Career Path

Recruitment: all in the sales

by Edward Chung

Recruitment Consultant
Stuart McKelvey
Group President
Asia Pacific TMP Worldwide

Although it might not appear to be so at the outset, sales and marketing are the central tenets of a successful recruitment agency. This background made TMP Worldwide, which originally started out back in the 1960s by handling regional and national advertising sales for the Yellow Pages directories in the United States, a success in the field of personnel recruitment.

"We've only really been a recruitment agency in the last decade or so, and diversified into this area because we spotted that human resources departments have a similar need to brand advertisers," explains TMP Worldwide's Group President Asia Pacific Stuart McKelvey. "In the same way that advertisers aim to attract and retain customers, recruitment advertisers aim to attract and retain employees."

As the son of TMP Worldwide's founder, Mr McKelvey had been in and out of the company's offices since the age of six or seven and spent numerous summer vacations and internships at the firm.

"The Yellow Pages business now accounts for only about seven per cent of our revenues, but represents so much more than that about our company and the way we work," he adds. "The challenge at the time was to transfer that sales and marketing expertise to the human resources industry. In that sense, we have to market companies to potential employees and this is where 'employer branding' comes in, since we need to work with employers to show potential employees that these are great places to work in."

"A good recruiter has to like people; you can't be shy in this job. You must be good at networking, with strong contacts among good professionals in your field and with companies' employment decision makers. People don't like to call this a sales position, but it is"

Recruiting the recruiters

Sales and marketing may represent the core skill set of today's recruiter, but executives hoping to switch careers from other industries should note that recruitment advertisers require a different approach. Human resources people do not have much exposure to advertising and marketing explains Mr McKelvey. "The main difference between now and when we first started getting into recruitment is that the business is becoming much more strategic. Back in the early to mid-1990s, it was just a case of producing pretty advertisements to go in the paper. Now we have to plan for our clients, such as by organizing their advertising for the whole year, rather than simply reacting to when someone leaves the company."

As to what makes a good recruiter, Mr McKelvey is open to various backgrounds and levels of industry knowledge, but maintains that the ability to sell is essential.

"Recruiters tend to be misfits from various industries," he quips. "Essentially, we are looking for people with good industry knowledge from their particular field and strong sales skills."

About half of TMP's recruiters started their careers in other industries, before switching to recruitment. Subsequently, those recruiters tend to be more knowledgeable about their respective industries and have a ready set of contacts. The other way to break into the recruitment business would be to start out as a researcher with a recruitment firm and work up from that level.

"A good recruiter has to like people; you can't be shy in this job," adds Mr McKelvey. "You must be good at networking, with strong contacts among good professionals in your field and with companies' employment decision makers. People don't like to call this a sales position, but it is."

A long-term attitude is also important since recruitment relies very much on word of mouth and repeat business. "Anyone can sell something once ?what we're looking for is the ability to generate long-term business," says Mr McKelvey.

Mr McKelvey is also keen to emphasize the human aspect of the job and adds that this is not a position for those lacking in diplomatic skills. "You are after all handling people's careers, so you must be able to empathize with their stresses and anxieties when contemplating a move," he says.

The recruitment industry is unregulated, with no official examinations or licenses required of practitioners, although Mr McKelvey doesn't feel this represents a problem.

"In this business, if you do not provide good people you will quickly lose your client base; equally, if you cannot provide good jobs to job seekers, you'll lose credibility there as well," he explains. "So, in a sense, the industry self-regulates."

China Opportunities

China is very much a developing market for recruiters - Mr McKelvey notes that there is no Chinese word for 'headhunting' - and as such the business is a little less sophisticated on the Mainland.

Unless a client has a specific brief to bring in overseas talent, China recruiters will tend to be based on the Mainland. Good Putonghua is an advantage, but language should not be a barrier for Hong Kong or foreign recruiters, since they would be concentrating on expatriate clients or higher-ranking executives, who should be able to communicate in English.

"The industry is growing rapidly since many more Chinese companies are beginning to use recruitment firms," notes Mr McKelvey. "When we started out in Shanghai, we mostly catered to foreign firms, but now the split is about 50/50."


Taken from Career Times 06 September 2002, p. 32
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