EP11: Superior People Recruitment - Trends in Executive Search ( with Graham Wynn)

Welcome to All-In Recruitment. A thought-provoking, insightful series of podcasts. In this episode, we are joined by Graham Wynn, who walks us through what the recruitment space is like today, especially amidst a new trend known as the Quiet Resignation. Learn with us how recruiters can use technologies and how they can adopt new strategies to be able to cope with this new trend.


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Graham Wynn: founder of Super People and his journey into recruitment

Lydia: Good Afternoon, Graham. Thank you for joining us today.

Graham: Good Afternoon. How are you today?

Lydia: I’m good, and how are you? It’s nice to see your background with the name of your company there.

Graham: Thank you. Yes, branding is important.

Lydia: It is indeed. So, Graham, you are the founder and director of your own recruitment firm, which you have been running for 13 years now. You run offices in Australia, and before that, you had a variety of roles in management, consulting, and finance in various other industries. 

You have also worked with small and medium businesses as well as with multinational corporations. It’s interesting to see the vastness of your experience. So, how do you view recruitment as an industry today, having come from all these strategic business roles in the past?

Graham: Recruitment as an industry itself is probably one of the most challenging industries because we’re dealing with one of the most unreliable commodities, which is that we’re relying on people. That really is a challenge in itself because every person is different. 

If you’re buying a mobile phone, you can go into an Apple Store, and you’ll find 1000 mobile phones that are the same, but with people, 1000 people won’t be the same. Recruiting today is probably one of the most challenging positions because you are hiring and trying to find the exact fit for a job, not just one of 20. So the challenge is to find the exact person they’re looking for.

It’s also challenging because it’s not always about who is the best qualified or the best skilled, but it’s about the best fit as well.  Who fits the culture of the employer? That’s really important.”

Therefore, as a recruiter, there are a lot of things you can’t learn at university, college, or from textbooks. It really comes from your own experiences, the ability to read people, read situations and understand fully what type of person an employer wants. I don’t think you can just walk into recruitment. I think it finds you rather than you find it in recruitment, and a lot of people enter into it thinking it’s a glamorous job because you’re out on the road all the time. The reality is, it’s not. It’s hard work. 

Lydia: Your agency’s expertise is in headhunting and executive search. You have said that you want to build the best agency and not the biggest. What does the best mean to you?

Graham: Best means about the service level we provide to our clients. When people come to us, we’re able to find the exact person they want. That person stays important, not just for six months or three months but for a long period of time. That is how we become the best, but also offer a fee structure that is comparable. It’s not actually going to rip people off. We’re trying a very fair fee structure as well. 

It’s really about finding the right people that stay there and stay there for the long term because their employer will come back to us as well which is what generally tends to happen. So that’s how it works. Basically, most of our business comes from word-of-mouth referrals - what people find on the internet. We don’t have an actual sales team because I don’t think it’s necessary for us. 

If you provide the right business and our service, people will come to you.

Lydia: How far are you to being the best agency, the way you say?

Graham: I think I’m the best already. But of course, we’ve still got a little bit of a way to go. I don’t think you can ever say we’re there because as soon as you reach a certain level, you move the goalpost. You can never be perfect, you can never be the best, but you can strive to always improve and do better. 

That is a real way to step forward. If you just stay put and think it’s running fine, you’ll get overtaken by others. As soon as you reach the target, you need to find another target and another and another. You keep trying to grow and expand as much as you can. That’s how you become the best. 

Lydia: Absolutely. We’ve seen so many shifts in these industries that you’ve been in, as well as in recruitment, and especially in the past two years from hiring freezes to widespread use of digitalization and then now hiring all over again at breakneck speed.

So, from your point of view, what are some of the trends you’ve seen recently in Australia that will influence recruitment practices in the next year? 

Graham: There are probably two sides to that at the moment. One of the trends we’re seeing in a lot of job seekers is that they’re being far more selective because of the mode in Australia. It really is the employer market and the candidate market because there is a shortage of trying to find people to work to fill jobs. 

Therefore, the people who are looking for work have got a big advantage. They’re probably driving a little bit more in regards to money or work-from-home options, such as perks. They’re driving that far more than they used to pre-COVID. That’s a real shift. From the employers' side, they are saying that they’re trying to recover. So, they can’t afford to pay excessive salaries compared to what we used to because we’re trying to get back on our feet still. 

These are the two challenges that we’re facing because candidates know that they’re in demand and pushing for more, but employers are saying that they’re trying to recover and we can’t afford to pay the extra. It’s a real dilemma for both of us to try and somehow meet in the middle. 

An economic downturn: how to prepare for one

Lydia: In that regard, we’re seeing discussions on a possible economic downturn. How should recruiters or talent acquisition leaders be strategizing or preparing themselves for a possibility like this? 

Graham: I think it’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘do you worry about it or do you not worry about it? Or do you deal with the current situation?’ and according to my gut feeling, you generally deal with a lot of what’s there. Now, we don’t really know what’s going to happen next week or the week after, or in two months. There’s a lot of negativity, but there are also positive reports that have come about business confidence. 

I think I saw a report last week that said that 60% of employers over here are looking to hire more people in the next 12 months. We’ve got a real mix and match of what some people are saying and what other people are saying. I tend to tell every client to deal with what’s there now. 

We don’t know what’s going to happen next week, and you can’t plan for negativity or a downturn because even if it does happen, we don’t know the impact, and we don’t know if it will impact every industry or not. It’s really up to us whether it’s going to be a downturn or not. 

Lydia: For recruiters in your space which is the executive search space, what might be some trends that they should prepare for? 

Graham: One of the biggest trends we’re seeing particularly now is that there is a demand for more work-life balance. Even at a senior level, they’re looking for that work-life balance, such as ‘can I work a day from home or two days from home?’ There’s a real change in that for people wanting that balance. 

They do not want to be switched on 24 hours a day, so there’s a real shift from that. Saying that we’re going home at 7 pm at night, I don’t expect a phone call from you. There’s a real move now that my hours at 8-5 or 9-5 are my working hours unless there’s something extraordinary that happens. I think the term they’re using for it these days is ‘Quiet Resignation.’  

Quiet Resignation: a new trend

Lydia: Quiet Resignation. 

Graham: It’s a new term. It’s called ‘Quiet Resignation’ where you simply say, my office is where I do my work, and my home is my home life. They’re trying to separate the two as much as they can. That’s a real shift we’re seeing, whereas I think in the past, at a more senior level, you understood that you don’t have a nine to five job. It was whatever hours you had to do. That’s the level you’re at, but that’s not what they’re looking for now. Instead, they’re looking for much more of a balance. They will only attend to something outside of working hours if it’s something really urgent that can’t wait till tomorrow. 

I’ve been in these positions myself where in the past you would get called upon at night and the weekends because that’s just how it worked with senior people. But there’s a real shift in that now. For me, personally, I work seven days a week because it’s my business. But for other people who are employees, they’re not looking for that on their own personal time. 

How to get the best results from a partnership with a recruitment agency?

Lydia: Let’s talk about the recruitment agency. For companies that are looking to partner with an agency such as yours, what might be some ways they can get the best results from a recruitment partner?

Graham: I think what they have to do is really make sure the recruiter they’re working with fully understands what their business does and the type of person they’re looking for. Don’t just send them a description of a position. You need to be really clear that this is the type of person they’re looking for. If possible, meet them at your workplace so that the recruiter can get a real feel of the culture and the environment to be able to make sure that this really is the right person. 

As I said, it’s not always the best skilled or the best qualified, but it’s about the right person. You can’t do that with a position description because you have to get a real understanding of the type of organization, the type of people that work there, and what kind of person they are looking for. 

My honest opinion is that when you’re looking for a senior person, you really need to have a recruiter who has some experience behind them. You can’t learn things from a textbook. Some of the skills you have in recruiting are from your own life experiences and your own work experiences, such as your work history. 

I think if you look into recruitment, you need to find somebody who may not have worked in your exact industry but at least has an understanding of the kind of workplace you have. I think for more senior roles, you need to have a mature recruiter because this kind of person will have a better understanding of the type of person you are looking for more than a person who is just starting out in the industry.  

The other thing I would suggest is that there is this notion that the higher you pay, or the more you pay, you will get a better recruiter or person, but that is not the case. Don’t be driven by the price recruiters are charging you. If somebody is charging you a 40% fee structure as opposed to a 20% fee structure, don’t assume that the one charging 40% is better. 

Shop around a bit and talk to people. I would say that you should go and feel things and see if you relate with the recruiter or if you connect with the recruiter. The more you do that, and the more successful the relationship will be. Don’t just go for someone because of name or number. You really need to establish that connection with a recruiter because that’s the best way to work. 

The importance of Employer Branding

Lydia: As a recruitment partner, you are also a custodian of the employer brand or the client’s employer brand. So, what might be the role of employer branding to ensure that companies have positioned themselves well to attract the best executive talent? 

Graham: I think branding is really important from both sides. Our own brand is important obviously, but that’s because my name is on the door, as they say, so it’s very important to me. But, I think from the employers’ point of view, branding is important because we are trying to sell an employer to potential job seekers, and we’re trying to sell an employer based on the turnover rate of staff retention or their staff growth. 

We try to use that as branding of the employer. If we have placed people with them in the past and three or four people who are still there after two years, then that is really good branding for the employer. It says that ‘okay, that worked for me because we’ve placed people there, and they’re still there.’ 

It’s a really good branding model to have regular routine placements and successful placement with a large organization. That’s how branding works really well. I think the name of the company isn’t as important as far as branding goes. Rather, it’s about the reputation and the way they retain people and train staff that’s important for branding. 

I remember that when I first started this business, one client I picked up was a client who belonged to a previous company I worked for and said, ‘Graham, I don’t really care what you call your business or whether you work in your garden shed, it doesn’t bother me whatsoever. I like you, I’ve worked with you, I’ve got a good reputation with you, and I trust you. You can take my business, no problem at all.’ That’s the kind of branding you want which is that trust factor between both parties. 

Lydia: That sort of retention and development comes from the increase in demand,  especially in the past two years or so. We’ve seen digitalization come in, and more and more people need to be upskilled inside an organization. 

Tech Recruitment: the challenges and the solutions

Lydia: There’s a bigger need for tech talent. So today, any company that is operating can call itself a tech company as well, whether they have upskilled or if they’re looking for people in the tech space to come in and help them become digitalized. 

What would you say are the top three challenges facing tech recruitment today? And what might be some of the solutions? 

Graham: The challenge with tech recruitment at the moment is, as you said, every company is tech-related these days, and it is because there are so many packages, programs, hardware, and software available. 

What these companies are trying to do is they’re trying to find somebody who ticks their boxes, who’s used this or done that. In some cases, it was a particular need for a particular product. But another thing would be that the employer or the owner would want an experience in this. 

I think part of the issue is that sometimes the person who is doing the recruiting doesn’t understand tech enough. Therefore, the person has to tick the boxed, and that can be a challenge because they might not have used this particular software package, but they understand that you have and are aware of the similarities or that there are transferable things. 

If you don’t have a broad knowledge or experience as a recruiter, it can be very hard to recruit someone in the tech space because you don’t have enough knowledge yourself, which can be a real challenge.” 

I think there are certain companies that deal with nothing but tech recruitment. Sometimes we’ll approach them because we assume they are a tech specialist and that is what they do. But again, don’t fall into that trap because even though a certain recruitment agency is in the field of real estate or IT, don’t just assume that everyone who works there has worked in those fields. 

The reality is they haven’t. They just simply recruit for those fields. That’s the research the employer needs to do to make sure that the person they’re working with has enough skill, knowledge, and experience to fill a role. The tech side of it is really understanding things. 

Personally, I have a background in accounting, and I’ve learned a lot of self-taught programs. But I personally don’t do programming because that’s not me. What we do, though, is we have a person on ad-hoc who is a genius programmer. When resumes are coming through, we’ll work with him and say, ‘you need to go through and tell me which of these people have the right skill set for this position.’ You have to make sure that you’ve got somebody working with you who understands the tech role you’re trying to fill. 

Lydia: So, a recruiter in the tech space, as you’re saying, has to be someone who has experience. But what about those who perhaps don’t have experience in tech but would like to upskill themselves and learn more? What would they have to do?

Graham: As a job seeker? It’s very challenging at the moment because a lot of companies don’t want to do training. That’s the real issue. Most employers don’t have the luxury of training, especially if they’ve got a vacancy in the field. They need somebody who can do the job now and not someone they have to train. This problem had existed since when I first left school, which is how do you get experience when nobody gives you a chance? It was a situation like that where the promise was there. 

Part of the issue we’ve got is that we have a lot more graduates and inexperienced tech people. Employers are crying out for experienced tech people but can’t find them, and they’ve got a plethora of graduates or inexperienced people looking for work that can’t be placed. 

That’s the real challenge where there has to be a middle ground and say that ‘okay, this candidate doesn’t have four years of experience but has the problem-solving experience and can work on that.’ That’s the challenge that eventually everyone will have to come to terms with because they’re not going to find what they want, but they can find somebody who’s close enough that they think they can work with and can develop into that role. 

Recruitment Tools: a solution to recruitment challenges?

Lydia: We spoke quite a bit about the challenges. There are plenty of tools out there that automate a recruiter's workflow, such as our tool at Manatal. What kind of impact do you think these technologies and tools will have on recruitment?

Graham: I think the important thing with automation is to understand that it is a tool used to help you. Now, there are lots of things it can do that really make things much quicker. And I think some recruiters are probably guilty of this, which is the way they use technology and automation to get the job done. That’s the first mistake. 

We need to make sure that the automation we use is a tool and not something we rely on to tell us that this person is the first perfect person for the job. Automation shouldn’t be doing that. But instead, it should suggest people.”

You should meet and talk to those people then you will come to know that this really is the right person. I’ve seen it recently where automation has been relied upon solely as the tool to find the right candidates. That’s not how it should work. It should be a tool to assist us, not a tool that does the job for us without us doing anything. 

I think some recruiters have become a little bit lazy. Even though we use automation to go through resumes, it might not pick up on things that a human would pick up on, so you do need that human touch. As I said, you should use automation as a tool to assist you and not do the job for you. I think sometimes that’s the risk we run. 

Lydia: It’s the human element that still comes in.

Graham: You can’t replace the human element. One day you might, but at the moment, you can’t do that. 

Lydia: There are plenty of automation tools out there to cut the manual tasks that many recruiters face every day. And also, what are the possibilities for them? Who are the profiles they should be looking at in order to make that kind of shortlist that they’re looking for? 

Graham: We’re tracking where things are in terms of progress. We basically see where we are now, where the vacancy is, and how do we submit people. It’s really good for tracking the progress of any work you’re doing. I think that’s a real strength of automation because you’ve got no paper everywhere. 

With that sort of thing, it’s actually in black and white. I think that’s the real beauty of automation. Also, you’re right that if we put in this criteria for a vacancy, then we get a number of resumes. But again, there is this issue that unless the person is using wording that you’re looking for in their resume, the automation tool might not find them. So, you’re still going to have to have a human element to it. 

You need to meet people or talk to people. Moreover, the notes have to be clear, especially in automation. I had a classic example this morning where the person applying for a job was using XERO as a product, and their resume didn’t say that they use it, but they just sent various account packages. So we put in the notes which level of XERO they were, and we searched through and found them. If we didn’t put XERO or the search criteria, the automation wouldn’t have found them. That’s the most important thing as well to the users’ actual automation as a tool. 

Candidate Care: the path to candidate retention

Lydia: So, on that note, let’s talk about the candidate's experience. This falls back to the candidate experience ultimately, who you’re talking to and what you know about them etc. What would you say, in your experience, are some ways we can ensure candidate care throughout the recruitment process? 

Graham: I think candidate care is really important. What I try to do when I have candidates, and they’re not right for the position right now, but they’ve got potential, they’ve got skills, and they’ve got possibilities, is to not make them leave thinking they won’t try again. 

You should give them something positive at the end of the process as much as you can because you are keeping them involved in this process. This is where the challenge we face as recruiters are getting that feedback from employers because sometimes they’re very slow in giving us feedback. 

If we have no feedback, it’s hard for us to give that back to the candidates and tell them where things are in the process. But, I think it’s also making sure that you keep in regular contact with the candidate database by using some mechanism. We have a tool that we use to keep in contact with each candidate every month and just get an update to see if they’re still working or not. 

We make sure that the database is current about where these candidates are in their life rather than having 1000 people who are not looking for work. We use that as a tool that ultimately lets us keep in touch with the candidate. We also run interview sessions, training sessions, and resume writing sessions for our candidates to try and keep them involves as well. That’s something that’s important. 

Just keep in contact and communicate with your candidates, and that will make them feel better about themselves and also about the service.”

Here’s what you need to know for starting out in recruitment today

Lydia: You have vast experience in the recruitment space. What advice would you give to someone starting out in recruitment today?

Graham: The advice I would give to someone starting out today is that it’s not what you think it is. I’ll be honest with you. It’s a sales job. It really is our job in recruitment to sell two things: you’re selling your business to an employer, and you’re also selling the candidate to the employer. 

There are two sales processes you’re going to go through. It is not glamorous. It’s hard work. The hours are not sociable, unfortunately, and it is sad dealing with people because people are not the most reliable commodity in the world because they don’t show up for interviews. 

You’ll have a lot of moments where you’re frustrated with this job because it is really frustrating when you’re trying to find things or people don’t turn up for interviews. It’s also frustrating when you can’t find candidates or you can’t get a hold of employment updates. It’s not an easy job. It’s very challenging, demanding, and hard work. But the rewards are huge. I don’t mean just financially. 

The rewards are when you actually place a person in a job because you’re making an impact in a person’s life.”

It’s such a buzz when I call someone and tell them they’ve got this job and to hear them on the phone. It’s an amazing feeling. We really do have an impact on people’s lives. We need to be careful with that because of the impact we have on their lives. 

For anybody looking to get into this industry, overall, it’s hard work. Very hard work. It’s something that’s very demanding. There’s also a high turnover of staff recruitment which is something you need to be prepared for. Unfortunately, with challenges such as COVID and lockdowns, recruiters sometimes have no job. 

You are so reliant on what other people are doing that it becomes a very reactive kind of job because the market really dictates your level of work. If the real industry crashes for some reason, then the people in the real estate recruitment are in trouble because that’s all they do. 

Now, what I would suggest to people and my company does this as a general practice is that we handle everything from general managers to everything in between all industries. Thus, for people looking to get into recruitment, I would advise that you should try and get into working for a generalist industry rather than one specific industry only. In a generalist business, when a certain industry is going to be in trouble, you still have other industries you can do work for. If you're specific, you’ll be basically out of a job. 

Lydia: And stay resilient, right?

Graham: Very much so, yes. 

Where to find Graham?

Lydia: Thank you very much for your time today, Graham. It’s been a great pleasure having you on the show. I’m sure the audience wants to know more about you and your company, and you have it on your screen. Where can they find you?

Graham: The website is the easiest place to go, which is superiorpeople.com.au

Lydia: We have been speaking with Graham Wynn who is the founder and director of Superior People Recruitment in Melbourne, Australia. Do look out for future podcasts from All-In Recruitment, and stay tuned for our next videos.

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