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A Life in Recruitment

She’s a name you may know, but there’s so much more behind the success story of Winsome Bernard.

In the latest edition of The Brief we spoke to this leading lady of recruitment about her secrets to successfully building (and selling) a recruitment business.

The passionate campaigner for the recruitment and staffing industry is adamant in her belief that ‘you get back what you give out’ and has always been ready to be an outspoken ambassador for her clients, candidates and like-minded industry peers. In her case it has paid dividends.

As a young child, Winsome lived with her grandmother and uncles in a two-room house in a small rural village in Jamaica, before joining her parents in the UK who were setting up a new life for their family.

“I often think back to my childhood and remember moving from that tiny island to the big smoke,” Winsome said. “They were humble, but happy beginnings, and like most migrant families there was a strong desire to achieve more and we certainly moved onto greater things.

“It was all about mindset – my mum is a very strong lady who worked hard and instilled in me the belief that I could do anything. I remember her saying to me, ‘work hard and save for what you want for yourself; don’t rely on someone to give you that diamond’.

“She was a mum I was proud to look up to. At the age of 45, after working 30 years for others, she went back to vocational education and then began a very successful cleaning agency, which she

continued to run until she retired at 70 years young.”

Winsome joined the recruitment industry when she was 23 years old and was working as a regional

manager when her employer Alfred Marks (later renamed Adecco) began its entry into the Australian market, and she got the call to move to Australia.

“My first reaction to Alfred Marks sending me to Sydney was, ‘Why are you sending me there?’” Winsome said. “I had no idea what I was heading for and to tell you the truth, I was a little concerned about past Australia migration policies, but I loved to travel and wanted to find out, so I eventually relented and got on the plane.

“And while I was still pondering what awaited me, I happened into conversation with the guy seated next to me on the plane – he turned out to be an Australian filmmaker who had worked with many Indigenous communities, and he told me that Australia was essentially an inclusive and open-minded country, but one yet to reconcile with the realities of its colonial past and to properly accept and embrace its Indigenous history.

“I quizzed him hard about the welcome I might expect. Six months later, the Aussie guy and I were married. And Australia absolutely proved to be the country for me!”

Winsome has the reputation of having the ability to talk with anyone and make them feel like they’re the only person in the room – a trait seen rarely, but always remembered by those she encounters.

“I have always been passionate about giving back – whether it’s the time you give when you talk with someone fleetingly on the street, or a candidate who might have been overlooked in favour of someone else; giving back with your time and interest is powerful,” Winsome said.

Along with the work she does in the industry, she also works with a number of not-for-profit organisations.

“I am passionate about gender equity and creating employment interviews but also helps with

a whole range of personal development workshops, resume writing and interview skills.

“Another foundation, Success Works, supports women with a criminal history. We work in preventing custodial sentences in the first place but also help them to find work to support themselves and their families, and this means that are more likely to stay out of jail.”

Winsome also recently became involved with social enterprise, WomenCan, which links female tradies to female facilities and organisations, and recently sold her own business, Quay Appointments.

Wonder how she keeps powering through?

Today, Winsome works with Australian businesses through her consulting services and TEN facilitation through RCSA.

“When you love what you do, it’s never tiring,” Winsome said. “It’s people and relationships that spur opportunities, particularly for mature age women; they are currently forming a growing percentage of the homeless, and with many retiring with little or no superannuation,” Winsome said.

“One foundation I work with, Dress For Success, not only provides clothing for women attending you on, and those relationships are your business; you just need to keep building them.

“Great relationships with clients and candidates require trust on both sides. We need to be honest with them about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and continue to keep them in the know about the processes we’re undertaking along with the outcomes.

“Otherwise, our work is not always valued and clients may think we just opened our bottom drawer, and the perfect candidate was sitting there with little or no work from us.

“We don’t usually take the time to explain that we actually vetted 150-plus candidates, we usually only say that two or three were suitable but it is so important to explain the value we add as recruiters.”

Winsome believes it is crucial to look harder at candidates, and to also consider those who might be

a stronger cultural fit with the right attitude for the business rather than simply looking at their skills.

“We’ve been moving towards a very transactional model across the industry and we seem to be losing out on the relationship side,” Winsome said.

“Because margins have been so seriously eroded, we are now under more pressure than ever to work faster to get resumes to the client, making it difficult to look beyond just the five or so essential skills that the client is asking for.

“We’re not standing up and saying to our clients that we need to invest time in getting to know and

understand candidates; effectively, we’re shaping the job to the person, rather than the other way around, and that return on investment needs to be conveyed clearly.

“Post-COVID, we need to think how we are going to do things differently and about putting forward fresh ideas. It might mean you have to say ‘no’ to some work and some clients – in not working

in in a transactional or contingent model.

“Five different agents sending five different lots of resumes means a lot of lost time on the client side, and spending half your time working on stuff for which you won’t see a fee doesn’t make a lot of sense…and what other industry does that?

“Of course, when you do the maths it makes sense to opt for exclusivity, but it takes bravery to say no to competing, and in saying no, you have the opportunity to move towards a more consultative relationship rather than a transactional one.”

Winsome’s success is based on care, and she says the questions you ask your clients demonstrate the extent of your commitment.

“It is about developing strong relationships and trust with clients. In the old days we made the appointment for the candidate and then sent the resume, and it was quite shocking if the client didn’t take on one of our candidates.

That might be a step too far for these times, but what I’m saying is ‘I want to know you. And I need to know your company, your culture, in order to know the right people fit’.”

Winsome recognised the value in sharing tips long ago and committed to monthly breakfast seminars for nearly 15 years where she brought in expert speakers to give insights and advice to curious clients – both current and prospective.

“The room wasn’t just filled with people we worked directly with, and more often than not many of the attendees were referred by our clients to attend,” she said.

“It was not uncommon for myself and my team to seat more than 100 people. And that meant a lot of new contacts and great marketing opportunities.

“We always received praise for giving back and painting the industry so positively; we became an agency that didn’t just support clients, but more broadly the communities they served, and the charities and people they cared about.

“Eventually the time came to consider selling the business, not necessarily because I needed or wanted to, but because it was time. I loved what I did and wanted to make sure I left a business that

would continue to be successful.”

At the time, Quay was mostly geared towards filling temporary roles for government, and this was

enabled by a pedigree of proven systems and protocols.

“I gave a lot of thought to the type of buyer I wanted – they needed to have a strong care factor. We left three great senior managers with more than 45 years of experience within the business between them, they knew and understand the value of long-term government contracts and relationships.

We were only a team of 20, much smaller than people thought, but we had the profile of a big agency. By the time we sold we had a turnover of nearly $60 million,” Winsome said.

“I always tried hard to give people opportunities. We would often take on the recent migrants and I’m proud of that. We would have taken 20-30 interns over the years from Australia and overseas working in accounts HR and marketing, and I’m glad to continue that commitment through my other

work today. I still get emails from people saying, ‘you placed me here or there or I worked for you, and I just want to say thank you’. I am so lucky that my vocation has been working with people in one of the most important parts of their lives – finding a job. Simply amazing…you never get tired of that!”

Winsome is currently a facilitator to the industry through her role as one of the TEN Group Chairs.

TEN is an new initiative designed by RCSA to allow recruitment leaders to learn from peers from a variety of business sizes and sectors. Groups of 10 come together to discuss business, industry, and executive development in a high-trust collaborative environment. It fosters open and supportive discussion between its diverse participants where experiences can be shared and new ideas canvassed.

“The participants in these groups have been through much of what you’re experiencing,” Winsome

said. “They are peer groups, within which you can work through anything you’re unsure of or curious about. Whether you’re a blue-collar or executive placement business, or big or small, many of the issues are similar. It’s not a competitive landscape, it’s an opportunity to help to grow your business as part of an intimate community of leaders.”

You can discover more about TEN by clicking here.

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