Is the recession over for Recruiters? Is now the time for aggressive growth?

I remember sitting in my office a little over 5 years ago, thinking my job in recruitment has to be one of the best in the world.

Seriously, MD of one of the largest, yet niche, recruitment groups in the UK with sustained growth year on year, domination of our key market spaces and delivering our most profitable year on record, things were pretty great.

Then all of a sudden….CRASH!

I’m not going to dredge up the past. Those of you that were around then will be all too aware of how tough it was following the financial crisis. I went from having the best job in the world to having one of the toughest challenges in my working life, steering our ship through these unchartered and unknown waters.

It felt like almost overnight I’d gone from planning growth, celebrating record months, quarters & years, to restructuring, re-thinking, fresh planning and even wondering where the next vacancy would come from, let alone the next placement. Looking back, it was one of the most refreshing experiences of my recruitment career, despite how painful it felt at the time, as the resulting re-focus of our business and it’s strategies has put us in great shape for today’s recruitment market.

I remember at the time, sitting in my office alone at about 9pm at night, wondering where we go from here; redundancies, short-time hours, salary cuts, office closures? I spoke to everyone I knew in the recruitment world who offered little good advice other than “batten down the hatches”, which everyone appeared to be doing.

I then spoke with Tim Watts, the Chairman of our Group and the entrepreneur who built the Pertemps Network Group to the household name it is today. His advice was simple but effective, and when I look back now it was this advice that revolutionised our business.

“Stick to what you’re good at, stick in the markets you are good at – do not try and diversify, stay close to your clients, love your candidates and when it comes back (which he was adamant it would), your business will grow at a phenomenal rate”

Tim went on the tell me how Pertemps had enjoyed all its growth off the back of previous recessions.

Whilst this advice may appear simple and not too different to “batten down the hatches” this gave me inspiration and got me thinking. Are we going to be equipped sufficiently when it comes back? Where can we invest in our business now, whilst things are quiet? How can we re-position ourselves against our competitors?

What had started as a negative now sprung into life as a huge opportunity, and 4 months later after much planning and preparation, our first Executive Recruitment Academy was launched right in the depths of recession.

With modest beginnings, our first Academy started with just 4 eager, hungry and driven graduates. My time was spent training & developing them to be “bullet-proof” recruiters in without doubt the toughest market conditions I had known in my recruitment career. This training started to rub off on our more experienced recruiters who went from blaming the market, to thriving in the new market conditions. As a bunch of our competitors disappeared, we found a way to not only survive but thrive in this market and were one of the few recruitment businesses to make a profit in 2009.

So, this story does have a happy ending…

Over the past 24 months, as the markets recovered, many of our competitors have fallen by the wayside. Our clients, with whom we’d stayed close and persisted with during tough times, felt loyal to us as “fellow – survivors” of these tough times. Our battle hardened consultants, were more loyal, higher skilled and better equipped than ever before. Our candidates, with whom we’d counselled through this period, felt attached to us as we have found them senior roles in the marketplace. Our systems & procedures are now like a well oiled machine with no wastage and optimised profits.

We have been positioned better than ever for this recovery and as for our Academy – In 2013, we took 14 graduates through our Executive Academy. This month, we plan to take another 12.

So, is this the time for growth? You bet it is! But a word of caution… make sure this growth has been years in the planning and your business is ready to accommodate the growth. As an industry, Recruitment has a terrible reputation of bringing people into our world only setting them up to fail and losing them forever from our fantastic industry; this is not a short-term game and very much a long term play, so recruit slowly with a clear and defined strategy.

Our business is booming this year and once again records are tumbling on a weekly and monthly basis… I believe the phrase is “make hay whilst the sun shines”.