My Story Interview Series

Learning a new market, geography and moving into management

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Matthew McGrigor - Engineering Recruiter My Story Avatar Photo
Matthew McGrigor
  • San Francisco, California
  • Managing Consultant
  • Robert Walters Technology

4 Years



Hello! Who are you and what’s your current role in recruitment?

I am a Managing Consultant at Robert Walters in San Francisco, California. I lead a small team of recruiters who look into software engineering for start-ups. We do a mix of contingency and contained search.

We work in some interesting areas of robotics, machine learning, enterprise software, fintech and health tech. I primarily focused on VPs and Directors of Engineering for these kinds of companies, which could be anything from a 10 person start-up in a garage in Palo Alto right up to 1000 people pre IPO company in San Francisco.

My journey here over the last two and a half years has been one of learning a new market and new geography. I have been able to grow and learn and develop into management during my time here.

Help us get to know the company you run or work for?

Robert Walters is a huge company with offices all over the world, initially started in the UK over 30 years ago. We have specialists in almost every industry and I believe are widely viewed as one of the bigger well known companies in the industry.

Our San Francisco office is very different from our other offices. It’s much smaller in size and has it’s own unique culture that reflects the Bay Area market we work in.

The Early Days

How did you get into recruitment?

I would definitely like to avoid the cliche answer of falling into recruitment, though it is kind of true in my case. I did a degree in Criminology at the University of Leicester in the UK and I was pursuing government jobs, like the Army and the police. After exploring those careers, I soon realized those were not for me.

I ended up speaking with a company called Graduate Fasttrack who were advertising heavily to graduates interested in roles in Sales and recruitment, and the next thing I knew I was in London doing assessment centers and interviews with recruitment companies over a week long period. I met dozens of companies and the most appealing one of the bunch was Spencer Ogden, who are in the energy markets.

They had these really cool offices with grass turf and an 80s American diner and sold me the recruitment dream. I joined their 2011 graduate academy with a bunch of other interesting people and then my career took many turns after that.

What were your first 12 months like?

The first 12 months of recruitment were quite a shock to the system. It was a real work hard / play hard mentality in my company. People were putting in long hours, doing a lot of cold calling, making a big song and dance after every placement, doing a lot of socializing after work. It was a very typical sales environment.

We were given high targets and we had to learn how to be smarter with business development, how to get through gatekeepers on cold calls and think outside the box. It was a big adjustment to me, being a somewhat chilled graduate going to a corporate environment, but I relied on the good people around me and I was not afraid to ask questions from the top performers in the office.

The main thing you need to understand is that the industry is not rocket science; you get out what you put in and to control the controllables. 

Is it what you thought it would be?

I would say that a career in recruitment has completely exceeded my expectations. I took my first job in a ‘see what happens’ philosophy, a young grad who just wanted to get on the job ladder. I would not have envisioned the paychecks and international travel opportunities that it has since opened for somebody of my age.

It is not completely different from what I expected, but I think I was surprised at how engaging it could be and the doors it could open. What surprised me the most was the diversity in things I could be involved in, including sales, account management, training, HR, and personal development.

When did you experience your ‘aha’ moment? When did you just ‘get it’?

My aha moment has come and gone and come again. I have had to reinvent myself in multiple different geographies and markets on a few occasions. I think the beauty of the recruitment industry is that it always keeps you on your toes and you have to keep evolving. There is always more to be done.

Best early advice or training you were given?

The best advice I was ever given was ‘control the controllables’. It is very easy to let the unpredictable nature of our work stress you out, but as long as you are doing everything you can for the parts you can influence, there is no point in sweating. 

On The Tools

What does your average day look like?

Honestly, no two days are alike. Some days I could be spent just actively headhunting all day, with back to back candidate calls. Other days, I’m running around the city meeting clients, having lunches. Some days I am in training or training people.

I am not a big believer in KPIs, but I might set myself a goal to have reached out to 100 people in a week, to meet 3 in person, etc.

How do you prioritize tasks in such a fast-paced job?

I make a list of all my top priorities. For example, searches that need extra attention and have a greater chance of success are a priority 1. If it is with a client that shows less urgency or is unresponsive, then they become a priority 2.

How do you manage the typical peaks and troughs of recruitment cycles?

Consistency is a hard thing to master. I think the best thing you can do is always have a great pipeline. The meetings and candidates you have this month should result in the placements towards the end of the quarter.

Recruiting Insights

Myths you’d like to dispel?

You spend all your time cold calling. This is simply not true. Of course, most companies expect you to speak and meet your candidates a lot, but it is not a telesales job that some people perceive it to be. People don’t like to be called out the blue, so we use less intrusive methods, like emails and referrals.

Biggest lesson?

Not meeting candidates, and being surprised when a deal doesn’t happen because you didn’t take the time to really understand the client’s motivations.

Biggest perk?

The money and the travel are great, but ultimately it is about taking some pride in bringing candidates and clients together, and seeing the collaboration that happens as a result.

What have you learned being a recruiter that you wouldn’t have known if you had only ever been the job seeker or client?

A targeted well worded cover letter to the decision maker at a company can open more doors than any CV job portal ever could.

Performance Insights

What are the top 3 traits that the high performers you have met, always have?

  • Obsessed about their market
  • well connected,
  • and highly self-driven.


What platform/tools do you use in your day to day and/or for your business?

Profile and LinkedIn Recruiter. Rocket Reach.

The Future

Advice for other recruitment professionals who want to get started or are just starting out?

  • Study your market, watch youtube videos, take candidates out to lunch and ask them lots of questions.
  • Practice your pitch and learn objection handling.
  • Have a mentor; somebody in the business or outside to learn from.

Getting In Contact

Are there any specific types of job seekers or clients you would always love to hear from?

  • VPs of Engineering
  • Directors of Engineering
  • Machine Learning Engineers
  • Managers of Engineering
  • Devops Engineers
  • Infrastructure Engineers

Permanent positions, primarily Bay Area with start-up companies.

Where can they go to get in touch with you?

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