A new year, a new career

Published:  26 March, 2013

Recruitment has arguably been one of the hardest hit sectors by recession with employers putting the brakes on and prospective candidates too concerned with job security to risk changing company. Is 2013 a new dawn for recruitment? Lynn Sencicle talks to four leading recruitment agencies in the construction sector.

“The quantity of candidates is lower now than it was in 2008-09,” says Joe Zerafa, director at Arco Recruitment. “At that time there were a lot of redundancies being made, and the calibre was not that great – with clear reasons why most of those people were in the first wave of redundancies. We can see that when we meet these candidates – and our success ratios weren’t as high as pre-recession. The companies we were recruiting for, were more picky.”

“In the last 12 months, the volume of vacancies has significantly increased, to the extent that we’re as busy now as we’ve been since before 2009,” clarifies Peter Jones, director at Foyne Jones. “The spread of employers looking to attract talent has now diversified, with each prospective employer issuing meticulous criteria in terms of the skill set or personality traits they feel will establish desirable candidates.”

“There has been a marked change in recruitment over the last three years,” adds Tony Smith, managing director at Courtney Smith. “There are more vacancies now than before, but the calibre of candidate level has dropped. In 2009, there were not that many vacancies, but a lot of good candidates.”

Jeff HulmeManaging director of Shaples Davies Jeff Hulme’s view is that “over the past four years we have seen small growth year-on-year and a slightly higher rate in 2012. Executive recruitment was much lower than anticipated in 2012,” he says, “and this could have been bad news for the business – however this was covered by the volume of assignments we handled associated with the ‘Green Deal’. But the value of recruitment is less than pre-2007; clients expect more from their recruitment spend in terms of assessment, vetting, retention and success.”

Mr Zarafa believes that 2013 will offer a brighter future. “We thought that by 2012 things would be a lot better. It hasn’t quite worked out that way as the first two quarters of 2012 weren’t great, but the last two quarters have definitely picked up, so 2013 is looking better and brighter. Not as great as it was in 2005, but certainly moving in the right direction. Talking to people, companies and candidates, there is greater optimism,” he says.

“We are encouraged by the discussions we had with clients in the last quarter of 2012,” says Mr Hulme. “Some are rebuilding teams because resources are too stretched or stale and we are seeing more recruitment for specialist talent because of entry into new sectors, new products or changes in construction standards.

“The Green Deal has provided Sharples Davies with a strong income stream, which we expect will continue over the next two to three years. There is still market uncertainty and the potential for redundancies but we are seeing a hardening of attitude along the lines of ‘this is what it is – now get on with it’. 2013 will be tough for many of our clients and costs will be controlled tightly. We will have to work hard for our fees but then, what’s wrong with that? We are positive about 2013 and the world didn’t end on the 22nd of December 2012, did it?”

“It’s going to be the same in 2013 as it was in 2012, as there is still a shortage of candidates,” says Mr Smith.m“Vacancies that are coming in are really only replacement vacancies with just a small percentage of companies looking to expand. And the demand is still there for quality candidates, so overall, the market is not changing too much.”

“From around November and December, people do not generally want to recruit until the New Year,” says Mr Zerafa. “That means come January, as a candidate, you think you’ve got a much greater opportunity to join a company, because all those vacancies that have been held over for the last couple of months are becoming very hot. The companies are looking to fill holes and roles as soon as possible then, so the New Year is a great time to talk to people and start looking at opportunities with various companies.”


“Companies need to sell themselves and project the right image to candidates,” says Mr Smith. “Candidates will always be worried going into new jobs, especially at the moment. They’re aware that they are last in and will no doubt be first out unless the role is target-based such as in sales. Candidates are looking for training and looking at the future of the business they’re considering. There are a lot of questions being asked by candidates now.”

“If I can use the anecdote of an area sales manager who has a milk round, never steps out of line, is well liked, covers costs and makes a contribution – today that ASM will struggle to get to shortlist with many of our clients,” explains Mr Hulme. “In the current climate, clients want appointments that will add continuous value, contributing to growth and profit, someone they can rely on to deliver their plan.

“The spotlight is on delivery and it is a wise recruitment consultant who ensures that candidates actually have the competencies and abilities the client needs and can support this with a track record. A relevant CV with product and sector experience may achieve a first interview, but without proof wrapped up in enthusiasm, professionalism and awareness, the chances of winning the appointment are diminished,” says Mr Hulme.

“We have noticed the client process often has an additional stage,” he continues, “appearing that they are indecisive or dragging their feet, when they’re not. It just shows how important the appointment is to them and they are not just filling a gap.”

“Companies are looking for stability in candidates, not job hoppers. They should have over two years in their previous position,” Mr Smith points out. “Although with sales vacancies, there is an expectation of around two years before moving. With companies choosing to go with good calibre candidates, it’s important for the recruitment agency to ask the right questions. At Courtney Smith, we interview everyone, not just phone or Skype them. Not only to get history, but also to get an impression of confidence, technique and keenness – it’s a personal business.”

Peter Jones“Sometimes we come across clients who have their blinkers on,” says Mr Jones. “They tend to ignore people with transferable skills, which I think is a flaw. We need to be more open because both manufacturers and merchants are looking at the same pool of people and if you’re just swapping the same people around, where’s the new talent, where’s the next generation?”

“Clients are being far more selective and are drilling down deeper into candidate’s competences, skills, personality and fit and evidencing track record,” says Mr Hulme. “We have noticed an increased demand for behavioural, emotional intelligence and aptitude testing. In the past this was carried out internally or outsourced, but not to the recruitment consultant.

“We are being required to incorporate testing with our candidate assessment process,” he continues. “We can offer more than just an academic validation because we can apply it specifically to the dynamic of the building product market. We are also being asked to take a more consultative approach, getting involved in the architecture of teams, development and the recruitment process structure. We are seeing clients dig deeper into reasons for leaving a current employer and why a candidate wants to join them.”

“Merchants look to employ a strategy heavily focused on exciting individuals with the drive to blitz an area, establish client relationships from scratch and with the personality to maintain important key accounts,” says Mr Jones. “Some of our merchant clients are looking for new talent to prop up their external sales teams while others are scouting for their future area directors and multi-site directors and then there are those looking for both in a bid to expand off a strong last quarter.

“There’s not just variety in terms of the clients we are working with, but the candidates each of them feel are suitable, are also varied. Manufacturers are looking for either account managers to handle prestigious accounts or for specification sales people at differing levels with the ability, experience and technical prowess to liaise with architects and designers before a sale comes to fruition. This technical focus appears exclusive to the manufacturing sector.”


“Candidates leave for a variety of reasons, not just redundancies, but because they are frustrated in their current positions, because they need change, or because of too much pressure,” explains Mr Zerafa.

Or, perhaps they are not getting basic needs met? “Candidates tend to look for stability, progression and recognition for impressive performance,” says Mr Jones. “People appreciate a pat on the back alongside the financial rewards – it’s the acknowledgment that ensures they feel valued. We also have to examine the importance of the cultural fit, which shouldn’t be underestimated, either.”

“Candidates want security first,” adds Mr Hulme. “They want to feel they are fairly paid and recognised for the contributions they make. The ‘grass is greener’ attitude is less than it was in the past and we are seeing more vetting of clients by candidates than in the past.”

Joe Zerafa“What we’re finding at the moment, is that the quantity isn’t as high, but the quality is better,” says Mr Zerafa. “A candidate who wasn’t happy in their current employment, was also reluctant to leave because of the job security.

“But we’re now finding that candidates, even if they’re happy in their current position, are willing to have interviews, go along and have a chat and consider opportunities. It’s an indication of a better climate and that we have come out of recession. There are companies that are taking staff on in a big way. For example, one of Arco’s clients went through a massive acquisition campaign and has created a lot of job opportunities which, in turn, has given us more vacancies to fill.”

“The best service we can give to candidates is being clear about the expectations of our clients,” points out Mr Hulme. “The culture and performance of the company, and painting a realistic picture of what it is really like to work for them, is vital.

“Many candidates need supporting; we can’t place every candidate that joins us, but we treat them as if we will and are happy to invest time and give advice when and where we can.

“We help them through their own self-assessment and let them develop a specific roadmap for each role we represent them for. I believe it is important to be upfront with a candidate and be honest about their chance of making the shortlist.

“I feel candidates sometimes rely too much on their CV or their reputation and have an expectation that they are a shoe-in. So, notwithstanding disparities between remuneration and deliverables, for us the disparity is between the client’s expectation and the candidates’ approach to the process,” Mr Hulme explains.

“While it is important not to neglect the focus that should go into building a strong CV, I feel there is room for something a little more progressive and innovative,” says Mr Jones. “At some stage in the recruitment process it becomes inevitable that a CV may be required, but it would have to be really strong to open doors by itself.

“If you want to get potential employers excited, you need to tell the agency about yourself. Why should an employer look at you? What value will you add? Make them see you as a personality so that they know what you’re looking for and judge your application accordingly.”

“The market for candidates is a good one now,” says Mr Zerafa. “In recent years companies have not been aggressive on the payment offer. They weren’t looking to offer a huge financial incentive, whereas now, we notice a lot of our clients offer good packages and they do seem to offer more than what they were worth a year or two ago.

“They are looking to attract good quality candidates and realise they have to pay a little bit more than the going rate to get that now,” says Mr Zerafa.

“For candidates who are looking, I recommend staying in touch with recruitment agencies. If a candidate just sends a CV in, or fills in a form online, they can get lost through the cracks unless that agency’s software has flagged them up for a vacancy or a consultant has picked them up. But the candidates that follow up will be at the forefront of a consultant’s mind. So keeping in contact once a week, or every other week, is important.”


“We are actively embracing technology at Foyne Jones,” says Mr Jones, “because you can take so much of the process away by thinking strategically. We’re not just talking about social media but also online tools. When recruiting regionally or even from a different country why not use Skype?

“It can minimise the time and travel for all parties. Competency testing can take place through webinars – we should ensure there is room for different ideas because in a fast-moving, constantly evolving world, to stand still is to fall behind.”

Tony Smith“In 2008 we saw a huge increase in online job boards,” says Mr Smith, “but that has dropped off – many candidates are concerned that their current employers will see that they’re looking. Candidates need to choose an agency that understands the sector and then they need to meet the recruitment company, so they will get across what they want in terms of style and culture.”

“We don’t feel that online recruitment has had a negative effect on our business,” says Mr Hulme. “It is just another option. We have a couple of good private networks where we share information, particularly for the more senior roles, and while this has brought us good candidates, the broadcasting of our standards has brought us new clients – so no complaints about loss of business because of the internet. It isn’t something to bury our head in the sand over either. We feel it is all about timing. We will never be leaders in the online market, but we will have a presence when needed.”

“It would be wonderful if we were the first and only option,” says Mr Hulme of employers conducting their own recruitment, “but employers set their recruiting plans in motion and will use what is available and we are just another option. There is better succession planning and networking today.

“Clients are looking at alternatives, particularly driven by cost, so we need to justify why we add value and deliver what we say we will. Assignment management is part of the service and sometimes self-recruiting can overburden a company.

“We provide a service and that is why many of our clients who recognise this retain us for a part fee and then pay a success bonus. A company recognising that we are adding value and freeing their resources will pay for that service.

“On the other side, of course, are the candidates,” continues Mr Hulme.“In a competitive market, we are seeing far more self-reliance. Well-prepared candidates who need or are intent on an employment change, manage the process professionally. For them, we are just another option and our window of opportunity can be quite short and, unless we are handling a specific assignment, they don’t need us.

This article first appeared in the December 2012/January 2013 issue of Builders' Merchants News.

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