#Take15 – 15 years in… recruitment (with Russell Smith)

This continues our #Take15 series exploring local business owners’ experience and development over the past 15 years. Here is Russell Smith of Bristol’s favourite recruiters Hunter Selection, discussing the evolution of recruitment over the past decade and more:

Russell Smith – 15 years of recruiting Bristol’s finest

Q. Dialling your mind back 15 years, what was the recruitment scene like in 2006?

The recruitment sector was already established back then, but clients perhaps had some negative perceptions of what recruiters did. Fertile times in the 90s had led to an industry with few barriers to entry and lots of businesses driven by salespeople and little else.

The internet had made it much easier for all recruitment companies to have access to the same database of candidates. Previously, spending years building a candidate base was a hard-earned competitive advantage. But from the late 90s, pretty much everyone had access to the same resources – provided you could pay for them.

Bristol specifically has always been a hub for recruitment businesses. The city feeds a steady flow of bright young ambitious people to the industry every year. And the city centre and Clifton have long seen the lunchtime sandwich shops filled with shiny suits, bright ties, and hair product, courtesy of the ambitious young guns of the recruitment sector.

Q. How did Hunter Selection fit into the scene?

I’d been working in recruitment for about ten years. I’d become Group Managing Director of a listed national recruitment company, but I was tired of being bound by all the corporate goals.

I wanted to build something from scratch that mirrored my beliefs, values, and approach to the industry. Possibly this means I’m a control freak. But I opened Hunter – in a single-room office in North Bristol. The room had a challenging, sloping floor. There were only three staff. But I never looked back!

Q. What were the challenges recruitment companies faced in 2006? Are any of them still relevant?

When I first started Hunter, the initial challenge revolved around breaking client perceptions and gaining the trust of candidates.

By then, most candidates were beginning to get fed up with recruiters calling them and regretting having their CVs in the public arena on the internet job boards. We had to demonstrate skills and integrity beyond the competition. We had to focus on taking the highest level of service to both our clients and candidates and prove ourselves through performance.

We always knew that it wouldn’t be a sprint. Sure enough, one of our main focuses is still on showing how we live up to the values we’re always talking about both within the company and to candidates and clients.

Q. Did you face any unique challenges when you expanded to different regions?

Hunter Selection now has offices in Cardiff, Stafford, and Coventry and yes, each comes with its own local culture and conditions that need to be understood properly. The labour market can be very different around the UK. As a recruiter, it’s critical to understand that – and that’s why we very deliberately have regional offices and a local approach.

A great example would be South Wales. Here, a candidate may only live five miles from a prospective employer according to Google Maps, but if that’s in the parallel valley, that journey could be 50 minutes long!

Equally, understanding the prospect of crossing the M5/M6 in Birmingham every day would put most Midlanders off the wrong commute. Regional characteristics and inherited beliefs also play a strong role in candidates’ career preferences in certain parts of the country. This adds another dimension to finding people the right job for them.

Q. How has the recruitment industry changed in the past 15 years?

Everything happens much faster. Speed of introduction of candidates puts huge pressure on recruitment to act fast whilst maintaining high standards. Fortunately, most employers now recognise that finding candidates fast doesn’t always mean the best outcome for them. They tend to show greater loyalty to tried, tested, and trusted recruitment partners.

Recruitment companies these days also have to work together more as clients employ a variety of tiered and outsourcing models. We have to spend more and more time and effort checking customer satisfaction and reacting to improvement opportunities as well as taking enormous care of the welfare of our own staff, both physical and mental.

For instance, we have an AXA healthcare programme for staff with a dedicated mental health component as well as an early care sabbatical scheme which you can apply for after two years’ service. This aims to head off burn-out risk and enhances travel opportunities that may potentially have been missed for the sake of employment.

Q. What are you most proud of having achieved with Hunter in the past 15 years?

It’s the people I’m most proud of, for sure. Over fifty people are currently part of Hunter Selection and we’re expanding month on month, with growth in all our teams and disciplines.

Every day I get the chance to work with people whose company I actually enjoy and be a part of their success. They’re great. The energy and ambition of our staff feeds my motivation to keep driving the business forwards. With a large percentage of the business now owned by the staff everyone knows that they have a significant part to play in an exciting future.

Want to join a business that’s serious about putting your career first? That values its staff? And that actually lives up to its values?

Explore what Hunter Selection can offer you today: Trust. Respect. Teamwork. Community development. Enjoyment.