Andrew's Lockdown Diary (part 2)

Tuesday 17th March. I was due to meet a new client later that afternoon to take on a senior role within their finance department. They had been struggling for several months to find the right person to lead their accounting team. Several contacts of mine had kindly recommended Vero to their CFO and HR Manager, so we were due to meet in person to discuss how we could help.

At 08:43am my phone rings - it’s their HR Manager calling to change the meeting to a video call using Microsoft Teams. I gladly agree, then quickly Google ‘how the hell do you use Teams?’. It appears that I’m not the only one to have Googled the same question that day as Autofill does the work for me.

Oh sh*t!

Fast forward eight weeks and Teams, Zoom, Skype, Facetime and Google Meet have become part of my daily vernacular. Time spent driving to meetings at Starbucks and Costa drive through’s, local eateries, coffee shops, and restaurants have been replaced by virtual calls from Vero HQ….our very own house.

When the lockdown came into force, we were less than four months into running our new business. A global pandemic was not something we had built into our business plan. During the last four months we had worked very hard to establish ourselves in a very crowded market. We sought to tell our story; what we do, how we do it, and most importantly - why we do it. Fortunately, Vero had been well received, so our days had been spent rushing between meetings, creating, writing and filming marketing content, as well as handling a growing range of exclusive assignments to recruit senior level accountants into a range of businesses. It was a million miles an hour and great fun.

Then almost overnight there was a sudden and sharp crash in the price of oil, and then the massive effect of Covid to contend with. Everything (and nothing, but more on that later) changed.

Several jobs offers that we had out to candidates were put on hold (luckily, not cancelled). New opportunities that were due to commence were shelved. Several people who we were supporting decided to stay with their current employer. Becca and I were staring into the abyss and quite honestly thinking….sh*t!

Mostly though, there was a general sense of disbelief.

What does this mean for us?

During the first week of lockdown, after we got our son down to bed each night, Becca and I would start an evening shift in the office. At 7:30pm the kettle would go on, the radio tuned in, and away we would go. We had to try to understand what everything would mean for us, and for Vero. We brainstormed scenarios about what it could mean for our clients who were spread across several industry sectors. We tried to decipher what would it mean for the hundreds of people we were supporting with their careers. In addition, how would we be able to provide the support and guidance to our clients and to our candidates when we couldn’t meet them face to face?

From a purely technical and logistical point of view it was an easy adjustment for us to make. As we run Vero from our home anyway, we have a dedicated part of our house set aside for business. We had also designed and built Vero to be operational from a laptop and a phone anywhere in the world, so we didn’t really have to make any radical changes.

Becca and I love process.

Every single aspect of Vero is process mapped and catalogued to an inch of it’s life. For example, from the moment that you register with us, you’re guided through our candidate journey. The same for all our client interactions too – we mix uniform processes with extensive human interactions. Therefore, we only had to make minor tweaks to our standard operating procedures to accommodate this new way of working.

Friends not foes...

Since the lockdown began, I’ve been overwhelmed by the sense of camaraderie shown by individuals and businesses. The true human spirit has really shone through. Recruitment can be a very strange industry and fiercely competitive. So, it’s been an absolute delight to connect with a range of recruitment business owners and directors over the past month, most of whom I had never spoken to before. We’ve all worked in the same industry, in the same small town, for all of our careers, but we had never been in touch. I told you it was odd…!

I’ve taken calls from owners of other recruitment firms to check in and I’ve had messages from others about how we can support each other. One, who I have the deepest respect for, blew me away with the depth of connection and mutual recognition that we had for one another.

A range of mutually beneficial partnership opportunities opened up to us. It can be too easy to keep so-called competitors at arm’s length, but through adversity, boundaries have been crossed and we’ve been able to collaborate successfully on a range of projects.

One of the most satisfying things that we’ve been able to do is to support a range of not-for-profit organisations. Almost overnight, their viability to operate was put into question due to the lockdown measures, so it was key that they understood their financial position to make some pretty major decisions. We were able to find them experienced accountants who were happy to give their time free of charge, and it goes without saying that we didn’t charge for this either. It simply felt like the right thing to do.

We were also hearing of the challenges that some of our favourite local businesses were facing. Coffee shops unable to open, local eateries shutting up shop, barbers unable to trade. Becca and I had a stark realization one evening – if we wanted these services to exist once things start to ease, it’s of paramount importance that we all support them as much as we can. Becca contacted some of our favourite local businesses and together we created a range of offers and incentives which we then promoted to our network. A section highlighting local businesses now forms part of our monthly newsletter. It’s felt good to help in any small way, wherever possible.

It’s at times like this you really do realise how important your call is to someone. As you would expect, there is now a significant imbalance between the amount of jobs that we handle compared to the number of people actively seeking work. But that doesn’t mean that we still can’t be of assistance to each and every person. From regularly checking in to understand what this situation means to them, to putting people in touch with each other so that they don’t feel alone.

My job affords me an opportunity to get into the lives, fears, and hopes of the people that I support. Each and every person is unique and no two situations are the same. At no time in our careers have we ever felt more of a sense of purpose about what we do. The sad fact is that for every one person who we can help to find a new role, there might be 10 people who are still looking. This doesn’t sit well with us and it’s a constant struggle every day to work out what we can do for them. It often keeps me awake at night.

So, what happened with our new client in the opening paragraph I hear you ask?

The virtual meeting goes well - very well in fact. It transpires that they’ve been looking to bring in someone to manage and to drive forward their finance team for several months. The skills that they were looking to bring into the team were very specific and most importantly, being a small team, personality was of paramount importance. They had received scores of CV's prior to our appointment (over 40); lots of highly skilled candidates who were more than capable of filling the role. However, they just hadn’t found quite the right personality and cultural fit for them (yet!).

During our video meeting, we go to great lengths to gain an in-depth understanding of their business. We get the back story to who they are and what they do. We discuss in detail the structure of the team as well as the skills and personalities of each team member. We explore the overall culture of the company and what this means operationally on a day to day basis. We also investigate where they are going, what hurdles they face, and what this new hire could bring to the team.

After we have achieved a macro view of their business it’s now time to drill into the role that they are looking to fill. A good starting point is what the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks actually look like. It’s also key to know if they have any additional projects that this person will be expected to handle. Lastly, what character traits would work best for the team? For example, should this new hire be a firm, hands-on manager or would it be better to hire a manager who allows greater levels of autonomy? The more questions the better at this stage.

Following this, we ensure that we discuss a candidate acquisition strategy. This includes what we, as their exclusive recruitment agent, will actually do. It’s strange isn’t it that this step is often left out? It’s something that very oddly is never really discussed during a recruitment assignment but it’s a fundamental part of ours. Without giving away any trade secrets, we then agree a strategy.

During the next 48 hours, several additional steps take place. We could tell you what these are, but we’d have to kill you….

So, what do we actually do?

This is the part of a recruitment process that I really, really love. Staring at a blank canvass and thinking – who do I know who is the best fit for this job? Becca and I have met over 5000 accountants during the past 14 years so there’s a lot to choose from.

Ask me what I did yesterday and I’d really struggle to tell you. However, ask me to name every candidate I’ve ever met; what they enjoy about work, what qualifications they have, how many kids they have, what their dogs name is, and more often than not…I can.

Firstly, I start by writing a very long list. This list will include names of people who I think could be interesting for my client. I do this off the top of my head. Most of the names come to me during long early morning runs at the crack of dawn, while Becca and William are still asleep. There’s something about hard exercise early in the morning that has almost mystical powers to unlock deep memories in me. Becca and I also brainstorm together; she has a memory unlike anything you’ve ever seen and she’ll remember a certain project that a candidate undertook 10 years ago, that I perhaps mentioned in the passing one day, but that could be exceedingly helpful for our client. She’s very spooky like that, but it makes us a great team.

We then move onto the next stage. Who do I know in my network, who might know someone else, who’s suitable? This is a key part in my process and it often unearths some really great hidden candidates who are not known to us.

The next step for us is to create content. Using the likes of Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, we ask ourselves how can we gain the attention of suitable senior accountants who perhaps aren’t looking? It’s no easy task. This is another incredibly enjoyable part of our process and it’s proving highly effective as we continue to develop our skills in this field.

Finding 'the one'

It’s great having a network and knowing lots of people. However, it doesn’t help if they don’t really, really trust you. My next job is to get the relevant information about this unique opportunity in front of the right people; to get them to want to speak to me when they might be very settled at work. Again, a hugely enjoyable part of the process and something that I love.

Let’s fast forward seven days - our client has received three highly targeted CV's from us. During the past week we have spoken to lots of people, ensuring that our client’s business is portrayed in the most accurate light (warts and all). We will have managed feedback, hosted a range of questions, and at each stage our client is made fully aware of our progress.

The end result?

I’m delighted to confirm that the successful candidate starts with our client next month - our first lockdown placement. Fortunately, the above example is one of a number of senior roles that we’ve been tasked with handling since the lockdown came into effect, and I will be the first to admit that it’s been a huge relief.

So here we are, eight weeks in and no real end in sight. For all the sadness and the uncertainty ahead one thing is crystal clear to me – although we have never been further apart physically, we are all far closer and connected than ever before.