Twenty years in recruitment: what has changed and what hasn’t?

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Never more true than in recruitment.

Prism is twenty years old this month! Some of the changes in this time have been astonishing and not just the obvious ones that everyone thinks of e.g. mobile phones and the Internet. But many aspects of recruitment haven’t changed at all.

Some observations and recollections from founder employees of Prism about 20th-century recruitment:

  • £13,500 for an advertisement in the Sunday Times about the size of a Samsung ‘phone! £62,000 for half of Page 1. And those were Prism’s reduced rates. Using print media for recruitment seems nonsensical now but in its heyday the Sunday Times often had 26 pages or more of broadsheet advertising every week. Prism incidentally was a top 10 advertiser by the end of its 1st year.
  • Ringing switchboards to try and get names for a search “long-list” to then head-hunt call..
  • Search is no longer something especially different or mysterious. All recruiters use LinkedIn and most approach candidates “cold”. In 1997 only head-hunters did that.
  • Piles and piles of CVs arriving in the post and all being carefully processed, answered with letters printed off AND SIGNED and then filed. Email applications were an oddity and of course always printed off. Amazingly the three founders distinctly recall debating whether having email was a priority for day 1 of the start-up!
  • No LinkedIn (founded 2003)
  • No Google (founded 1998): Alta Vista was the main search engine. Also briefly “Ask Jeeves”.
  • Limited internet recruitment advertising which was mainly of IT roles (Jobsite was founded in 1995)
  • An expensive dedicated 56kb ISDN line for internet access and home modems making silly noises
  • The dominance of agencies and executive recruitment firms: the role of internal recruiters and outsourcing (RPO) was quite limited
  • Preferred Supplier Lists were much less prevalent and rarely enforced
  • The only available information on a Company was often the Annual Report which had to be sent via snail mail.

However many things haven’t changed in recruitment and probably won’t:

  • The real value to candidates and employers of quality recruiters with market knowledge, integrity and the ability to add wise counsel. And the dearth of agencies that have them!
  • The gulf between a well-managed executive recruitment process conducted by experienced high integrity recruiters and the standards widespread in much of the same industry.
  • The importance of long term relationships with people. Relationships with companies are important but it’s people that make a decision to work with a recruiter.
  • CVs are still the best tool for an initial candidate assessment: for better or worse CV format and style has changed little. Errors still ubiquitous.
  • Candidate interviews are still at the heart of a recruitment process and involve one human evaluating another’s fit with a role and employer. Ancillary stuff e.g. assessment centres and psychometrics have changed little too, although the latter can be done online which is a huge time saving.
  • The competitive advantage to employers of providing a positive candidate experience.
  • Technology is no substitute for speaking to people and face to face meetings. Whatever LinkedIn might have us believe you can’t network effectively via email and social media.
  • Despite the benefits of technology the timescale of recruitment processes remains stubbornly slow, especially in many Executive markets.

The demise of recruitment firms has been foretold again and again but at heart the oldest cliché in the book still rings true. It’s a people business and looking after people, whether employees, candidates or clients will always a differentiator that ensures the long term success of any quality recruitment business.

Prism Executive Recruitment is 20 years old this month and still going strong, providing excellent service to management consultants and organisations that employ them.

I am indebted to my co-founders Jerry Wright and Keith Evans , our first consultant hire Martin Hancock and also Sheila Bradbury from our current team for their recollections.

Finally a warm and heartfelt “thank you” to all the hiring managers, recruiters and candidates that we have worked with over the years. We couldn’t have reached this milestone without you!

Subscribe to our blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.