#TruEdibnurgh: Compelling Insights From ‘The Recruitment Unconference’

#TruEdibnurgh: Compelling Insights From ‘The Recruitment Unconference’

What is #tru

What happens when you bring together a mix of recruiters, HR, tech providers and wider talent related experts and influencers in one unique venue? Well the #tru event event aka “The Recruitment Unconference” is what you get – an event full of exciting, unexpected and stimulating recruitment conversation.

Why this of interest to you?

If you fall into any of the above categories from the recruitment field and haven’t been to one of the global #tru events, this may be exactly the kind of event you’ve been looking for. Either way, I hope this digest from my first visit serves as a handy insight to current hot topics in our industry.


What was discussed at the event?

Each conversation is called a Track and is lead by an aptly named Track Leader, who are experts in their field. There were 18 tracks in total on the day and I attended 5 of these. I scribbled notes as I listened and piped up now and then. Here is a brain dump of my spider scrawl from each session. I apologise in advance any chop and change of context and perspective. The aim wasn’t a flowing literary piece but rather to share a download of insights from the lively conversations that might resonate with some of you.


So, I encourage you to scan through this and pick out what interests you. There is enough content here for 5 separate posts but rather than hold it back I wanted to share it while still fresh.


A big thank you to Bill Boorman, all the #tru team, the sponsors ASA Recruitment, Recruitment Matters International and the REC for bringing the first #tru event to Edinburgh.


Session 1: What candidates really want in online recruitment

Early discussion centered around the biggest challenge that recruitment business owners, and indeed hiring companies, face when it comes to their websites – and that challenge pointed to  finding (and knowing what is) relevant content to attract and engage candidates.

  • This can be a full time job in itself and is something that recruiters in particular have held back from updating. However it was discussed that this really can’t be neglected anymore as candidates expectations have grown.
  • Track leader Stephen O’Donnell offered up a great suggestion that content is staring us in the face every day in the shape of candidate stories. Recruiters meet and speak to candidates every day, those stories can easily form the layers of content to feed an engaging website.
  • Another simple suggestion was to provide insights to what candidates can expect from working with and making an application with your agency. What happens, how long does it take, where’s the value to them, what’s a typical route to employment with an example company?
  • In short this section of conversation boiled down to candidate relevant content and what are agencies doing to drive top calibre talent to their websites. With this in mind what comes up for me is to ask the question, what do you have in place/can you put in place to ask your candidate audience what they want?


Advertising jobs

  • Job boards and advertising were discussed and current examples shared clearly showed that the industry is moving on from the anonymous and one dimensional job spec style ad. Consultants are increasingly showing employer brands (which attract higher applicant numbers). Agencies are starting to add more value through interactive job ads that might show a little more, for example, slideshow images of inside the hiring company.
  • It is naturally assumed that candidates are typically looking at websites on their smartphones so building mobile responsive sites from the outset and with mobile optimised UX is now a priority.


HR Perspective

  • From the HR perspective there were shared opinions that for many of the roles, the people best placed to recruit were themselves. There were some interesting statistics shared, for example highlighting the shift (over a short number of years) from recruitment using 100% external agencies to currently doing 60-70% of their recruitment direct.
  • With the increase in direct hiring the reliance on their corporate website has really grown, along with increased use of job boards and linkedin.
  • This led to a healthy debate about the trust gap between agencies and clients and the various pressures on both sides that can easily lead to breakdowns if not managed upfront and/or addressed early on at first signs of warning.
  • It was clear that the individual consultants are the key differentiators for those hiring, not necessarily the recruitment agency brand. Therefore hiring decision makers, when not recruiting directly, will seek out the individual consultants who have invested time to understand their client and have used that to deliver results.


Session 2: A focus on candidate calling and how to ensure candidates take your call

The conversation opened with Track Leader Wendy McDougall sharing some surprising research on the reasons why candidates don’t answer recruiters’ calls. The top reason was because they had experienced too many calls about irrelevant jobs and so expected more of the same. At #2 was not wanting to feel bullied into going forward for roles.


So what can recruiters do to change those perceptions and avoid those issues? Discussions touched on:

  • Using other mediums to set specific call times ie by email or text
  • Be sure to highlight the benefit to the candidate from the outset
  • Managing expectations of the call ie this may or may not be right
  • Quite simply, have a plan of what you’re saying before making the call
  • Don’t make assumptions about the candidate, engage with them and ask questions


  • [As a little bonus I’ll share a tool that I’ve heard some of my US clients use to good effect, and that’s a voicemail sent by email, see tools like Vocaroo and SpeakPipe.


Raising the bar as a whole across the industry

This topic quickly led into some discussion around how the approach taken by KPI driven recruitment agencies can easily erode the quality of calls. It’s all about the passive candidate right now and putting the candidate first is key. Of course this makes total sense but if we consider the short term objectives of the KPI/pressure driven agency approach (where it’s about getting CVs over quickly, it’s just not conducive to the philosophy of putting the candidate first.


Whilst the phone is still by far the most powerful way to contact candidates, recruiters must evolve so as not to repel the best candidates. They must lead with value, attract candidates through engaging content and find ways to differentiate and build relationships with candidates. (see also this great article I found today: High Touch Plus High Tech Equals Massive Differentiation for Recruiters but do return to finish reading this digest of course)


Session 3: Learn to headhunt or become redundant

“Becoming a niche headhunter is arguably the only way to truly prosper in the permanent job market. Generalist recruiters are ten a penny and working at ten percent. And everyone thinks they are a headhunter now because they can send an inMail on LinkedIn. Yet when conducted properly #trusourcing for high demand, short supply and/or niche roles can still command premium fees. Debate.”


This was a great session led by leading practitioner and trainer Warren Kemp.


Some key points that jumped out:

A shift towards the headhunting model

  • Contingent recruiters can’t continue to make money at 10% against 5-10 other recruiters on a PSL.
  • Recruitment is professional service, and a premium service. We don’t see other professional services (think legal, accountancy, business consultants) putting in weeks of work for free so why do permanent recruiters devalue their offering?
  • The need to move into a more defined search model is clearly being acknowledged by recruitment businesses, as shown by the demand for Warren’s headhunting training courses. 18 years ago 95% of the course attendees were from search firms, nowadays, 80% of attendees are from contingent firms who want to shift into the executive search model.
  • It was recognised that for larger recruitment businesses opening up search desks, the sensible approach is to operate that is a separate division, perhaps even with a different brand.

Positioning and communication with clients

  • Clients and HR may easily be confused by a mixed message from recruiters, or misinterpret executive search as something exclusively for higher levels and excess to their requirements (certainly not the case). However they need to recognise that it is a different model and a different process that is driven from the top.
  • A recruitment business owner can’t expect a consultant to change hats overnight to a headhunt model, nor can a client be expected to pay 15% PSL fees one day and then be charged 25-30% the next by the same recruiter for what they perceive to be the same offering.
  • There is no reason why an exclusive agreement with a degree of retainer would not be appropriate for a £50-60K level role. It’s about educating the client as to the appropriateness of different solutions. If they go down the 5 agency route they will naturally receive a diluted service from each agency.


Leading with thought leadership

  • The onus is absolutely on the consultant to educate the client and articulate the value proposition upfront. This is what Warren refers to as the “Vote for me” campaign aka the ground work a consultant must do before pitching. He specifically referred to the thought leadership piece of nurturing relationships with all of the possible decision makers by adding relevant value and educating on the search proposition.
  • From a business development perspective we discussed how it is easier than ever to be  great at sharing meaningful intelligence. Being a thought leader in your space doesn’t have to be overcomplicated, at it’s simplest level it’s about taking data and insights from the market and stirring the proverbial pot, as Warren put it. One simple idea to collect said data would be to have a topical question of the week asked to clients. Over time the cumulative response and commentary will be ample material for a white paper or insight report.
  • (see also this great article I found today: High Touch Plus High Tech Equals Massive Differentiation for Recruiters but do return to finish reading this digest of course)
  • Warren talked of the power combo of being a thought leader in conjunction with being a consultant who can execute a rigorous process (including mapping, candidate ID and skillful candidate contact by phone). If we assumed there were a level playing field in regards to running the search process the key differentiator comes from being a thought leader and having both the credibility, and the ability, to approach the right people (that goes for clients and candidates).
  • Have 2 reasons for every headhunt call: 1)the job/help with the job in question and; 2) to share thought leadership and insights (always think how can I add value and nurture a relationship)


Client perspective

  • On the client side we discussed how expectations are growing for more transparency during the search and for greater reassurance of what they are actually paying for ie the rigorous process to find the best talent.
  • For more on that see also the AESC Client Speaks Report


Session 4: The Future of Recruitment Agencies

“With more and more information available online about people, one of the main value propositions recruitment agencies have traditionally had – their network – is disappearing. How should agencies evolve to still be relevant in the future? What additional value can they provide over and above what companies can now do for themselves?


Can agencies understand the market better and provide a more consultative service to the internal recruitment teams instead of end to end recruitment? Will there even be recruitment agencies in 5 years’ time and, if so, what will they look like? Will it still be “go big” or “go niche”? Is the value different for different kind of customers?” – Gerald Morgan


This was a particularly thought provoking session thanks to the insights and table tennis debate from Bill Boorman and Gerald Morgan.


Overdue disruption

The opening sentiment from Bill was that the recruitment industry is long overdue a significant disruption. The problem with agencies is that they don’t tend to change until they have to, then it’s too late. Bill strongly feels that there needs to be more experimentation and change before they are it is forced.


Interestingly the biggest providers like Randstad, Manpower and Kelly Services are the ones making the most investment outside of the traditional agency model.


A seemingly crazy (but why not) question to chew on raised by Bill was this- What if placements were free and agencies charged for other services instead?


  • Business models need to change
  • The endangered ones will be the High St generalists who aim to be everything to everyone


The core asset in your recruitment business

What if you changed your perspective and looked at your database of CVs as the core asset of your business? What other ways could this data be monetised ethically and how else might you be a consultant with this data? What unexplored avenues could a Data Analyst come up with from your database?

  • If you had 200,000 CVs in your database and years of information specific to jobs, companies and careers, what insights could be drawn out and monetised? Think insights that help predict placements, tenure of service, salary trends that help better advise clients, and then what about everything else outside of placements?
  • Think about what is being done with property data by Rightmove and Zoopla, there are many parallels where inspiration can be drawn.
  • These are areas where progressive industry providers like Firefish Software can help recruiters fill the gaps.


Don’t wait until it’s too late

The skill is there to lead change but it’s going to require permission from the top and massive bravery. We are however starting to see a rise in parts of the traditional end to end service ie talent mapping as a service while some businesses are investing specifically in R&D for new products.


The overall message with this piece was that Recruiters have to challenge what they are doing now while things are still good and not wait until their hand is forced.


The discussion ended on a great point raised by an REC representative, and that was to emphasise that recruiters across the board need to re-inject pride back into their profession and change the wider perception. Recruiters need to remind themselves that what they are doing every day has ripple effects way beyond the initial placement by transforming lives and businesses for the better.


Session 5: Minecraft For Recruiters

This discussion was about how what we can learn from Minecraft communities, and how they are examples of what recruitment can be in the 21st century.


Again another extremely thought provoking topic.

What makes a community work well

The opening comments were to set the context that communities are great for engaging large groups of people and facilitating collaboration. The trend however is that social networks which are open and public are in decline while closed communities are growing rapidly. The case in point here was gaming communities, such as Minecraft.


Translating this into the talent space, findings have shown that talent communities are typically unsuccessful when jobs are mentioned and significantly more successful (and engaging) when the discussion is about a particular subject (not job related).


A winning formula for communities?

Taking a page from the gaming communities, Bill shared a winning formula:

  1. Have a server owner (or group owner) – as I understand it individual Minecraft gamers like to build servers for multiple players anywhere in the world to join ie for the greater good and pure enjoyment of other minecraft players
  2. Have admins in place
  3. Have community moderators (independent to the group owner) who set the guidelines


Much of the conversation took the perspective of the corporate organisation building a community and the imperative need to be clear what they want the community for. There are already signs of movement away from employer branding as people start to become bored of the ‘EVP’ (employer value proposition). Naturally, people are more interested in IVP (the individual value proposition) since they all have different hot buttons. With this in mind corporate communities need to set up the means to accommodate multiple different topics.


Effective internal communities can engage staff on different levels, encourage more collaboration and allow people to raise their hands in interest to move internally.


For 3rd party recruiters it is very difficult to build communities purely for the recruiting end game. They have to start with a purpose that is inherently useful to the community and provide the platform for it to become community driven. Taking the example from minecraft the recruiter can own the server (group) but not be the moderator.


Wrap up

I know it would have been great to attend all the tracks so I look forward to seeing any summaries from other attendees.

I would highly recommend seeking out your local #tru event at attend. Until then, let’s keep the conversation going…I’d love to hear any thoughts on the topics discussed.

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