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Then and Now: How our industry has evolved

While long-serving recruiters may look back misty eyed at the days of the fax machine and carbon paper, newer arrivals may wonder how on earth work was done without computers and mobiles. But the truth is, the changes in the industry have been less about technology and more about the culture of work.

There was a time, back in the day, when recruitment consultants regularly enjoyed long, languid, alcohol-fuelled lunches with clients that were often known to become dinner and then maybe a little karaoke.

There was also a time, back in the day, when clients did not feel a need to be inhibited in their language when talking with recruitment consultants. Back in this (g)olden time, circa the late 1980s, the height of technology for many offices was the revolutionary facsimile machine. Mobile phones did not exist, nor did the internet in any meaningful way, and electric typewriters were the workhorses of the office.

Yet, despite all this, one industry veteran believes the role itself and the type of person drawn to a career in recruitment remains, to all intents and purposes, fundamentally unchanged.

“There have been a lot of changes in the industry but if you scrape away all the technology, the role is still essentially the same,” says Steve Shepherd, the CEO of TwoPointZero career coaching. “I think younger consultants would be surprised at how much you could do and how successful you can be without being constantly attached to a telephone.

“And the skills needed to be a good recruiter, the core foundations – that ability to business develop, build relationships with clients and the investigative skills in terms of candidate selection and interviewing – haven’t really changed at all. What has changed is the way we work.”

Shepherd, who now operates a career coaching business focused on helping youth make the transition from education to the workforce to begin their chosen career, began in recruitment in 1988 not long after landing in Australia from the UK where he’d worked in real estate.

“In the 1980s there was no technology at all,” Shepherd says. “The IBM Typewriter was as high tech as it got. We still used carbon paper. And Monday mornings were quite different then. We would place our ads in the Saturday paper and Monday was all about manning the phones and taking the inquiries because people couldn’t just email you their resume.

“There was no email and we didn’t have the luxury of artificial intelligence screening resumes. It was all hands-on and that meant there was a high degree of personal contact between consultants and their clients and candidates.

“We used to physically take the resumes to clients and go through them with them discussing why we thought certain candidates should be interviewed,” he said. “And we could do that because we were speaking with candidates on the phone and that meant we were getting a broader picture of who they were and what they could do than what was listed on their resume.

“There was a lot more advocacy and more face-to-face meetings. Now people just read an email and form their opinion on that alone. I think a lot of personal contact has been lost because of technology and that has changed the way we operate for better and for worse.

“In many cases genuine consulting conversation has been lost along the way. We are talking with the candidates and clients less than we did and that means less input from us in terms of who they should be hiring.”

While Shepherd says technology has taken away some of the conversation, he acknowledges its many benefits.

“Technology has both helped and hindered what we do and how we do it,” he says. “Recruiters are still trying to get in front of clients, but technology has given clients more platforms to hide behind. It’s faster for them to just look at resumes on email. It is clear technology has helped with broadening the reach of recruitment agencies and increased the speed at which candidates can be sourced and placements completed.”

Shepherd says the industry has changed as much because of shifting economic conditions and societal expectations as it has because of technology. Gone are the days of long lunches, long conversations and overt bias in hiring.

Shepherd says there are usually clearer lines between work and social functions as most people are increasingly time- poor these days.

“If you do have a work lunch now, it is very much all business and usually quick because everyone is in such a hurry,” he says. “And the focus on procurement means that even the corporate gifts have been curtailed over the years, with a move very much away from corporate entertainment to corporate education.

“And while there are still closed-minded clients because prejudice and bias have always existed, clients who are biased are less likely to say those sorts of things now, which is a small move in the right direction.

“That said, recruitment has been, and will always be, about finding clients the right match with the right candidate. Having the understanding of what makes a good match, what the culture of an organisation is and going to bat for the right candidate continue to be fundamental to what we do.”

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