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Shortlist is celebrating turning 20!

This month, industry publication Shortlist turns 20!

We decided to turn the tables and ask them some questions for a change. See below our chat with Shortlist co-owner and editor Jo Knox…

You celebrate your anniversary with Titanic sweeping the Oscars, Seinfeld ending its run on TV and the debut of Sex and the City, the release of the first iMac not to mention Britney Spears’ release of Baby One More Time. Congratulations! Shortlist started as an industry newsletter covering the financial results of recruitment companies, senior staff moves and developments in the tender space. How has Shortlist changed over the past 20 years?

Looking back on the earliest issues of Shortlist it’s surprising how much hasn’t changed. But back then for example, PSA tenders were run in a way that meant readers really valued whatever ‘inside’ information we could provide, and there was so much information we could gather and share that wasn’t as freely available as it is now. As with all media we have had to face the challenge of competing against free news and general information overload, so we put a lot of effort into uncovering different stories and finding the right amount of insight and detail that will add value for our readers.

You joined in 2000. How did that come to happen? And what was your first impression of the industry and sector?

I joined Specialist News as an admin assistant (placed by a recruiter – Smalls!), fresh from earning my journalism degree. I planned to just be there a few months before heading to an assignment with the Sydney Olympic broadcast team, then starting my proper journalism career. But very early on, Shortlist’s editor and founder Michael Burns sent me off to cover a graduate recruitment conference he couldn’t attend. I had no idea what was expected of me and came back and wrote so many stories that he published an extra two pages of (print) Shortlist that fortnight.

I then moved on to Shortlist full-time and spent the first few months trailing after Michael to interviews with recruitment CEOs about profits and margins and tenders. Frankly I had no idea what was going on and was pretty sure I’d never understand the industry and get to the point of having a knowledgeable conversation about it. Looking back I probably only really started to ‘get it’ shortly before moving off to launch publications about other sectors. In the past few years that I’ve been overseeing Shortlist again, I’ve reconnected with the people I interviewed (and I use that term loosely!) in the early 2000s and had to hope they didn’t remember me as that clueless 24-year-old.

Is there one any story you have written which stands out for you for whatever reason? If so, what is it and why?

Right after the GFC hit a lot of recruitment companies needed to make tough decisions about their headcount. I quoted a leadership/business specialist who recommended they make people redundant as soon as possible rather than waiting until after Christmas. Within hours of publishing that article I was getting calls from people who’d just lost their jobs. I wasn’t wrong to write it, but still felt awful.

Would you have believed 20 years ago that a publication focused on the recruitment sector would become such a mainstay of the industry today?

I love that you say it is a mainstay! There are still some people we can’t convince to read it or at least pay for it! But yes, absolutely. People in any sector need to know what’s going on around them and what their competitors are doing.

Most encouraging trend you have seen in the sector?

The effort companies now put into treating their staff well – engaging them, developing them, allowing them to bring their whole selves to work. And of course the increase in women at leadership level. When I joined Shortlist and started speaking to recruitment executives it felt like a massive boys’ club.

The most disappointing trend you have seen in the sector?

It’s disappointing that the sector has to keep defending itself from (largely!) unwarranted attacks. On a more selfish note, I’m disappointed recruiters aren’t more interested in reading legal and compliance-related news. It’s important!

What are you most proud of in your work with Shortlist?

It’s a thrill every single time, when I meet a reader who says how much they enjoy and value Shortlist. I’m also proud of working with and helping to develop some great journalists over the years (including the current team of Stella and Camille), who often have to do pretty tough interviews and are always really professional about it.

What would you like Shortlist to be remembered for within the industry?

For sharing stories, knowledge and insights that help leaders run their various functions more effectively. And for having a professional and ethical approach to all the articles we write, even when people hate us for publishing them.

What is the most odd or funniest moment you have had working for Shortlist? An interview, an event, an unlikely scenario?

I called someone who had just been sacked (an unpleasant, but common task because we always give people an opportunity to share their side of the story). They said “F*** off, Jo! I’m deep-sea fishing!” and then complained when I reported they “declined to comment”.

What would you say - outside of technology - has been the biggest change or disruptor to the recruitment industry?

It’s an obvious one but just the huge shift to in-house recruitment. Some of those teams are doing such amazing things that traditional agency structures wouldn’t previously contemplate but I have no doubt they’ll catch up. The recruitment industry is great at responding to disruption and staying relevant.

What changes do you see impacting the industry the most in coming years?

Another obvious one is the gig economy and rise of platforms, but more exciting is all the advancement in assessment and matching technology, and opening up possibilities of who you can find and how perfect those matches can get.

What do you most enjoy about the calendar year with Shortlist? Awards nights, conferences, holidays?

I love the awards nights! Recruiters can be many things but they certainly know how to enjoy themselves. And in the aftermath we have so many positive stories to write about the people and companies recognised, which is much more pleasant than chasing down the negative things we hear about.

If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite three people – dead or alive – who would it be and why?

Jane Austen, for her wit; Hillary Clinton, for her smarts; and George Clooney, for his tequila.

What would you serve?

I don’t really cook but I always have chilled martini glasses on hand. So probably dry martinis to start, then tequila.

Go to karaoke song?

‘Kitchen Karaoke’ is a very regular event in the Knox household so there’s a lot to choose from! But I’ll go with Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart.

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