Would I do it all again?

Since returning to Ireland from Vancouver at the beginning of 2020, I have been struck by the fact that the Irish work-life-balance has changed very little in the 4 years since I've been away.

Some huge improvements have come in general society like repeal the 8th and the marriage referendum, however, those progressive incarnations and movements have not positively impacted the average person on the 9-5 shift.

As Irish men and women, we are heralded internationally for our work ethic. This perception dates back to our ancestors who built many great structures, towns and entire cities across North America and Australia. Since then, this reputation for hard work has secured Irish expats almost immediate employment upon emigrating to lands far and wide.  

This particularly rings true when you look at the disproportionate amount of Irish Recruiters, compared with Recruiters of other nationalities, working in the Sector in cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, LA, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, London, Berlin and Amsterdam. 

My personal agency recruitment journey has brought me from Cork to Perth, back to Cork, over to Vancouver and as of February this year, to Dublin.

Agency Recruitment differs from company to company and from country to country, however, the same principles typically ring true - success is measured in revenue generated and the top billers are the most valuable talent. How the top billers become top billers also varies from agency to agency, as does how these prized assets are treated.

As some of you reading this are likely aware, the top performers can often be afforded certain luxuries that the common recruiter is not.

For example - working from home a couple of days per week or flexible start and finish times.

That was until Covid-19 came storming into our lives in March 2020, changing the economic landscape at a pace never before seen.

Despite all the health issues, job losses and economic devastation the pandemic has brought, I believe some positives will come out of this. One major benefit will be the death of the Traditional Recruitment Agency, or at least, the perception of agency recruitment as we know it. 

When I first started in Recruitment back in 2012, I was working as a Recruitment Administrator in the Pharma industry. Very admin heavy, no targets, lots of screening CVs, scheduling interviews etc. You know the drill.

I found out pretty-quickly that recruitment in an agency environment was much, much different to Internal Recruitment Administration.

I started in agency recruitment in 2014 after returning from Australia. The first 6 months were a whirlwind of very few placements and lots of harsh lessons. 

It was a great journey, I found my feet after 9 months and went on to thoroughly enjoy my time in IT recruitment. I had no intention of ever leaving Ireland back then, and could very well still be in Cork had I not followed a girl (current fiancé I might add) half-way across the world to Vancouver. 

One of the great things about Recruitment is that you can do it pretty much anywhere in the world. An experienced Recruiter will always be in demand. In Canada, I noticed right from the start that recruitment is different to the way it is at home - the recruitment model is typically 180 rather than 360. In a company with 12 Consultants, the split would typically be 4 Account Managers to 8 recruiters. 

The other main difference I spotted immediately is the way staff are treated. On-the-whole, in Vancouver, Recruiters are afforded more freedom, flexible working hours and the option to work-from-home one day per week. Casual Fridays are a big thing with afternoon drinks in the office mandatory, and management are generally less KPI driven.

These rules tend not to be the case in some of the big corporate agencies in Canada and across the world, the boutique firms operate like small tech companies - pool table, break-out areas, drink and snack fridges etc. 

This increased level of autonomy can have a negative effect on a certain type of individual. Slacking-off, taking "calls" from home, half-day Fridays are all rampant in Canadian recruitment culture. That is why Irish people do so well in a place like Vancouver. Working hard, not slacking off and doing a decent day's work is bred into us from an early age. 

Whether you get it from your Dad who worked 10-hour days or from your first boss peering over your shoulder and fining you for being 2 minutes late, cutting corners is not an option.

Before I emigrated back in 2016 for the second time, most agencies operated under strict working hours. Recruiters rarely, if ever, worked from home. There was a real culture of "if you're not staying late in the office, you're not working hard enough". 

For me, 2020 started with optimism. I had moved back to Ireland and planned to settle in Dublin. I also took up a new role with Careers In Recruitment, working alongside Neil Murray, a bona-fide industry guru, as he puts it (sounds cheesy, but I suppose he is). 

I first came to Neil as a candidate back in September 2019 as I was plotting my escape from Canada. Neil broke down the Dublin Recruitment Industry for me towards the end of our first call talking average salaries, high-performing sectors, growth areas, typical management structures, commission structures and so on. I was impressed with his transparency and knowledge of his market. He went into far greater depth than I anticipated so without any hesitation I started to work with Neil as a candidate to find my next job.

By the end of our third call Neil surprised me and pitched me a role as Principal Consultant for Careers In Recruitment. I'd never seen myself working as a Rec2Rec, until I met Neil I didn't see the value that a Rec2Rec brought to a recruitment process. I had the same thoughts as most Recruiters "I'm a Recruiter, if I can't find myself a job then I shouldn't be in recruitment" or "Why would a Recruitment Agency need to employ another Recruitment Agency to help them find staff"? Both valid questions in fairness. 

Through Neil's painstaking self-appraisal and boasting about the many senior people he has placed in the industry over the last 15 years, I took him up on his offer and started with CIR in February of this year.

In my first couple of months working in the Rec2Rec industry, I was on the receiving end of a lot of second-hand information from Recruiters about different office environments and work cultures. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, I was quite surprised to learn that the vast majority of companies still lived up to the traditional old agency adage - micro-management to get the best out of under-performing staff, over-reliance on KPIs rather than results, poor communication from the top-down, high staff turnover due to burnout, lack of empathy for the stress that goes with the job. 

That being said, I feel there is a genuine sense that the working world is changing. Twitter, for example, have recently announced that their entire workforce can work from home. Big Tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook are all much more reliant on virtual technology than ever before.  

Why can't Recruitment Agencies follow suit you may ask? Well, they just might. 

Only recently, a big player in the Dublin market announced that its seriously considering allowing staff to work from home for the foreseeable future, provided certain levels of productivity can be maintained. This is something I did not think I would see in my lifetime, not in Ireland anyway.  

Just last week, one of my clients - an international IT-centric agency, hired its first employee through a successful virtual interview process. The candidate is due to start this week and is being on-boarded remotely.

From the conversations Neil and I are having with business owners, we firmly believe that change is afoot, and for the better. The signs are positive so far.

Most, if not all recruitment companies, have adopted work-from-home strategies over the last two months. This produces certain challenges as Recruiters cannot attend meetings in-person, meet a potential candidate for a coffee, or conduct interviews in-person.

I'm not saying for one minute that human interaction will be replaced by virtual technology, however, incorporating an approach that combines the two is the way of the future. 

I have noticed an endearing trend in the industry across the board, managers are displaying a more human approach when dealing with an individual's personal circumstances. This more empathetic approach should result in less stress in the workplace, happier employees and more productive workers. Companies should stand to benefit as well through reduced staff turnover and overall employee well-being. Think of all the positive glassdoor reviews employees would write of their own accord!!! Madness.

Despite all the negativity surrounding the economy, and don't get me wrong, there is plenty of negativity in the recruitment industry as well. I do believe that the industry is changing for the better and is catching up with other, more forward-thinking industries, like Software and Technology. 

Recruitment companies that adapt to the new normal will be the ones best placed to attract and retain the best talent. It is now a candidate-heavy market, a complete 180 on the first two and a half months of the year. Adopting virtual interviewing practices, offering new tailored work patterns, listening to candidates with an understanding ear and showcasing the successful, progressive measures that the company has taken to retain staff will be more important now than ever.

A lot remains to be seen over the next 12 - 24 months. I, for one, am remaining optimistic that we are at the beginning of a new dawn for the recruitment industry in Ireland. Our working lives could look a lot different in 2021. If the young lad in the picture above could start again in 2021? I reckon he'd make a good go of it.