INTERVIEWS | 15 MIN READ

Recruitment Influencer Interview Series – Greg Savage

By Matthew Gibbs


Director / Co-Founder at Lucerna Group Ltd

Greg Savage - Recruitment Influencer Interview Series
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Welcome to the recruitment influencer interview series

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be interviewing 10 of the worlds leading recruitment influencers to get their insight and perspective on some of the most commonly discussed problems in recruitment. We hope these insights will help you to either avoid them entirely or utilize the solutions discussed throughout the series to develop as a professional.

We are also going to be turning our interviews into a Podcast series! Keep checking back, follow us on our Facebook page or either of the co-founders on Twitter (Matt and Jamie) to be notified when we go live. We’ll share full recordings and the full unedited transcript.

The interview:

We are super fortunate to start off with Greg Savage, who is a globally recognized recruitment leader and influencer. Greg’s built multiple (4!) successful, international recruitment businesses and now works directly as an advisor with many brands in the industry. He is a respected voice and advocate for all things great about the industry.

I don’t know if I’ve just been in recruitment for too long, but I find the conversations I have with people the best part of my job, and often my day. I’m adamant that I’ve learned more from talking to people within my industry, than reading any kind of article has ever taught me. That real, nitty-gritty, honest and raw conversations are some of the best, and so when I sat down with Greg Savage, a man known for his brutal honesty and no-holds-barred, I knew we’d be having one of those great conversations.

Talking to Greg is refreshing because there’s no side-stepping or strained attempt to be diplomatic. There’s just an open table and some hard truths.

Matt: Let’s just dive straight into the big question; what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in recruitment, and what do you think will be the biggest challenge for recruitment in the future?

Greg: That’s more like the meaning of life, not a question.

Matt: True, but even the meaning of life needs to be questioned.

Greg: Well, the biggest challenge has only ever been one thing, and that’s the ability for recruiters to differentiate themselves from the mass of other recruiters. If you go back over the decades it’s the one thing that hasn’t changed and we’re all doing the same thing and saying the same thing. So the real challenge is how any smart recruiter, or recruitment company, can work to be different in the way they present themselves, but also what they can actually do differently. Because there are different things we could be doing from finding candidates that our clients and competitors can’t find, and finding the value in technology. That’s the short version anyway.

Matt: Speaking about differences then, what’s the one thing recruiters do to actually stand out that honestly works?

Greg: I think it’s about finding candidates your client can’t, and managing the process. For years we’ve had transactional recruiters who match a job description against a candidate’s CV, attach it to an email and hit send. It’s worked forever but it won’t work going forward. As recruitment has been impacted by technology, there’s a greater need for the recruiter to be consulted, act as an agent for the candidate and manage the process, which is the irony here. And most people don’t understand that, especially HR tech people. They’re so busy trying to invent the Uber of recruitment that they’re looking at it the wrong way. Matching candidates to a job isn’t the hard part, managing the process is the hard part and that’s where recruiters add value in future. I can guarantee you that the vast majority of recruiters working in the market today won’t be operating in three years’ time. It’s not recruitment that’s under threat as an industry, but the recruiters and recruitment companies that are approaching the new world of talent attraction with old tactics of the past.

Matt: What’s your worst recruitment horror story?

Greg: I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, which you can see from my face is hard to believe…

Matt: Sure, of course.

Greg: Ha! I’ve personally had a wide range of fuck-ups over the years. The one that stands out the most, and this is really bad, I think I’ve just about recovered. I was recruiting in London at the time and we’re talking pre-internet days, so what we used to do was put the candidate details up over the phone without mentioning their name, and if the client agreed to see them, we would send their resume over. I was in a highly competitive environment, we were handling 30/40 jobs a day and making 4/5 placements a week. It was a different world back then. Anyway, I chatted to the client, he liked the candidate, and so I sent her CV over. I still remember her name to this day. Turns out, I sent the candidate to her own boss. I sent her resume to her own boss. He called me and thanked me and said she actually works just outside my office. Honestly it was the worst thing I’ve ever done, but I learnt a lot from that and thankfully have never done it again. There’s been loads of mistakes, but it’s all part of the rich tapestry of learning and you get better. Honestly it would take a lot longer than we’ve got to tell you them all.

Matt: Maybe you can tell me over some wine later.

Greg: Ha yeah, one day!

Matt: So, talent acquisition or recruiting?

Greg: Look, people don’t understand the difference between sourcing and seduction. Everyone thinks finding candidates is the hardest part of recruitment. And it is difficult and takes a special technique, but it’s still by far the easiest part of the process and isn’t the same as recruiting them. Recruiting someone is to approach a person who isn’t looking and bring to their attention opportunities they weren’t considering. And I use the word seduction, obviously not in the traditional or romantic sense, but it does have many of the same components. Seduction involves communication, empathy, building trust and slowly consummating the process, and that’s the hardest part. It’s what machines can’t do. Algorithms will soon take care of sourcing and all those people who go to sourcing conferences and dedicate their careers to it will be out of a job soon. You can tell them that from me. Recruiting is a sophisticated outreach to approach a person, communicate effectively and bring them into the hiring channel. Most recruiters just send spam emails and rely on LinkedIn. I once got headhunted for an assistant chef’s job in Wigan, England paying £6,000 a year. I live in Sydney. Why would someone recruit me for that? Because they’re spamming their contacts and it’s pathetic. It’s not recruiting. Finding people and recruiting them are two very different skills. We need to be good at both of them, but the real value is in the second one.

Matt: You’ve mentioned the future of recruitment quite a bit. What do you think it will look like in ten years?

Greg: Don’t ever ask that question ever again. Anyone who wants to predict the future ten years out is a total moron. Ten years ago I don’t think we even had iPhones and look at the changes they brought.  I’m always asked to predict things and mostly I’m wrong because we’re not privy to the future. What I do think will happen though is that technology will take away the vast majority of drudgery and hack work. 80% of what recruiters do now will be done by machines. Sourcing will be done by machine learning. Matching will be done quicker and better by smart technology. Chat box will do initial screening. Artificial intelligence will do what we do, but do it better. Interview scheduling and reference checking will be automated. So the question is, what will be left for recruiters? And I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, recruiters need to be good at the process that machines cannot do. The selling, persuading, influencing, negotiating and consulting. That’s the future of recruitment. And the question is, do recruiters now have those skills?

Matt: I was going to ask, do you think we’ll have less recruiters in the world with the emergence of new tech?

Greg: Definitely. But those recruiters will be making much more money. It will be about finding candidates not looking, and presenting those unique candidates to clients and you act as agents. Footballers, movie stars, they all have agents that represent them and go out to strike the best deal. I think it will be pretty much the same. Currently, most recruiters don’t have ownership of the candidate. The good ones will have more exclusive candidates and control the process more.

Matt: Can we train recruiters up to that level of expertise?

Greg: Well there’s definitely a crisis of poor leadership in recruitment. You often have to train people up who are better than you and most managers don’t have the ego to deal with that. So you have high turnover and no skills. It’s dysfunctional because you can’t build the right skills up when your staff changes every year.

Matt: If you could call bullshit on one recruitment myth, what would it be?

Greg: There’s so many. The multi-listed contingent model that we operate in is stupid and we shouldn’t be doing that. The PSLs and chasing revenue over margin is stupid beyond belief. P stands for preferred, and for the most part no one is preferred. They give twelve agencies the right to hunt for jobs at a lower margin. It’s stupid to do that work. The other one is when people tell me recruitment isn’t rocket science and so you don’t need clever people to do the work. And they’re right, it’s not rocket science, but we’re not building fucking rockets, are we? So you don’t need people who are smart enough to build rockets, but you can’t be stupid to do this job. You need to be intelligent, emotionally intelligent and the ability to change and think on your feet. Any fool cannot do this job. And the final myth is that recruiters are lazy and greedy and never act in the best interests of their clients and candidates. Some are like that, and some are sincere and make massive contributions to the wellbeing of candidates and clients, improve the companies they work for and improve the careers of people, and that isn’t said enough.

Matt: Why do you think the industry has such a bad perception?

Greg: It’s because of the business model we operate on. Your average recruiter might handle 15 jobs in which they fill 4. They don’t come into work every day, have a meeting and say, ‘okay, how can we piss off our candidates today.’ They’re just so busy chasing rainbows that they don’t have time to do he quality process and they take shortcuts. Candidates suffer the most and that then perpetuates the bad reputation of our business.

Matt: Recruiters have to balance the pressures of KPIs from demanding managers, and expectations from a client that doesn’t understand the process. How do we make a dent?

Greg: Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with managers driving recruiters to hit numbers, as long as they’re the right numbers and the right activities, and they’re given adequate support. Mangers are bereft of ideas as to what those activities should be and how to help people be good at doing them. So we need clarity around that. Secondly, as an industry we’re poor at explaining to clients why it’s in their interest to give us exclusivity over roles. Clients tell you they involve three or four recruiters because apparently it keeps us honest and working hard for it, but that’s absolutely untrue. If I asked any recruiter, they’d tell you they would work harder under exclusive arrangements as the commitment to the client is bigger. We need to get better at having those conversations with clients and explaining that giving a role to three or four recruiters leads to a flurry of interest and then nothing, as consultants lose interest and drift back to other roles. We need to be coaching recruiters how to have those conversations.

Matt: If LinkedIn turned the lights off, how would recruiters find candidates?

Greg: I think we need to be realizing that instead of turning the lights off, LinkedIn and job boards are going to become increasingly ineffective. Candidates are changing their behaviors and job boards only work if you’re actively looking.

Matt: Do recruitment business have enough expertise to train their people on other social channels?

Greg: It’s less about ‘social media’ and more about a digital marketing strategy. Candidates are consumers and we need to borrow from the consumer market. Recruitment has merged with marketing, and any recruitment company should also be a digital marketing agency, and I’m not exaggerating. If you’re a six person agency, you’re seventh person should be a digital marketing expert because they’ve got to apply resources to building that targeted intelligent digital marketing strategy.

Matt: Is there room for individual recruiters to have a digital marketing strategy, or is it just for the brand?

Greg: Good question. A smart thing to do is to use the recruiters brand to amplify the corporate brand. Train them on Twitter and how to write blogs if they want to. Give them the tools. For a recruiter to be successful, they need to work in an environment in which the company supports it with a positive attitude to digital marketing. Plus, they can build their own digital marketing strategy, you can do that on LinkedIn. Most recruiters use it only as a sourcing platform, when really it’s a branding platform too. If you build your brand on LinkedIn, it will bring you candidates. That’s the irony.

Matt: Thanks Greg.

Greg has a brilliant website with short 60 second videos and an excellent blog. Click the links to check them out

*nb – this interview has been ‘polished’ for your viewing pleasure. We’ll post the complete, unedited transcript with the podcast.

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Matthew Gibbs

Director / Co-Founder • San Francisco

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