Following on from my interview last week with New Zealand SARA winner of the Recruitment Leader of the Year, Randstad’s Brien Keegan, this week I speak to his colleague, Alex Allan who won the New Zealand SARA for Recruitment Consultant of the Year.
Originally from the UK, Alex started his working life in professional sport before leaving the UK for New Zealand in 2007 and joining Absolute IT. After a brief stint in Sydney with Talent International, Alex returned to Wellington and joined Randstad in July 2010.
Since then Alex has won many awards at Randstad, including NZ Top Billing Consultant for 2015.
Ross: What was your background prior to becoming a recruiter and how did you come to choose recruitment as a career?
Alex: Before entering the recruitment industry, I was an aspiring Snooker player in South East London. I spent many years playing in tournaments up and down the UK before deciding I wanted to do something else with my life. A childhood friend suggested I look at the recruitment sector as he thought it might be something that my skills would be a good match with.
I'd had a number of sales-centric roles, mostly door knocking selling power and insurance packages. It was those early days that I developed a fairly thick skin as well as the need to handle objections. Like many others, I guess I fell into recruitment rather than chose it.
What aspects of Recruitment did you find the most challenging when you started?
When I first started in London, I remember being given a niche market (Linux Contracting) to recruit in. I found it pretty daunting at first; putting in sales calls to people without really knowing what I was talking about. I quickly realised that your knowledge and expertise develops very quickly when you need to make 100 calls in a week.
The other challenge we faced in the UK market was that everything was done over the phone; you seldom got to meet your customers as they were often based in different cities, sometimes in other countries across Europe.
How long did it take until you saw recruitment as a viable career choice rather than just a job? What was the catalyst for this switch in thinking?
I got into recruitment when I was 20 years old, at first it was very much just a job; an avenue to get some beer money and pay for some travel. It probably took me a good three years before I started to feel really excited about the industry. The changes that were taking place with technology and the success I was starting to feel really created the fire in the belly for me.
It certainly didn't happen quickly for me. I really think it takes a couple of years to truly understand what it takes to be successful and last the distance in recruitment. It's one of the disappointing things about our sector; the high volume of turnover from people who last less than 18 months.
What niche do you recruit in and what have you found to be the biggest challenges of recruiting in that niche?
I've always been a tech recruiter. I have very little interest in doing anything else. I made the decision about 7 years ago to be a specialist; an inch-wide, mile-deep approach. I hang my hat on being able to recruit across Development, Testing, Business Analysis, Architecture, Project Management & Infrastructure roles.
The challenge with IT is that it's always evolving, always changing. The challenges our customers had 5 years ago are very different from those they face today. Being able to match tech skills used to be the key component of being an IT recruiter, now the people skills are more important due to IT being at the forefront of business these days.
Agile used to be an word you only heard being used in yoga studios, these days it's on 99% of the requirements we receive. I really enjoy the fact that I don't know what the world will look like in a few years, it keeps you on your toes.
Having recruited in both the London and Sydney markets, what were the biggest differences you needed to adapt to when you started recruiting in Wellington, nearly ten years ago? How has the Wellington market changed since then (if it has)?
I remember the first boss I had in New Zealand giving me a talk when I first arrived, essentially saying "you're not in London anymore". I didn't really fully understand what he meant at the time. Looking back though, it was really good advice. He said to me that Wellingtonians don't want to be sold to.
I was used to the transactional style I had developed working in bigger markets, so it took me a little while to understand that a different approach was required in Wellington. I told myself to 'sell without being salesy' which is a mantra I still remind myself of today. The relationship building side has become one of the most enjoyable factors for me now.
We've certainly seen change in the market in my time here including a shift from a contracting to a perm market, the evolution of role types, business challenges our clients face and margin erosion, to name just a few. The unchanging fact is the need for quality recruitment professionals.
What do you do to keep up-to-date with issues in your market niche?
The majority of my learning happens 'on the job' on a daily basis. Whether that’s attending networking events, reading articles, interviewing candidates or meeting with clients. I have a number of websites I read on a regular basis to ensure my knowledge is kept up to date. I've also been listening to podcasts for a couple of years now, which is a great way to stay in the know, even when you're lying in bed. :)
What do you do to continue the development of both your recruitment and personal skills?
We have fantastic L&D opportunities at Randstad, both internally and externally delivered courses. I've also been fortunate to attend a number of overseas development opportunities in Australia and Singapore, which are Randstad's two hubs in the APAC region.
I've also been really fortunate to work alongside some amazing people over the years. I learn from my colleagues on a daily basis which is a direct result of the expressive and open culture we have at Randstad. My leaders have always challenged me to get better which I've really benefited from.
Do you use statistics or KPIs to manage your performance? If so which ones and how do you use them?
We have every stat imaginable available to us at Randstad. We have an Analytics team who provide us with some incredible data to help us define what we're doing. I haven't always been the best adopter of analytics but I've learnt to appreciate how powerful a data driven approach can be. I certainly attribute a good portion of my success to having access to market leading intelligence.
Who have been important influences in your recruitment career and what have those people specifically contributed to you?
I've had many positive influencers in my career, too many to name even. The people that stick out the most to me are the Directors from absoluteIT (Tina Ng, Grant Burley and Moran Collard) for giving me a chance in the industry. I was a young lad straight from the UK with very little experience but they took me on and gave me my start in the industry.
Joining Randstad in 2010, I was exposed to many amazing people whom I've worked for, alongside and also managed. The most influential people I've worked with would be Sherena Dullabh, Ian Scott, Brien Keegan, Blair Cashin and Kieran Sim. They have, individually, all made me better, helped shape me and undoubtedly, together contributed substantially to my success.
What do you attribute your win in SARA 2016 Recruiter of the year to?
For me, this accolade is the culmination of five years of hard work, dedication, failures and successes. When I joined Randstad in 2010, the IT team was the smallest team in the business, not taken seriously with very little success to speak of at all.
Over time we've managed to hire some amazing people, partner with some incredible clients and develop ourselves into a force in the market. The last couple of years have been really successful for me personally but it's the hard work of our entire team that has got us to this point. Our Integrated team which consists of Marketing, Business Concepts, HR & Client Solutions all play a key part in the success of our sales operations.
What are the most important things that an individual recruiter can do to maintain his or her relevance and credibility in the next five years?
There's no doubt we're entering a period of ongoing change, continued disruption to our industry from Technology and changing market conditions. In my opinion it's all about knowing your market, understanding when to pivot but also ensuring you have an 'inch-wide, mile-deep' approach to your market.
Understand your competitive advantage and get out the door and in front of your customers (clients and candidates). The successful recruiters that I've worked with all maintain consistently high activity levels coupled with deep knowledge of their market.
What personal philosophies drive you each day in your job?
Sell without being salesy. I pride myself on being able to get a result without coming across as a salesman to my customers.
Be easy to deal with. Clients tend to come back to you more often if they enjoy the experience.
Surround yourself with people who are better than you, they'll make you better. Leave your ego at the door.
What advice would you give to anyone who is just starting their recruitment career?
Join an organisation that puts its people first. Ask lots of questions, the more the better. Work harder than your colleagues. Don't take the bad days personally. Set goals; then smash them.