Why should anyone have to apologise for their industry?

By Huw Martin

So after three weeks off in a bubble of wedding and honeymoon happiness I’m finally back to the office and reality; my rugby team are performing like kings (this was written before the Australia game – fingers crossed), the company have managed perfectly well without me and my first cold of winter has struck me causing my body to react like a rhino that’s been shot with a tranquiliser gun!

Lots of things have happened during my time away however one thing that has not changed during my extended break is the perception of our industry, and boy this gets my goat.

Why does it irk me so much?

Why am I so protective of an industry that I know has some bad apples, some dodgy practises and characters that may have been trained by Fagin in Dickens-like fashion! The answer is that because, as with most industries/companies/human beings, not all of us are like that.

There are so many good companies in our sector providing excellent quality services at a sensible price, thus demonstrating that not all recruitment companies wear a mask! There are so many who try to be different and provide a great place to work. We were recently awarded the Investors In People Gold standard, and without wanting to sound like I’m tooting our own horn too much, I’m incredibly proud of our team, our achievements, and the work we do as a people business. I honestly believe you can’t tar everyone with the same brush yet it happens all to often.

I was at the FinTech 2015 conference in Edinburgh last week and met some perfectly lovely and professional people, all focused on making their businesses the best they can be and/or selling as much as they can to whoever will buy their products or services (like us). Typically, these people have offices, staff, processes, finance, suppliers, customers and clients (like us), and most will have competitors, markets, channels to those markets, systems, HR, governance and boards (also like us).

“So what do you do? Oh…”

I found it interesting that some of the people I met greeted me with warmth and enthusiasm until they realised I was an MD of a recruitment firm! For a split second I felt like the kid who gets picked last at football at school, but after kicking myself back into reality it got me thinking; do people really think that there is a hierarchy of acceptability when it comes to work?

If we accept that logic, here’s my list:

  1. Philanthropy
  2. EVERYONE else, in no particular order

Is the well-known consultancy putting ‘experienced’ graduates on a client site and charging £1000+ per day better or worse than the coffee company putting farmers out of business due to hammering their prices down? Does an estate agency get more or less credibility than an estate agency-style web company?? Does acceptability come down to the price you charge for the service?? Are payday loan lenders like Wonga any better or worse than a bank??? (Actually would make quite a good game this…) And which category does Just Giving fit into??? The for-profit website that nearly EVERYONE uses for charitable donations that made more than £200,000 through the amazing efforts of Stephen Sutton (the teenager who raised £5 million as he battled the cancer that eventually took his life)? Hmmm???

I met an HR director from a large company recently in a lift after an event. She wasn’t particularly happy due to the un-PC comments from her chairman at said lunch however reluctantly entered into conversation with me to kill the time. When she learned that I was in recruitment her face dropped. For once I got a bit annoyed (I never get annoyed, honest!) and proceeded to extol the virtues of our business, why we were different, how lovely our staff are, and how our £40 million turnover …. blah blah blah. Why, I’ve no idea, but it frustrated me that much that I felt like I should have to defend our industry.

I’ve since learned (after taking a few breaths and counting to ten) there’s really no need to have to defend our industry or the work we do. It’s far more productive having confidence in what we do and why, to try to be a better business every day and ignore comments from others who’ve never run a business, owned a P&L, had to build a business up with all the considerations and challenges that brings. It’s just not a competition in that sense.

What we can do though, by constantly demonstrating with our everyday actions that we are different and that our values stand for more than just some fluffy words on our website, is to try to help change the perception of our industry.

Believe it or not, getting someone a job (who’s struggled for years to get back into work following redundancy) can actually be really fulfilling and that’s just one reason we’re here doing what we do. With this at the heart of all that we do, we can help show our industry in a more positive light, and just because our industry isn’t deemed the most prestigious in the list, that there’s no reason why we can’t do great things.

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