Darwin & Recruitment by Turlach McAlister

Charles Darwin is frequently misquoted in terms of the central thesis of the Origin of the Species, in popular culture his idea has been distilled down to the “Survival of the Fittest” what in actual fact he said was “Survival of the Most Adaptable” it’s a subtle, but very important distinction.

I started working in the industry over twenty years ago and have seen the industry evolve and adapt numerous times. At the time the industry was still coming to terms with the introduction of what would now be called a disruptive technology a few years earlier. What was it? The Fax! When you speak to junior recruiters and talk to them about getting CV’s in the post or using concealer tape to hide contact details when you got a CV that a client was screaming for and you had to fax straight away they look at you like you have two heads. Only recruiters of a certain vintage can remember the pang when the post came and that promised CV did not materialise. Today we call the candidate and the CV arrives minutes later.

Fax technology offered the facility to radically shorten turnaround times. It was also the beginning of the process that allowed candidates to engage with large numbers of recruiters with relative ease at the same time. The Fax Coversheet template was a key part of Microsoft word and was in daily use. There were catfights in the fax queue as everyone wanted to use the same line and in the early day’s faxes seemed to work in one direction only, either incoming or outgoing. The sound of the fax actually connecting when you had a great CV in the out tray was very satisfying, the ping of a sent email for me just does come close, you knew you had got your connection. However this technology that changed how the industry operated became obsolete within 15 years. To be perfectly honest since the advent of scanning I struggle to remember the last time I sent a business fax.

Internet addresses were also in their infancy, addresses such as 12345678@compuserve.com (no idea whose address that was/is by the way) were the norm and you took the address your ISP gave you in many instances. Free webmail was a novel concept, Google did not exist, Yahoo! was in short pants and Hotmail owned this particular niche. Netscape was fighting a rear guard action against Internet Explorer to be the browser of choice and suffering death by a thousand cuts. Email communication was a quantum leap in terms of the scale and speed of communication and offered huge potential for better communications. Spam at that time to most people was still a cheap meat product.

The mid to late 90’s saw another massive disruption in the shape of the growing importance of the web. The next few years saw a huge change in how things operated. Web boards like Jobserve which opened in 1993 (Mark Zuckerberg was 11 to give you a frame of reference), StepStone 1996 and Monster1999 grew massively and became very successful. It says a lot that by 2003 Jobserve were in a position to pay to be the principal shirt sponsor for West Ham United in the Premiership. Job Boards were announced with much fanfare as marking the death knell for the recruitment industry. The social media tsunami followed in the late 2000’s with the advent of tools like LinkedIn in 2003 and Facebook in 2004, while Nokia ruled the mobile phone market Apple was working away on a device that would change both personal and business lives in an even more fundamental way than the advent of the personal computer had done 20 odd years earlier. The smartphone has utterly changed how we communicate and Clients we were told with this array of tools at their disposal would never need to use an agency again.

For those of you in the industry less than 5 years reading this does any of this sound familiar?  How often have you heard about this great new tool that is going to change the way the recruitment industry operates? From an agency perspective you might say now the biggest challenges are direct Social Recruitment and In-House Talent teams. So what’s my point? Simple, in the broad scheme of things nothing has really changed from the industry perspective. Disruption and evolution has been a key feature of the industry since its inception. We operate in an industry that is hugely dynamic, the drivers and the challenges faced today are different but the constant is that the industry is being disrupted. There are disruptive technologies being dreamed up in garages and universities today which in 5 years’ time we’ll wonder how we ever survived without them.

The one constant in recruitment ecosystem is change. The Darwinian principle of the survival of the most adaptable is one that everyone needs to bear in mind, but the old adage that people buy people should never be forgotten. As long as you concentrate on, nurture and manage your key relationships, both client and candidate, the disruptors will find their space and frequently in time they become key tools.

The Recruitment Industry will adapt as it has always done.

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