the future of recruitment.
I saw this at a recruitment event. In London. You could have seen the talent technology of tomorrow, but chose to stay away. You talk about innovation and change, but won’t venture out of the office and across town to see these aphorisms in action. It’s mind-boggling.
Let me give you a word of advice, based on Stan’s presentation alone. Next time you see a Resourcing Manager using a prototype piece of equipment for a virtual reality technology that’s not publically available even though it’s owned by Facebook, make sure to let me know, won’t you?
PS, Stan: well played in the cricket.
Why It’s All About Relationships.
Um, yes. If you disagree with that premise, then you’re past saving. Relationships are everything, and it’s about old ones, new ones and ones you never knew were going to happen or didn’t know you needed to begin with. It’s about meeting people from different backgrounds and perspectives. It’s about finding new people that like you, and you like in return. People who can learn from you, and you can learn right back.
It’s about developing your own network of people you can mutually admire, to a degree, and in developing that network, develop our own professional careers and personal assumptions in the process.
Look. We’ve all done some cool shit in our recruitment careers. We’ve all had mundane stretches where not much has happened. At TRU, it’s irrelevant.
What #TruLondon affords attendees the opportunity to do is to pull together those many experiences, no matter how esoteric or mundane, into a single place and conversation where you can stop talking about what you’ve done in the past and use those experiences to shape what we’re all doing in the future.
Show up and be ready to share, show and tell. Most importantly, teach. Even if it’s shit, at least we’re getting to talk it out and give it a try – not to mention meet new people with new ideas. Hell, in some circles this discipline actually has a name. They call it ‘conversing.’
I rather like that.
TRU Lessons, Truly Learned.
Build A Personal Advisory Board.
Startups who lack a presence in a given market often take the task of building what’s called an “advisory board,” which is more or less granting equity for the privilege of going out and hanging out with the cool kids, the ones who can open doors. The quid pro quos in any given interchange is always actually always fairly blatant, and of course you’ve got to get something in return. Hell, something for nothing never got anyone anywhere, anyhow.
I am going to be building an advisory board myself. Not for a company, but for me. The same approach startups use should be co-opted to build your own personal advisory board. It likely won’t cost you more than a few rounds of drinks, but make sure you get to know the people worth knowing, and they’ll help you stay in the know.
Those in the know, though, know to pay it forward. While they don’t expect anything explicit in return, they also know that making new relationships and nurturing new ones almost always pays off – but you’ve got to give value to get any back in return. Just go in with no expectations and an open mind, and you’ll reap rich rewards in return for a relatively limited up front investment. Oh, and please. Don’t suck.
We’ve got quite enough of that already, thank you very much.
Be The “Something” Guy.
This probably seems pretty obvious at an event hosted by and in honor of a man who goes by the moniker “The One in the Hat,” but if you’re going to be there, you’d better be memorable. Whatever it is, you want to make sure to stand out, and you can’t really do that showing up in a white shirt and power tie – or at least, it’s infinitely more difficult.
Remember, when it comes to building a network and making meaningful connections, you are the product you’re selling. Like all product marketing, success depends largely on two things: presentation and packaging.
So no matter if you’re the drunk guy, the funny guy, the Irish guy, the Chumbawumba Challenge guy, the guy in the black T-shirt or the guy with the jacket, you want to be known for something.
This is why I attended TRU in a Wimbledon blazer that, admittedly, might have been a bit over the top, satorically speaking, but I also had 98 different people (I actually kept count) come up and initiate conversations with me about my jacket.
People may have thought I talked some shit, but good or bad, my takeaway is to be remembered. From genuine compliments about my fashion sensibilities to underhanded snark about my lack thereof, this exercise alone proved that being remembered is better than being right. I have no problems with being known as “Posh James” around these parts, because at the least, I’m known for something. You should be too.
Always, always be remembered. Whatever your something may be.
James Smith currently serves as the co-founder of Poetry Talent, a recruitment technology startup currently launching a portfolio of new web based resources designed to optimise candidate attraction for leading luxury and retail brands in the UK, including Jobs In Luxury, British High Street, and Christmas Temps, among other properties.
James is responsible for partnering with some of Britain’s leading brands to support, develop and enhance their direct recruitment and talent strategy efforts. Additionally, Poetry Talent offers a tailored micro-RPO model featuring a bespoke platform, CREaM designed to support brands in improving their candidate experience throughout the application and pipelining process.
Prior to his current role, James has over 15 years of experience working with leading Luxury Goods and Retail brands specializing in recruitment, in-house talent acquisition and online recruitment methods such as employer branding, career site design, ATS and CRM technology integration and process improvement.
Follow James on Twitter @ja_smith or connect with him on LinkedIn.
By James Smith
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