How to scale a recruitment business from startup to over 100 recruiters

In our entrepreneurship publication, we have explored whether now is a good time to start your own agency, how to start your own business and what potentially could attract top billers to your brand new startup.

You now have an agency licence, a home or serviced office, a CRM and a website – it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s everything you need to build the foundations of what could be the next big brand in your recruitment market.

It’s going well: you’re two months in with interviews scheduled, your first few clients and you’ve projected your first placement by the end of month three. You’ve now closed it with a sigh of relief whilst you wait 30 days to be paid.

It’s at this point where your mentality starts to shift. Your client hasn’t paid within 30 days and you are getting slightly nervous about your cash flow as you enter day 40. The client pays on day 50 and you’re already experiencing some of the first planning challenges of being an entrepreneur. It’s an exciting evolution and you are starting to talk to recruiters about joining you on your journey.

How do you take your expansion from the stage of a 3-man band to over a hundred people over the next decade? Find Recruiter reports that 94% of agencies in Singapore employ less than 10 people. Of course, there are a number of lifestyle businesses but why is it that some businesses never grow beyond this point and why do some grow extremely quickly?

I will draw very heavily from my personal experience. I have built a recruitment business from one person, to over 150 recruiters across 5 offices in 4 countries. I have no problem admitting that I got a great deal wrong and hopefully my lessons learnt can help you in your journey.

Here are 4 important ways you can scale your business:

Cash is king and balancing risk with reward

Having cash to scale is a prerequisite to building a recruitment business. You may start with close to nothing in the bank, or you may start with a small investment from a private individual or PE fund. Either way, you will need to build a model where you are able to generate enough cash in order to hire the best people in the market.

I started Robertson Smart (known as Charterhouse today) with a relatively small level of investment, and it’s fair to say the prevailing months were a rollercoaster. I had two choices: take the safe route of hiring a few recruiters and wait until they became profitable, or take a risk and scale faster. I did the latter. I won back the initial investment within 9 months and we were well on our way, scaling far quicker than many of our competitors.

Have a crystal clear vision

Looking back, I never imagined that having a clear vision would be one of the most important ways you can scale a business. I’m not sure if I had a vision on day 1. Rather more of a desperation to focus on the things in front of me, making my first placement so I could pay my rent in Dubai and taking things one step at a time.

Over time, I began to grasp how important having a vision was. It became very apparent to me that a business needs a strategic plan and people need to buy into what you’re looking to achieve together. You will look back in ten years and recognise the seeds of your business were sown on day one. What you do in year one will impact you in the future. Most of my war stories come from the very early days of setting up from scratch and some of the decisions I made then stuck with me until my last day at the firm.

I’m suggesting that in your first year, you look into the future. What do you want the business to look like in three years, five years and even ten years? Focus on where you want to be on a personal and commercial level, and work backwards from there. You don’t necessarily need this on day one, but as you begin to expand and attempt to attract the best or right people in the market, it’s crucial.

What are your ambitions? Do you want to build a business with over 100 recruiters and 5 offices? Do you see yourself as a fee earner forever, or do you want to hire people better than you to replace yourself as you progress?

There are, of course, no wrong or right answers here, but having a clear vision will help you make decisions today. These are the decisions that will realise your ambitions and stick with you as you grow.

Training & leading from the front

Training begins at induction, no matter how experienced a recruiter may be. In the early Robertson Smart days, it was common for us to hire industry professionals, such as lawyers or bankers, who had zero recruiting experience. It was vital then that we adopted a ‘big company’ approach even if we were just 6 recruiters.

At Robertson Smart, we developed a personal induction and training program. I’m sure there are a few recruiters out there who remember the RS-TIM! The training and induction manual was given to every new starter and accompanied them throughout the first three months of induction. As we began to open additional international offices, we shot a series of training and induction videos that could be accessed by a company PC. It sounds normal now, but back then any access to internet and video content was very limited. I don’t mind saying that I think our training materials were quite exceptional at the time, and one of the important factors behind helping people develop into great recruiters eventually leading to scale.

Naturally, a founder is the ground zero of a business, a mentor that should lead from the front. All of that is vitally important as the business expands. However, once you get to a certain size in an office, or you open up an international office, then you begin to get spread very thin. Training then disseminates the message of the founder across the growing business which assists in maintaining cultural consistency. It’s a great economy of scale.

Motivation, people & culture

I had motivation, people & culture top of mind. It was extremely clear to recruiters why they would join Robertson Smart or Charterhouse over other firms. By having a consistent and clearly communicated culture, an agency will begin to attract a team who are equally similar in motivation, attitude and outlook. This will most certainly assist greatly in being able to scale. If your cultural values are inconsistent and all over the place, then don’t be surprised that your business is too.

Hiring the right people with motivation and commitment is a vital component of any recruitment business. If the recruitment leaders are hugely passionate, constantly positive and the business appears to be on the up, then this is the fuel in the engine. At this point, you are beginning to grow. You have hired fifteen recruiters in Dubai, the same number in Singapore, so it’s time to tackle Hong Kong. Tell me that is not an exciting story to share with your current and potential team members.

I think we very effectively used motivation to scale the business. Monthly, quarterly and annual incentives and trips made it a fun place to work. We weren’t shy in spending money but it was always connected to achievement. To celebrate achieving SGD 1 million from the launch of Singapore, we took the whole team and partners to an island resort in Bintan for the weekend – all expenses paid. People began to hear that we were a fun place to work and that we paid very competitive commissions.

How far I scaled

We managed to scale from just me to 150 people in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney & Melbourne. We were driven by a clear strategic vision coupled with the development of a positive and healthy culture backed up by huge levels of enthusiasm, ambition and motivation.

This perhaps makes it sound far easier than it actually was. We hit many road bumps along the way. We had recessions, as well as booms. We had the 1997 Asia financial crisis, the tragedy of 9/11 in 2001 and, of course, the SARS epidemic in 2003. All of these events hit us very hard but the 4 factors above remained consistent throughout.

I hope this has been useful to any recruitment entrepreneurs considering expanding their businesses and I’m very interested to hear about any comments with regard to the factors above. Please let me have your thoughts on LinkedIn and I’m looking forward to an interesting discussion.

If you’re exploring recruitment opportunities in Asia, please do not hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities.

When a contingent recruiter should sell a retainer

Our industry adopts a number of varied solutions in order to solve a client’s recruitment needs, the most common being contingent and retained search, amongst others.

A popular comment in recruitment is ‘well, it’s not rocket science’. It’s true, it’s not, but some hard-to-fill searches are complex and recruiters have to consider all options when proposing a solution to a client to ensure successful delivery.

Simply explained, contingent search is a model whereby the fee is only payable upon the successful execution of a mandate. If they’re not engaged on an exclusive basis, the risk sits squarely with the recruiter as they may be up against internal teams or other agencies.

Retained search is a model whereby a client pays a portion of the fee prior to the completion of the search process. The most common structure would be a third of the fee payable upon the instruction to proceed, the second third upon the successful presentation of a shortlist of candidates and the final tranche is paid on the start date of a candidate.

Is one model better than the other? Absolutely not. They are simply different recruitment solutions. It’s all about proposing the most appropriate approach for the search you’re about to undertake.

I have not forgotten a question an early recruitment mentor of mine, Tony Seager, asked me. He said, “why don’t most recruiters win retainers?” I pondered but I had no idea at that early stage. The answer was pretty simple in the end: “because they don’t ask”.

So, when should you propose a retainer over contingent? In this article, we will focus on the situations where you should propose a retainer to a client, as opposed to the usual contingent option. There has to be very solid reasons and you must be able to demonstrate to the client the clear benefits they will receive from this approach.

On the back of a failed contingent search

Can that be true? Would a client trust and retain you if you had not delivered? Yes, is the answer.

Using my existing relationship with a UAE based international tobacco company back in the day, I leveraged the work I had done with them in the Gulf in order to continue the relationship in South East Asia.

To kick things off, they asked me to identify the country managers for, if I recall correctly, Indonesia, Vietnam & Cambodia. This sounded pretty exciting. I identified so many good candidates but I couldn’t get this one to come together. We have all been there too many times. It sometimes happens, however good you may be. You put your all into closing the assignment, but things just don’t go smoothly and you’re not sure whether you should risk more time and effort with something that is looking less likely to pay off.

I had to pull out of the search so I called the client and told him. He was far from happy, but he understood and asked me what I suggested. I felt the roles could be filled, but due to the complexity of the markets, it would be extremely difficult and risky for me to dedicate much more time without some form of guaranteed payment. This converted to my first ever retained assignment.

The absolute key to winning retainers on the back of a failed search is relationship and trust. If you demonstrate that you have done everything you possibly can, the client sees less risk in paying for a retained search. This is especially true if you have a tremendous amount of goodwill and trust with the client and they want you to go out of your normal specialisation or geographic area. 

If you’re happy to do the search and you know you can deliver, but the assignment attracts a significant investment in time, just ask.

Market and research mapping

A contingent recruiter is nimble and moves very fast. One of the huge advantages to practice and geographic specialisation is economy of scale. If you are an expert in your field then your response could be immediate. Speed undoubtedly is an advantage in the contingent world, and more often than not, it can be the difference between a fee or no fee.

If a client comes to you and requests that you, not only to find suitable candidates, but also requests that you do a full market map and perhaps some competitor research in the process, then you are perfectly positioned to go down the retainer route.

A Robertson Smart market strategy was to win retained business utilising market mapping. We identified a very specific industry, Equity Research in Hong Kong. for instance and simply produced organograms of all the banks in the country. Armed with this information printed, we could quickly refer to it when sitting in front of a client. 

We would then use this information internally to very quickly identify the relevant candidate in a contingent situation, but if the client wanted more access to our research, then we would ask for a retainer. In the example above, we converted a contingent search discussion into a retained search assignment to identify a Head of Equity Research for a well known Dutch investment bank.

I do feel that many recruiters have little idea of just how knowledgeable they are about their specialisation and the key players that work in them. All too often, we get so absorbed in our day to day work that we don’t stop to think about how knowledgeable we actually are and how we can leverage retained fees from clients.

Confidentiality and control 

Some years back, I remember a client asking us to do a 100% confidential search. We were to identify a replacement where the current incumbent had no knowledge that a search had been ordered. Not pleasant, but it happens.

In this instance, the candidate source network was very tightly knit. This meant that if we were to reach out to the candidate base and reveal the client’s name, then the current incumbent would have found out very quickly. 

We discussed it internally. The potential fee was lucrative, the candidate base easily identifiable, and frankly we already knew them all. The client could not make any form of direct approach as then it would have revealed their identity very quickly.

It actually was a very easy retainer to win. We explained to the client that there has to come a point where you reveal, in complete confidence hopefully, just who you are recruiting for. Sometimes that is even in an initial screening call, or perhaps you hold it back until you have managed to set up a face to face meeting with the candidate. 

Our rationale for selling the retainer was that this was a complicated assignment and the approach would significantly slow things down. We argued, successfully, that it would be better to take a step by step approach, and not dissimilar to the three stage payment model as outlined above. 

The additional benefit we sold the client was control. This is a significant shift in the nature of the relationship between a client and a recruiter. A contingent recruiter carries most of the risk. Not so in a retained scenario as the client shares the risk with you. This gives the client a lot more say, a lot more control over the process and the recruiter. In this example, the client seemed to feel more comfortable gaining more control by taking some of the risk.

The most important factor

In my experience, these were the three most common ways to convert a contingent assignment into a retained one.

I do say, however, the most important factor up and above all of these situations are the trust and relationship you have built up with the client.

As you build that trust, why not simply approach the subject with the client in an appropriate manner when the situation calls for it, and just ask for it?

Won your retainer? Now it’s time to deliver to secure the remainder of the fee.

Lastly, if you’re exploring recruitment opportunities in Asia, please do not hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities.

How to find the right recruitment agency for you

If you’ve been recruiting for a few years and you’ve started to experience early signs that indicate it’s time to explore the next step in your career, you might be wondering how you can shortlist agencies that would be the right fit for you.

As a recruitment to recruitment consultant at Tiger Partners and now Co-Founder at Vocay, I have spent 4 years of my career speaking to recruiters every day to understand their motivations behind a move to a new agency. From these conversations, I would suggest a list of agencies which I felt were a good fit for the recruiter.

What should you think about when choosing your next recruitment agency and where will you find these agencies? In this guide, I will share my advice about how you can determine what agencies are a good fit for you and where you can get started with your search.

Choosing a practice

As a recruiter, you will have developed a network within your practice whether you are a generalist or specialist. The first consideration to think about is whether you want to continue specialising in your practice or whether you want to move into a new one.

If you’re a specialist, the advantages of staying in your niche are obvious. You have spent months or even years building a network and trust with clients. By staying in your specialist area, you’ll be able to build upon your existing network in your new agency and hit the ground running.

If you’re a specialist but you just don’t find your market interesting, it might be time to consider changing your practice. Being successful in recruitment is all about being fully motivated. If you’re not enjoying recruiting in your practice then your motivation and performance will suffer as a result of it. If you change practice, there is no doubt it will present a steep learning curve but if you’re motivated and you have a long-term outlook, it might be time to take the plunge.

If you’re a generalist, you’ll have to decide if you want to continue being a generalist or if you want to become a specialist. Most agencies in the recruitment industry are specialists or are becoming specialists as it allows consultants to become experts in their field and well-networked.

Start by choosing a function

Getting into the nitty gritty, you should think about your functional specialism. Are you a Tech recruiter specialising in Software Engineering or are you a Tech recruiter specialising in Sales? Both functions involve working with very different candidate profiles although they’re both in Tech.

Be self aware about your personality when choosing a function. For example, one question you could ask yourself is: do you work better with reserved, more introverted candidates or would you prefer to work with extroverted personality types?

Choose an industry

In addition to thinking about your functional specialism, you should think about the client base you would like to work with. Some recruitment desks may specialise in the same function, but two consultants could be covering a totally different client base. Do you want to place Marketing professionals into Banks & FS institutions or would you prefer to place Marketing professionals into E-Commerce businesses?

Choose a perm or contracting desk

Perm and contracting recruitment is so different but which one should you consider?

Perm recruitment involves a lengthy or slow-paced process, between 1 – 3 months of developing a relationship with a candidate with a chunky fee at the end of the process. The fee is a one off and you’re on to the next one after that.

Naturally, permanent recruitment can involve developing more in-depth relationships with candidates over a long period of time as positions take longer to fill and finding the right candidate can be very complex.

On the contrary, contracting recruitment involves a very short and rapid process, quick turnarounds between 1 – 14 days and high volume. The fee is a margin on the candidate’s monthly salary and is often paid in monthly instalments. It’s a smaller amount of revenue at first compared to perm, but there is huge potential to build up a book of recurring revenue.

Contracting is a fast growing business in Asia. During COVID-19, the solution has become handy for many organisations taking a cautious approach to expansion. Professionals are also becoming more familiar and open to the concept of moving from a permanent role to a contract position.

Contracting recruiters are adaptable, nimble and quick on their toes.

Choosing an agency model

Understanding your own personal approach to recruitment will be vital when exploring new agencies to ensure that you align with their models.

Are you a consultative recruiter that enjoys developing long-term relationships or are you a recruiter that likes to move quick and focus on hitting ambitious KPIs?

Most agencies will incorporate a combination of both, but some will emphasise one more than the other.

Self-driven or structured environments

Small to mid size agencies (headcount of 1 – 250) commonly operate flat hierarchies with self-driven or independent recruiters. This environment is good for recruiters who prefer to have an influence on the way they recruit, tailored KPI’s or targets for their desk and a level of autonomy.

Mid to large size agencies commonly operate models that are very structured with recruiters who are able to hit ambitious pre-set KPIs or targets. This environment is good for recruiters who prefer to work with proven structures where there is no ambiguity in the recruitment process.

Seniority level

Another consideration you should think about is the seniority level of the candidates you want to place and whether the agency covers or has access to those levels.

Junior to mid level models, which involve small fees and high volume are becoming more common as agencies have found a niche where there are less competitors (most agencies compete in the mid – senior level space). Firms like Michael Page and Robert Walters have built specialised brands such as Page Personnel and Walters People to focus on these areas.

Mid to senior level models, which involve larger fees and lower volume, is a space where most recruitment agencies are competing and one that can be lucrative for the recruiter.

When choosing between the two, think about how comfortable you are working with junior or senior candidates and how keen you are to do high or low volume recruitment.

Senior or C-level placements are only covered by a handful of agencies and if you want to explore the C-suite space, you might want to consider transitioning into retained executive search.

Your future manager

Your manager is the person you will develop the closest relationship with during your tenure at your next agency, and the most influential person when it comes to being successful.

Finding a manager that you can both work and click well with is a must. Sometimes you might be interviewing with two very similar agencies and it is the manager that sets them apart.

Common characteristics that recruiters look for in a manager include mentors, people developers, transparency and high emotional intelligence levels.

You can even go a step further and reference-check your manager by speaking to recruiters who have worked with them in the past to make sure there are no red flags.

The only time, however, that you can really determine whether you’ll click with a manager is when you actually meet them.

Career path

Are you thinking about becoming a manager? Do you want to be a manager from day 1 or would you prefer to be an individual contributor (IC)?

Some agencies operate a very flat structure where nearly all recruiters are IC’s. If you’re looking to become a manager, this type of agency is probably not going to be the right fit for you unless they have a particular role to manage a large team or plans to become more hierarchical.

Other agencies are very hierarchical where there are layers upon layers of management, and managerial roles often come up now and again as a result.

Most agencies, regardless of the size or hierarchy, offer access to an IC path if someone would just prefer to bill.

Your career path may be dependent on the role itself rather than the agency.

Long-term vision of the company

In addition to your personal career path, another important factor to consider is the agency’s long-term vision.

To ensure a successful and long tenure, it’s crucial that you buy in to the long-term vision of that agency. After all, you’re not just coming in to a be a recruiter, you’re coming in to help and play an important part in the success of the business.

Company culture

Recruitment is a hard job that requires a lot of time and effort to become successful. Working alongside like-minded people makes the journey enjoyable and is crucial to maintaining motivation levels.

Company culture can sometimes be related to the size of the agency.

Large agencies might have an entire floor dedicated to the sales room with high energy where you can bounce ideas off each other, listen to consultants around you to observe recruitments styles and meet people from many different backgrounds and cultures. Find out more about the culture and benefits of joining a larger agency here.

Small to mid size agencies will have a sales floor where everyone knows each other’s name, where there is a sense of unity and collaboration. Find out more about the culture and benefits of joining a boutique agency here.

Think about where you’re at in your career, what you’re looking to get out of the business and what you enjoy outside of work. Are you a junior recruiter looking to experience the buzz of a global brand or are you an experienced recruiter looking for a self-driven environment? Do you enjoy after work drinks? Do you prefer taking days off to support local charities?

Earning potential

Most recruiters are driven by money and if it’s not number one priority, it will probably be number two or number three.

Earning potential is a hard one to decipher before meeting an agency in person. Commission schemes are often kept confidential until meeting face to face or speaking to a rec2rec agency.

When it comes down to it, a majority of commission schemes in the market, although varied in structure, end up returning a similar percentage return on your billings.

The percentage return of your billings, including base salary and commission, is considered to be competitive around 32%.

If you’re earning less than 32%, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad commission scheme. You may be working with a large global player who offers access to established relationships with clients, allowing you to maintain a strong pipeline without the pressure of business development. Although your percentage return is lower, you could be earning more money than a recruiter who’s yielding 35%, but taking home less. If that’s not the case, you might not be billing enough to hit higher percentage tiers.

If you’re earning more than 32%, you’re earning a competitive amount in the market.

In the early stages of your career, finding a platform with established relationships that has a good percentage return is the sweet spot. When you become more experienced and you’re ready to step into a new environment where the risk of starting or building a desk is higher, you’ll have the opportunity to reap the rewards with higher percentages.

If you’d like to know more about how commission schemes work or if you’re not making enough money with your scheme, read our ultimate guide to commission here.

Start your search

If this guide has helped to determine what type of opportunity or agency would be the right fit for you, get started by connecting with me on LinkedIn or email at

If you’re not actively looking out, follow our company page on LinkedIn or subscribe to our free newsletter to keep in the loop on the latest opportunities.

What distinguishes a 1 million dollar biller from the herd?

Hitting the SGD $1 million / HKD $6 million mark in recruitment is a monumental achievement that belongs to a handful of legendary recruiters.

I was asked recently how many million dollar recruiters I had managed in my career.

Some billers did very well in a particular year, but not the following year. For the sake of this article, I began to think about recruiters who, on more than one occasion, billed over a million dollars in a year.

The biggest billers we had were in the Robertson Smart days. Interestingly, that led me to some insightful conclusions when thinking about what exactly contributed to someone becoming a million dollar biller. 

Five 1 million dollar billers is the answer to the question. Three were based in the Singapore office and two in Hong Kong. Of the five, four are still active in the industry and sadly one is no longer with us. They are a mixture of nationalities and currently residing in three different countries.

It got me thinking about what it was about these 5 individuals that enabled them to bill so much and so consistently. What exactly did they have that separated them from the herd?

This was a tough one, but when I got thinking, I found some similarities in each individual.

Direct from industry and specialisation

This was perhaps a surprise. Of the five, only one was working in the recruitment industry before they joined Robertson Smart. Three were bankers and one was a lawyer. I think this needs some explanation.

The Robertson Smart strategy, from inception, was to hire industry experts and not to hire recruiters. This had two driving forces. Firstly, there was virtually no ready supply of recruiters in Hong Kong and Singapore at the time. This scarcity still exists to an extent in today’s market. Secondly, the strategy was designed to penetrate very senior levels of search business but by employing a broadly contingent model. It wasn’t uncommon for our contingent recruiters to sell retainers.

Was this a factor in those four individuals billing such high levels of revenue? Yes, one hundred percent. Crudely put, we used to say it was easier to teach a banker to recruit than teach banking to a recruiter. The same for a lawyer. They came into recruitment having often been successful in equally competitive businesses. These individuals had instant access, credibility and expertise. That was overlaid with a very solid induction and training programme which helped to attract top talent to a newer brand.

The combination of these elements meant that very credible recruiters were approaching a candidate base that had common senior experience. Resultant fees were big. From memory, the biggest single fee deploying this approach was north of USD $630k. Difficult to believe, but true nonetheless.

Direct from industry is a model that is still very commonly employed in today’s market as more firms appreciate the benefit of being a specialist. It’s easy to see why.

Others who didn’t come from industry, such as the one biller of the five who came from recruitment, who spent time learning their market inside and out, were very successful too.

Methodology and access to senior executives

I touched on methodology above but it’s worth digging a bit deeper. As mentioned, the broad strategy involved identifying lawyers and bankers, for the most part, but we were open to any industry professionals. Traders covered trading, private bankers covered private banking. We had an ex-hotelier covering hospitality and a qualified accountant covering the accountancy and finance function.

The point is, however, that this was a contributing factor in creating above average fees. Recruiters would join the business with zero experience, be encouraged to widely network and meet candidates who were, first and foremost, industry and professional peers. In tandem with the candidate networking, the recruiters were encouraged to meet clients.

The inductees more often than not had zero recruitment experience. If that was the case, how could we have let them loose on their own so early in their recruitment career? This was never a problem. Imagine a qualified lawyer, turned recruiter, networking with a number of lawyers who were both clients and candidates. They were armed with the right set of questions and were clear on the objectives of each visit.

They were taught to try and spot opportunities of a logical connection whilst not being coached simply to look for and fill specific assignments. This worked exceptionally well with what I came to call a ‘bolt-on’. A bolt-on sector is one where a firm is open to hiring additional heads regardless of whether there is a vacancy or not. Two perfect examples are private banking and fee-earning lawyers. Clients could and would simply push the desks aside to create space for another one, figuratively speaking.

In this scenario, it is quite easy to see how rookie recruiters could, sometimes instantly, be transported into high fee opportunities very early on in their careers. Of course, the starting point was at such an elevated level that it often would only go upwards, culminating in a million dollar biller.

The above is not the full story though. Not every recruiter who made this move was successful; recruiters needed character, too.

Character and motivation

Was there a similarity in character of these individuals? Was there something else on top of their career backgrounds and access to senior networks? Absolutely.

When I visualise the five, most were – to some extent – a lone wolf character. Highly engaging, intelligent, fun and challenging individuals but each had a very internal focus. They were all highly money and goal orientated.

They came to work, to work. They would get their heads down and get on with it. I would never have to talk to them about activity. No need to even bring up KPIs, except perhaps as a way to demonstrate what high levels of activity could mean to your personal billings and income.

I recall that the four of them who came from industry (and not recruitment) were utterly invested in the training and induction program. They did not see it as an irritating training ritual, but rather something to learn from and use to their advantage.

They were all with us for over half a decade

Two of the million dollar billers stayed with us for a decade and the remainder over half a decade. They were colourful characters and there was never a dull moment. They carried themselves very well and enjoyed, I am sure, the prestige of being the superstars of the time.

Long tenure is a sign of stability. These were amongst the most headhunted recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong. So many firms tried to attract these recruiters away from us, but a number of boxes had to be ticked in order to achieve this. For these individuals, it did not seem to happen.

A very lucrative commission scheme contributed to this success, one that I like to believe was not beaten anywhere in the market at the time. It was not the sole contributing factor, though. I will cover that off in another article in the coming weeks.

Combination of factors

The factors of specialisation and methodology, combined with a certain character, led to the successful development of million dollar billers.

I am very certain of this and it is well worth mentioning that this approach developed many scores of top billers in the half million mark over the years as well. All were equally welcome – I can assure you!

Join an agency where you can become a top biller

If you’re a recruiter in today’s market, we’re working with over 20 agencies who have successfully developed top billers through learning & development programs.

Please do not hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities.

If you’re not actively looking out, follow our company page on LinkedIn or subscribe to our free newsletter to keep in the loop about the latest opportunities and industry insights.

How a contingent recruiter can successfully deliver a retained assignment

Last week, we discussed how and when a contingent recruiter could seize the opportunity to sell a retained search in a number of different scenarios.

If you have managed to close one recently, congratulations! Now it’s time to successfully deliver to earn the remainder of the fee.

You have pitched for, and won, the retainer on the back of the work you have done to date, coupled with a valued relationship you have built up with your client over time.

Delivery is vital. Now is not the time to mess it all up. The good news is that you don’t need to. The beauty of retained work, for me at least, is the combination of methodical planning, managing expectations and collaboration.

In this article, I will outline five key steps you can take – drawing upon personal experience – to ensure you perform to the highest industry standards.

Set very clear expectations and deadline dates

Let’s jump back a step. Prior to winning the retainer, you would have conducted some initial research.

I won a retainer to identify a CEO. I won’t mention the sector, but the role was based in Karachi, Pakistan. This was an example of a request from a usually contingent client. They wanted me to research the market, identify a longlist, approach them and then jump on a plane to interview face to face.

Each search has very specific challenges. Research fully and understand what the specific challenges will be. In this one, the challenges were that I would need to connect with individuals who would be very tough to contact and then I would have to jump on a plane to meet them.

In the proposal to the client, be extremely concise but realistic about timelines for delivery, interviews, offers and placement. Are there any major holidays that will delay things? Is your client very tough to tie down to an interview time? Factor all of this in and before you win the retainer. Walk the client through the process step by step so both of you are very clear on deadline dates and expectations for the search. The scene is set.

Prepare the long list before approaching

Assuming there is no real urgency, I always suggest to hold off on reaching out to any candidates until you have completed the long list. I always include in the search brief the need to identify candidates that are possibly slightly too junior for the role as well as candidates who are possibly slightly too senior for the role. Leave no stone unturned.

The slightly junior profiles can surprise you and are often ready to step-up. The more senior ones are usually very happy to refer candidates for the search. I would always approach the senior profiles very honestly and tell them that I am looking for referrals. It works a majority of the time.

When I am working on a retained assignment I am always very transparent with clients, and usually I would request a meeting, face to face if possible, so we can discuss the parameters of the search. Do you both feel, at this very early stage, that the list of search profile targets is on point? It is especially important to call out any surprises based on what the expectations were when the search started.

How long is a longlist then? That is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. The rule of thumb is that the list generally ends up being longer than you first envisaged. In the Pakistan CEO example above, I guessed it would have been just ten, but it was in fact around twenty five. Typically, however, my longlists have been approximately fifty to sixty names long. In the Tobacco Country Manager example in the last article, the longlists were massive as the client asked me to target pretty much any FMCG business, and not to focus purely on Tobacco.

Prioritise by identifying those candidates who meet the specifications most closely and then work backwards. This can be a common mistake, and I made it – I did not prioritise Tobacco first. Instead, I took a blanket approach which meant I wasted a lot of time mapping profiles we would never need to contact.

Take a very systematic approach

Take a breath…this is not contingent search! You may reach out via your research team or you may do it yourself. I generally take a three step approach. I put a couple of paragraphs together, outline the job and ask if there is any interest. If there is, I would often send a job description for them to study. If they declined to proceed (and for reasons that I also agreed with) then I would often ask for referrals. If I did not agree with their reasoning or if they were keen, I would progress things to a phone call and eventually face to face if circumstances (hello, COVID!) would allow.

At this point, you have built a significant relationship longlist, you have reached out to the individuals on the list and you are beginning to meet candidates. This soon becomes what I call the long shortlist. The long shortlist is the narrowing down of the most qualified and relevant candidates for the search. In a search I conducted in March of this year, my long shortlist contained around twenty individuals. One third of them I felt were spot on, one third were very close and the final third we were on the fence about. Usually you can safely prioritise the candidates in the order of relevance.

It’s time for the client to meet candidates. If possible, get the client to block off some fixed times in the diary. Ideally, block off a couple of days and set up the interviews. By approaching it this way, you can do a far better job of managing the process, the client is in a similar frame of mind across the interviews and the flow of the assignment will continue. This is far more preferable than having interviews strung out over a number of weeks.

Maintain high energy levels and keep up the momentum

Some retained searches are very straightforward. In my experience, more are than not. Some however can go array. Things can go wrong for a number of reasons, for the most part though, this usually happens if the client’s expectations are out of kilter with the candidate base. This should be identified in the initial research but not always. 

The job is not completed until it is completed and the successful candidate has taken the role and has started with the client. Occasionally, a client will suspend the search before it has been finalised. There are a number of reasons for this. I have known of cases where an internal candidate asked to be considered for the role and another where a candidate who had previously declined the role changed his mind. Sometimes the client simply has a change of mind or strategy. 

Always keep up the enthusiasm levels and momentum however hard it gets. That is how you win the second retainer from the same client!

Arrange a regular feedback session with the client

A great trick is to arrange a regular call with your client. It helps to keep both parties honest. Ideally this would be a weekly call where you discuss the progress of the search, the problems you are facing and the candidates you are proposing. 

There’s a lot to do when it comes to delivering a successful retained assignment, but the more retainers you sell, the more practice you’ll get and the better your reputation will be with your client – to the point where you might want to transition into retained search permanently!

If you enjoyed this article, please follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe for free to make sure you don’t miss out on future recruitment related content.

Lastly, if you’re exploring recruitment opportunities in Asia, please do not hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities.

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3 reasons why you should join a boutique recruitment agency

If you’re about to make a decision to change jobs, you might be wondering what type of recruitment agency is going to fit you best.

This will depend on a couple of factors: what stage are you at in your career? What company culture are you looking to be a part of? What are you looking to achieve there?

A boutique can be defined as a recruitment agency that has a headcount of anywhere from 1 to 200 employees or less than 20 employees in each office. Whilst the range is vast, you can separate boutiques into local and global players. Some boutiques may have a smaller headcount and focus on a specialist practice purely on the local market, whilst others have a larger headcount and operate a number of international offices.

In this article, we explore 3 reasons why you should join a boutique recruitment agency to help determine whether it’s the right choice for you at this stage in your career. 

1. Career progression 

There are a plethora of career development opportunities available to you by joining a boutique recruitment agency.

Flat organisational structure

Boutique recruitment agencies can offer a flat, dynamic organisational structure. Due to a lower total headcount, there are often fewer layers of management hierarchy, which means there’s a great opportunity to climb the ladder quickly if you put the work in. You will be given autonomy to make your own decisions and be fully accountable for your successes.

Another huge benefit of working amongst a flat structure is getting more one-on-one time with senior leaders in the business. This can be an invaluable learning experience, especially as a junior consultant. As you climb the ladder and earn the trust of senior figures in the business, you will naturally be exposed to, and perhaps be actively involved with, strategic and business-critical decision making.

Tailored training approach

Training and development is often tailored to each individual, based on their current strengths and areas for improvement. I was fortunate enough to experience this firsthand, when I accepted my first entry-level role as a Consultant at a boutique agency in Bangkok. I received hands-on, one-on-one training from the founder of the business. My manager had single handedly built the business himself and he was 100% invested in both my success and the performance of the business overall. I took away crucial learnings from my time in that business which I still put into practice today.


Many boutiques choose to specialise in one or two particular areas within recruitment, as opposed to offering recruitment services across multiple industries.

Some of the larger global boutiques who can support a bigger headcount, opt to operate multiple specialist agencies under their ‘umbrella’. Take the SR Group for example, which consists of Brewer Morris (Accounting & Finance), Carter Murray (Sales & Marketing), Frazer Jones (Human Resources), Taylor Root (Legal) and SR Search (executive search arm).

What does this mean for you as a recruiter? Joining a niche, specialised business will give you the platform to become a true expert in your chosen desk. Many boutiques have long standing and exclusive relationships with clients who are hiring specifically in your space. You will be surrounded by a team of professionals who specialise in your niche, and have been doing so for years. They will be able to share the knowledge you will need to instill complete confidence in both existing and new clients.

2. Culture 

The culture of a business is so important when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. It’s a crucial element to the success and longevity of a business, but also one of the hardest things to get right.

Boutiques are able to exert a level of control over the culture they implement across their business. Achieving a consistent, healthy internal culture across a small business is easier to sustain, simply because the team headcount is lower.

Working for a smaller boutique can mean stepping into a self-driven work environment. Many of the boutique firms – especially owner-operator businesses – are less likely to have internal L&D teams, so they prefer to hire experienced consultants.

The culture that suits you best will very much depend on the stage you’re at in your career, and what you’re looking to get out of your time with a particular business.

3. High earning potential 

Money can be one of the major drivers behind working in recruitment. Similar to any sales-driven role, recruiters are paid their base salary alongside commission. Put simply, the more revenue you generate, the bigger your paycheck becomes. 

Boutique recruitment agencies tend to offer transparent and highly competitive commission structures. They are able to do so because their business costs are low, which means they can be generous with how much commission they allocate to their consultants.

For a boutique recruitment agency, offering an attractive commission scheme can be a strong pull factor for a recruiter and can help to retain consultants in the long-term.

Find out if you’re on a competitive scheme in our guide to commission schemes in recruitment.

Key takeaways

If you’re moving jobs, you might be wondering if a boutique recruitment agency is the right fit for you. Consider these factors when weighing up your options: 

  • Organisational structures in boutique agencies tend to be more flexible and dynamic, which can be a huge advantage when it comes to climbing the career ladder e.g. more accessible, fast path to promotion
  • Fewer layers also gives you more access to senior leaders and figureheads in the business, which can be an invaluable learning experience
  • Boutique agencies often specialise in niche functions and industries. This serves as a great platform, providing you with the tools you need to become a true specialist and expert in your chosen patch
  • Smaller firms can often sustain a consistent, healthy internal culture due to a lower number of heads 
  • Boutiques offer competitive and definitive commission structures, with high earning potential

On the flip side, look out for my next post where I’ll be exploring 3 reasons why you should join a global recruitment agency. Subscribe below to have it delivered directly to your inbox.

What salary increment should you ask for when moving to a new recruitment agency?

When it comes to moving to a new agency, although salary isn’t commonly a primary driving factor, it still plays a critical role in enticing a recruiter to make the final decision and accept an offer. Let’s face it: no one wants to move for the same or less money whatever the opportunity.

How much of an increment you get when you move to a new agency depends on countless factors and every situation is different, but these are often the three most important factors: your billing track record, desk experience and current salary.

Unless you are majorly over or underpaid (find out in our salary guide for Singapore and Hong Kong), the average salary increment when moving to a new agency is between 10 to 16% but what exactly should you ask for in your situation?

In this guide, I will share some of the ways you can determine whether you should be looking for more or less than the typical 10 – 16% increment.

*Junior recruiters will receive higher percentage increments even if their salary increment is the same as more senior recruiters. See the end of this article for a disclaimer on the percentage increase calculation.

Your billing track record

Your billing track record is the first thing an agency will look at when it comes to figuring out whether they’re going to offer you your desired salary and it’s one of the best ways you can determine whether your offer is fair or not.

The golden rule to running a profitable recruitment business is ensuring your recruiters are billing over 3x their base salary, also known as the third rule. A third of your revenue is used to pay you (we recently calculated the exact figure was 32% on average including commission), a third is allocated to operating cost and the final third goes into a pre-tax profit.

As a recruiter, that means if you’re billing above 3x your base salary, which is typically when commission starts to become payable, hypothetically you’re earning a profit for the company.

If you’re billing above 4x your base salary, you’re a strong performer and it’s very likely you should be aiming for an increment in the 10 – 16% range.

If you’re billing over 5x your base, you’re an exceptional performer and you may be able to leverage a salary increment above 16%.

If you’re billing less than 3x your salary, whether it’s because you’re new to your agency, the environment just isn’t for you or you feel you don’t have a strong enough platform, it will be challenging to secure an increment based on the third / third / third rule. This is quite common.

There are many recruiters working for agencies where they are unable to release their potential for one reason or another. Your next agency will hire you if they believe in your drive and ambition but you will need to prove yourself before you secure a decent pay rise.

There will be exceptions to the above. Some agencies explicitly offer an option to take a below market rate base salary but with an improved commission scheme and in this scenario the above would not be applicable.

The practice you’re joining

If you’re moving to specialise within the same practice you already have experience or a network in, in theory, you will be able to make a placement faster than someone who doesn’t have that, leaving you in a stronger position to secure a higher salary increment.

Additionally, if you’re recruiting in a practice where recruiters are scarce, you will also be in a stronger position to leverage an even higher increment. Examples of these practices are specialised Data Science Technology recruiters, Finance Insurance recruiters, Private Practice Legal recruiters, SAP Contracting recruiters and so on.

If you’re in a fortunate position to have earned the experience as well as specialising in a niche practice, combined with a strong billing track record, then you have more bargaining power and there’s a good chance you can negotiate an above average increment (above 16%).

If you’re changing practice to a market you’re passionate about, your new agency might be happy to make an investment in you, but naturally you will need more time to become profitable. In this case, if your billings are between 3 to 4x your base salary, there’s a chance the agency may not want to offer an increment above 10% or at all. If your billings are 4 to 5x your base salary, you should still be able to secure an increment.

Your position in the new agency

If your new role in the agency plays a crucial part in the long-term vision of the business, you’ll be in a stronger position to secure an increment above 16%. Most of the time, this position will be in management where you are leading a team of recruiters or if you have some level of P&L responsibility.

It’s harder to find specialised managers than it is individual contributors (IC) because of the number of candidates available in the market, so if you are an IC, you may find it more difficult to secure an increment above 16%.

With that being said, going back to the earlier point about having experience in a scarce practice – as an IC – although you’re not managing, your network is such a rarity that agencies would go head to head to compete. Secondly, as more agencies become more lean, ICs are in higher demand. Some agencies even overpay to secure the best in the war for recruitment talent.

Your current salary

This is a controversial topic. Some people believe that employers should not look at a candidate’s current salary when drawing up an offer. Instead, it should be determined by their track record and experience.

In reality, the above is not practiced by many companies and the agency will 9 times out of 10 ask what the current salary is of a candidate so they can get a better understanding of what they will put forward as an offer.

In a situation where you are underpaid in your current role, by say 30%, most agencies will recognise this and they will offer you a salary that is more in line with your experience.

Additional situations where an increment is typically not offered

There are some additional situations where an increment is not offered or perhaps a reduction in base salary is offered.

International relocations, for example. It’s similar to when you change practice – you’ll need more time to build a network to generate revenue to justify your salary. Unless your track record is very strong, matching your base salary when moving internationally is common.

Short tenure in your current role (<6 months) is another example. An employer will not want to offer an increment if you’ve been in your current role for less than 6 months and you haven’t had a chance yet to showcase your potential.

Lastly, adverse market conditions is another common situation. Your new agency wants to make the hire but they can only get budget approval for a matching or lower base.

Combine two or more of the above, such as an international relocation during a recession, and there’s a good chance you’ll have to take a salary cut for the time being.

Make sure your demands are ‘morally’ appropriate

Whilst it is a good thing to aim for slightly above what you’re worth for negotiation purposes, there is nothing worse for an employer when receiving a highly unrealistic salary expectation demand from a candidate.

Of course, there will be some rare situations where a 30% increment is highly justified. For example, if you were billing 6 – 7x your base salary or if you are massively underpaid. If you’re billing less than 3x your salary and you’re looking for a 30% increment – sure, it’s very likely you have the potential, but the employer will need to invest time and money into developing you as a recruiter. Your expectation may come across as uncommercial.

On the contrary, the same goes for agencies when they lowball a recruiter. An unretractable sour taste is left in the recruiter’s mouth and more often than not the process is unrecoverable.

All in all though, you should be transparent and realistic about the figure that you share. The best way to approach this, whatever the situation, is to pick a figure that you’d be quietly surprised about getting if you were offered it, but realistically you’d expect that figure to get knocked back once. Be slightly ambitious but not outrageous.

This way, the figure you end up with is going to be fair to both parties and either way, you’ll be happy with the outcome.

Knowing what is right in your situation

There are so many factors to take into consideration when it comes to determining what you’re worth. Every situation is different and must be analysed separately but by looking at your billing track record as the number one factor, your experience as the second and current salary as the third in that order of importance, you should be able to come up with a figure that is fair on both parties.

It’s a tricky one to get right. My parting advice would be to be slightly ambitious but not outrageous. Never sell yourself too low!

Are you unhappy with your current salary? Please do not hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities.

Next, it’s time to figure out if your commission scheme is competitive enough!


It’s important to note that the more junior you are, the higher the percentage increment may be, even if you receive the same increment as someone who is a Manager.

For example, an increment from Consultant to Senior Consultant in Hong Kong could be from HKD $25 to 30k per month which equals a 20% increment, whilst a Manager going into Senior Manager could be from 50 to 55k per month which equals 10%. The amount has increased by 5k in both situations, but the percentages are quite different.

For the sake of this article, we calculated the average increment for all seniority levels, from Associate Consultant to Managing Director.

The percentage increases discussed are also relative to normal market conditions.

How to change your specialism in recruitment

After spending a number of years recruiting in your specialist industry, the economy is bound to have shifted along with your personal interests. Every recruitment agency is talking about a lucrative, up and coming market and you have a passion for that sector. You’re considering changing your specialism.

Changing specialism is a common driving force behind a recruiter’s decision to seek a new opportunity. It can offer a fresh new perspective, career advancement and it might be a desk you’re personally passionate about. Hands down, the most sought-after market that recruiters want to recruit in today and over the past few years, is Technology.

A majority of recruitment agencies are open to hiring a recruiter who wants to change practice if they understand their motivations and spot their drive.

In this article, we explore how a recruiter can approach changing practice with the end goal of landing an offer.

Evaluate your current specialism

Your new market might sound exciting. A tech startup has just raised $4 million in funding and you want to be the recruiter that fills those new technical roles. Before jumping ship, it’s important to evaluate your current position by considering the implications of changing practice.

Walking away from your practice means walking away from a network you have spent time and effort building. We can sometimes take our position for granted, losing sight of the challenges along the way and forgetting how long it took to build client relationships.

Evaluate what’s driving you to change practice. It could be that you’re burnt out, that you don’t see much growth in your market or that you’re extremely passionate about the new sector.

If you have the drive to join a new desk and you accept the implications, you’re ready to move practice.

Research markets and choose a new specialism

Once you’ve evaluated your current practice, research your new practice to finalise which industry you’d like to specialise in.

If you have your heart set on one practice, start researching it by using online resources. A quick google search can give you a macro overview of your market. Researching live jobs, who is hiring and client contacts can give you a micro overview.

Seek advice by talking to your peers and business colleagues. There is no better place to research a market than by talking to the people who are already recruiting in it. If you’ve worked at one or two agencies, you’ll likely know a couple of recruiters who are covering your desired sector. Try to meet them in person, be open and honest with them so that you can pick their brain without being too intrusive. Make sure to buy them a coffee or a drink!

If you’re not sure which practice you want to join next, identify if you’re being pushed or pulled into a new sector. If you’re being pushed due to bad market conditions, consider covering the same function but in a different industry. For example, if you’re an Accounting & Finance recruiter specialising in Retail & FMCG, consider staying in your function but switching to another industry, such as Healthcare or E-Commerce.

Think about the short to long-term implications on moving to a particular practice. During COVID-19, a number of industries have been hit so hard, such as Travel, that it may take years to recover. Other markets such as E-Payments are thriving during the pandemic and growth is expected to continue post-COVID.

Take action

Once you’ve completed your preliminary research and chosen a new practice, you’re ready to take action. You have three options.

If your current recruitment agency is covering your chosen practice, the first option is to stay at your current company but request a desk transfer. The benefits of this option are that it’s a quicker process, you’ve already built a reputation as a consultant and it could be a comfortable transition.

If your current recruitment agency is not covering your chosen practice, the second option is to launch a new practice from scratch for your current company. This may be a more challenging route to consider with a lot of self-learning involved, but you’ll already be comfortable with the environment and the people you have around you.

Finally, the last option is to consider external opportunities and research new companies that cover your practice. The benefits of this option are the beauty of choice and that the new company may have a more established desk or Learning & Development team to help support the transition.

How to prepare for interviews

Whether you’re moving internally or externally, you’ll have to complete a number of interviews to secure the role. This is your opportunity to convey your thought process behind the move, your research and knowledge of the new market.

Be prepared to explain your thought process from start to end. It’s important that the interviewer understands your drivers, motivations and decision making process. Talk them through the implications of leaving your current desk and the opportunity that the new desk presents, coupled with your passion for the sector. This will help you convince the interviewer that it’s a well-thought out and calculated move.

Roll your sleeves up with your market research. You’ve already completed some research to determine whether your desired practice is right for you, but you need to go deeper. Find out who’s hiring by taking a look at LinkedIn jobs. Create a spreadsheet and include employer names, job titles and locations. Make a second spreadsheet to list up to 25 potential clients in this space. An easier way to approach this could be constructing a business plan for your new practice, printing it out and taking it with you to the interview.

To really impress your interviewer, debunk the jargon. Go back to the job descriptions, read through the roles and understand what clients look for in a candidate.

Identify competing recruiters and share additional market intel; this indicates, not only that you know your market inside out, but that you know your competition as well. If you’re entering into a highly competitive market such as Technology, you need to talk about how you’re going to position yourself and what value you will add to your clients over competing recruiters.

It’s also worth noting that changing practice may compromise any incrementation in your base salary. Every situation is different, but in most cases, it will take more time to become profitable and recruitment agencies have to budget accordingly.


Changing practice can be an emotional decision as you walk away from a market you have spent years building, but it might just offer the career advancement you need to take a step forward in your long-term ambitions.

To summarise, here is how you can change practice:

  • Evaluate your current practice; consider the implications of walking away from it
  • Research new practices and choose a practice that is right for you
  • Take action and research companies that specialise in your desired practice
  • Prepare accordingly for interviews

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How to build a personal brand as a recruiter that generates more business

As recruiters, we have 101 things to do. Whether it’s sourcing, meeting candidates or clients, working on active deals or negotiating (the list goes on!), it may feel near impossible to fit another task into your week.

The recruitment industry was built on traditional headhunting methods but as the world becomes increasingly digital, building a personal online brand as a recruiter, which goes further than just posting job ads, has become more important than ever.

This guide shares how a recruiter can build a personal brand and use it to generate more business for their desk by investing less than 3 hours per week.

What is a personal recruiting brand?

A personal brand embodies your reputation as a recruiter. It’s everything that builds your credibility and trust in the market from your experience, to your personality and success stories.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider investing in yours:

Rise above the noise

Although recruitment is a new industry compared to others, the industry has grown exponentially in recent years. Hundreds of new recruiters enter the market each month and compete for the same business. This has only accelerated with COVID-19, with many entrepreneurial recruiters taking this as an opportunity to start their own businesses. A personal brand allows you to communicate what you can offer up and above your competitors with your target audience.

Create touch points

Your clients and candidates are browsing LinkedIn when they’re ready to hire talent or when they’re looking for new opportunities. By promoting your personal brand, you can create touch points so that your target audience becomes familiar with your name as a trusted resource in your industry, before you’re even introduced. This will increase your chance of generating a positive outcome when it comes to headhunting and business development.

Generate leads

If your personal brand is strong enough, qualified candidates and clients will reach out to you for business. People you’ve worked with in the past will also see your activity and will come back to you if they had a positive experience.

Define your brand

Start by defining how you want to be portrayed online as a recruiter. Are you an expert in your practice? Do you specialise in permanent or contracting recruitment? Are you more focused on long-term relationships over quick wins? What has your experience in recruitment taught you?

Generate a social media presence and optimise your profiles

Choose social media outlets that are appropriate to your practice. LinkedIn is one of the best options to manage your personal brand and we’ll be focussing on it a lot in this guide, but think about other outlets too. For example, if you’re working in Digital or Product Management recruitment, consider more visual platforms to build your personal brand, such as Instagram.

Optimise each profile and take advantage of the features they offer. LinkedIn has a great tool where you can feature your most impressive content, such as an update, article or podcast.

Ask your candidates and clients for recommendations on LinkedIn too. Recommendations are a powerful tool that confirm that you are who you say you are and give your audience an example of some of the success stories you’ve had on your desk. You’ll be surprised by how many people go to this section to check your credibility.

Start creating informative content

Write articles about your market

As a recruiter, you are constantly speaking to candidates and clients. There aren’t many people out there who have more knowledge about hiring activity than you. You have an opportunity to share this knowledge at scale with your candidates and clients.

Think about publishing market outlooks, career guidance or how-to’s for changing jobs, targeted at your industry. Not only does this add value, it makes you look extremely knowledgeable. With a few engagements, there is no doubt it will create leads.

Consider platforms such as LinkedIn or Medium.

In addition to writing content, you can also share industry news from other respected publications. This demonstrates to your connections that you are constantly in the loop across your industry and your name will often be front of mind.

Start a podcast

Podcasts are trending for both listeners and creators. You can start a podcast by interviewing people in your market – candidates or clients. Think about trending topics within your industry, or topics focused around career development. A podcast enables you to associate yourself with credible individuals in the industry, building engagement and trust with your audience.

An example of some recruiters who have started podcasts are Eifion Jones’ Cyber Security Unlocked podcast, James Abraham’s A New World In Commerce podcast and of course, Andrea Ross’ Talent Talk Asia podcast.

To get started with podcasts, there are many free tools out there that you can use to record your own podcasts such as using Zoom (which we all have downloaded this year!) to record the conversation. From there, you can use platforms such as Spotify, Soundcloud or iTunes to publish the audio. You can even go a step further by recording the podcasts in a video format and uploading them to YouTube, too.

Start a vlog

Videos are trending in marketing and even more so in recruitment. They create a much higher engagement rate than written social media updates and can accelerate the reach of your content in the feed. People are curious to know how you come across and what you sound like. Creating a video can help people feel more comfortable with you as they get to know you behind the photo and text.

Start a monthly vlog updating your audience about the activity in your market, the roles you’re hiring for and share updates from your company.

Spice up your job ads

“Hi All, I’m currently recruiting for this position. Please click on the job title below to view the Job Description and apply to it!” – we’ve all been guilty of using this before!

Start creating descriptions that entice and create curiosity with experienced candidates. Talk about what’s great about the role, how the candidate can develop their career and an impressive highlight of the company. Enticing visuals attract attention too.

Take it a step further and use videos in similar fashion to vlogs but for job updates. Create a short 1 minute video talking though the role, company and opportunity for the candidate.

Plan and execute

Create a content calendar and use schedulers

Organising content can become messy when planning around the 101 other tasks you need to get done in the day. Allocate 30 minutes on Fridays or the weekend to get the creative juices flowing and plan out what content you’ll be publishing for the upcoming months. Allocate another 2 hours in the week or weekend to produce the content. Create a buffer of 2 – 4 weeks so you are not always under pressure to meet deadlines if something comes up – which it often does in recruitment!

Use tools like Hootsuite, which is free, to schedule your content in the 30 minutes that you allocate so it’s all done at one time and you don’t have to worry about it throughout the week when you’re headhunting.

Learn the LinkedIn algorithm

It’s not as simple as posting content on LinkedIn and expecting results. You have to learn the LinkedIn algorithm to get your updates and articles to reach all of your network in the feed, rather than just a handful.

The key is engagement. The more engagement you get on your posts, the further they’ll go in the feed. The simple way to get more exposure on your updates is by writing or publishing high quality content rather than writing up rushed articles.

The LinkedIn algorithm also reduces your reach if you include external links. Updates without any links get the most exposure (provided they get engagement in the form of likes or reactions). Most of the time, however, you’ll want to direct people to a blog or podcast. The sweet spot is including one link to your content, rather than multiple. Sharing updates posted by your company also gains limited exposure in the feed.

Get involved on LinkedIn

Start engaging with professionals and crediting others who have posted great content or insightful updates. Get involved in discussion, start meaningful conversations and shine a light on others achievements or promotions. The more active you are on social media, the more others will engage in your content.

Analyse your results

With all of this effort, it’s important that you are getting return on your investment. A measurement can be as simple as counting how many candidates or clients reach out to you as a result of your content production, or looking at the amount of engagement you get on each article or post. You can also monitor your LinkedIn profile views to make sure the graph is increasing.

Be consistent or don’t start at all

Building a personal brand and creating content is a long-term game; you won’t see the results after publishing one or two articles. If you’re consistent, you will develop a reputation for yourself in your area of expertise. People will genuinely look forward to your content and you will start to generate more leads that convert into business because of it!

If you found this guide useful, please like and share and of course, subscribe here for new recruitment articles direct to your inbox!

5 signs it’s time to move to another recruitment agency

Some recruiters move to other agencies because they want to, some move because they have to. These two reasons are commonly referred to as pull and push factors.

Sometimes it can be tough to pin down the key motivations behind why you’re thinking about making a move, but it’s crucial to flesh these out so you can make sure that the next agency you join is the right fit for you.

In this article, we explore the 5 common signs that it’s your time to make the move.

You’ve hit a glass ceiling 

A glass ceiling occurs when a recruiter hits a point in their role or agency where they feel that growth or development is stagnant or has stalled. There are a few different reasons why a recruiter might start feeling this way.

They could be part of an agency that doesn’t have the platform, reputation or experience working at a very senior level or on the other end of the scale, a colleague may have the remit to focus on senior roles whilst you’re focussing on junior to middle. They may identify that they would prefer to focus on lower volume but senior roles in the long-term.

They may be part of a team that has grown exceptionally, which is of course a positive, but when the desk grows too big, some recruiters may feel limited to a niche area that they previously covered, whether it’s restricted by the practice itself or the geographical coverage.

Another common one is where a manager has been in their position for a while and that prevents the recruiter from advancing further in the hierarchy.

Often there are no qualms when it comes to the business itself and the recruiter might be happy in their current environment, but they have recognised that change is necessary in order to progress their careers. Sometimes this is one of the hardest decisions to make, but it’s a sign.

An issue with your manager

A recruiter’s relationship with their manager is arguably the most crucial factor influencing happiness and performance at work. A manager can play a huge part in the recruiter’s motivation levels and career development.

The interview process is the point where recruiters meet their managers and assess their suitability as a role model, mentor and leader. Can this person provide you with the knowledge, tools, motivation and direction that you need to be successful?

90 – 120 minutes of interviews with a future boss should give a good indication of this, but unfortunately it’s a limited amount of time considering that this is someone you’ll be working with for the next 2 – 5 years, or even longer. You have to take the plunge. Make that decision and analyse how things are tracking a few months or years down the line.

A good manager will lead from the front, provide direction, training and promote a healthy internal culture within the team. Recruitment can be an emotional business at times, so having a manager with a high EQ is also crucial.

Potential issues that might crop up in the future are a straightforward clash of personalities or style of recruitment, subtle favouritism within the team, a feeling that a manager has been promoted too quickly (a tricky one as everyone has to start somewhere), feeling overlooked or under promoted and lastly a specific incident that has soured the relationship.

Change is inevitable within every agency and, unfortunately, this means that managers will come and go. Recruiters who have a strong relationship with their departing manager sometimes move with them.

The first port of call to any management issues, of course, is to try and resolve the issue with the manager. Transparency and honesty are the pillars of any relationship, and this is no exception in a professional capacity. If you feel like you have exhausted all avenues trying to repair the relationship and it hasn’t worked out, then it’s time to look at either transferring desks or moving to a new agency.

Misalignment in recruitment styles

Similar to the above, hopefully the recruiter will have obtained an accurate and truthful insight into the way that their agency practices recruitment during the interview process. Most of the time recruiters can suss it out, but in a few unfortunate cases, there can be a misalignment.

Examples of misalignment in recruitment style could be a disagreement in the targets and KPIs set, if a manager has a different vision or if business is conducted in a way that is deemed to be morally questionable or unethical.

If the agency doesn’t deliver on their core values or expectations, or if any major changes are made, this may be a sign that it’s time to move on.

Shift in company culture and structure

It goes without saying that recruitment is no easy game, so company culture helps to keep motivation levels high. If there is a shift in company culture, this can drastically affect a recruiters’ drive.

Structural changes that cause a drastic shift in day-to-day operations, such as a change in reporting line or a change in hiring strategy, can count as some of the factors that shift company culture. Another one could be a change in leadership, such as the departure of an MD and the entrance of a new one that brings a new style of recruitment. Sometimes the shift can be gradual and can happen over the period of 2 to 3 years rather than immediately.

On the flip side, a change in the recruiters’ lifestyle or a life event may also create a preference for a different type of culture.


Money talks. It’s rarely the sole reason driving a move, but it’s still an important factor to consider.

A common sign is when there is an adverse change in commission structure or word going around in the market that your commission structure is not as attractive as others. The maturing of a recruiter and the realisation that they can make more money in other agencies may happen after 1 – 2 years in their first recruitment role.

Recognising these signs

There are a number of clues which indicate that it’s time to seek new opportunities, whether it’s for career development reasons or misalignments with your current agency. 

Some of these signs may arise immediately, but some may arise over years of tenure and the agency you once joined is no longer the same.

Whatever sign it is, it’s crucial to identify them when they start happening. You can look at the reasons and determine if the problem can be solved, which obviously saves the hassle of resigning, or if the move is needed to advance your career.

Recognising the signs will help you answer the crucial question around your reasons for leaving your current firm in interviews, as well as helping you to determine if you’re the right fit for the new agency.

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