How recruiters can stay future-fit in a disrupting world
Disruption is the business buzzword of the moment, with companies such as Uber and Airbnb completely changing the way that long-standing industries are operating.

In recruitment, the rise of social media, algorithms to match resumes with job specifications, and the introduction of automation and gamification into the job application process, are all making it easier for clients themselves to perform tasks once done exclusively by recruiters.

A good thing

Nikki Walshaw, director of New Zealand-based recruitment firm McLaren Associates, actually welcomes the current disruption. “Until recently, the talent acquisition process has been largely the same for 30 years. It’s been a good shake up and a challenge to the industry.”

Steve Shepherd, Employment Market Analyst for Asia Pacific at Randstad, actually doesn’t like the term ‘disruption’, believing the development is more about evolution and new ways of doing things in the industry. “If we try to defend, we’ll go out of business,” he says.

The human touch is still key

For Anne Sabine, managing director at Australian recruitment firm Evolve Scientific Recruitment, technology can never entirely replace the human element. ”Technology may assist in sourcing candidates, but it’s only part if the puzzle – the other part being the need for a relationship with a candidate.”

Sabine contrasts this relationship building with the ease of, for example, finding a resume and contacting the person online. “For example, we may use SEEK Premium Talent Search to find a suitably qualified candidate – but we still need to establish a relationship with the candidate, to present them in the best possible way.”

When working in a highly specialised field, consultants must also demonstrate intuition, in order to manage the expectations of both clients and candidates,” says Sabine. “They need to be able to influence and negotiate between client and candidate.

Other key skills include the need to reject a candidate personally – receiving an automated rejection will do nothing to foster future relationships. “And on the client side, if you don’t have an understanding of a company’s culture, it’s difficult to place the perfect person.”

Walshaw agrees, “While technology may be streamlining and automating the process, it can never offer a judgment on culture and motivational fit, and will never remove the value-add of a true consultant.”

She explains that a key part of her current business is recruiting senior staff with fundraising experience for not-for-profits – who are in very short supply in Australia and New Zealand. This requires her to understand ongoing changes in government policy and funding that make these kind of people crucial to their organisations – something that no algorithm can achieve (at least not yet).

Sabine’s advice is to embrace the recruitment tools: use the bits that are good for you – and then use those tools to build your relationships. “Ultimately, it’s about good old-fashioned customer service – making both the client and the candidate feel special.”

Keeping up with developments

But none of this should excuse recruiters from the need to keep up with new developments. Randstad is actually getting ahead of the game by taking minority stakes in a number of HR tech companies.

“We can add value to them through our knowledge and customer base,” says Shepherd. “They in turn can bring value to our business, helping us to continue to evolve, and to bring new developments to our customers.”

But you don’t need to be an investor in technology to be inquisitive about new developments in the industry. “Are you going to the HR tech conferences?” asks Shepherd. “What are you reading? Who is exhibiting at the American Staffing Association conference? Check the websites if you can’t actually go yourself.”

Looking locally, Shepherd points out that, far from being a backwater, Australia has always had a healthy HR tech industry.

Skills for the future

The key to success, then, seems to be to combine the best of technological developments with the best of the traditional skills long associated with recruitment.

For Walshaw, “the role of the recruiter is more sophisticated than 40 years ago. It was always a sales job, and while these skills are still needed, the modern recruiter needs new skills – in sourcing, research, lead generation, data analytics, online search and engaging with candidates on social media. You need your own brand, both as a recruiter and a company.”

“My advice to the recruiters of the future is to be connected,” says Shepherd. “We used to say, ‘be a networker’ – and this is still true, but in a broader sense.”

“I’m disparaging of recruiters who use social media purely as a source of candidates, and only ever contact people about jobs, adding little value to them outside of this,” he says. “In this instance they act like poachers instead of game keepers, who nurture talent pools and find ways to add value that clients can not.”

“As long as recruitment involves difficult people and situations, there’ll be a place for good recruiters,” says Sabine.

To learn more about how recruiters can stay future-fit in a disrupting world, listen to a recent SEEK podcast with the founder of recruitment firm Davidson, Rob Davidson, on ‘The future world of work and what it means for the recruitment industry’.