Someone who’s been at the forefront of the recruitment industry trying to work out practical solutions on how to support businesses through all the lockdown noise is Hishem Azzouz, with his The Recruitment Rollercoaster podcast.
In this series Hishem, who is also founder of Azzouz Branding, talks with recruiters from all walks of life about what they are experiencing, doing and thinking as all of us in the sector navigate the impact of lockdown.
We caught up with him to talk about what he’s learned as a result and what he thinks may happen in the near-to-mid future.
TIMESTWO (X2): We’ve been aware of your work for some time Hishem, so it’s great to finally ‘meet’ you. Tell us a little bit about your background in recruitment.
Hishem Azzouz (HA): I originally worked in insurance sales and left to join a recruitment agency. I believed the high commission and Ibiza holidays dream and followed and also wanted to expand my sales skills so proactively consumed content and learned as much as I could. The first year was really hard so the year after I was hungry. I realised I wasn’t using LinkedIn properly and competitors were doing exactly the same thing, sharing jobs but being impersonal. I started a blog and religiously listened to podcasts and realised there very little accessible recruitment content around. So, I went for it. The podcast has been a real turning point in my career and enable me to start my own business in personal branding for recruiters. I have doubted myself so many times but learnt that essentially, if you’re a good person and understand the problem you’re helping solve, you’re going to be ok.
X2: How are you finding lockdown?
HA: The first couple of weeks for me were really tough. My girlfriend and I moved from London to Eastbourne where our families are. But it was hard. I lost £10K-worth of business in the first two weeks easily. I also had loads of plans, including a live podcast at the end of March, which became a real pressure. I ended up postponing it while I got my head round things. But over the last couple of weeks I’ve become more comfortable and understood more about what I can and can’t control. From speaking with others that there are lots of people who have transitioned from panic to acceptance mindset. I’ve enjoyed the last couple of weeks and am in a better space, though still finding it harder to switch off.
X2: You’ve been interviewing numerous recruiters since you started your podcast and also in your day-to-day business life – what has been the most interesting/outstanding thing you’ve learned to date about the industry?
HA: The word resilience gets overused but it’s the right word. The people I’m seeing who are outstanding and doing well boils down to a couple of things – work ethic and mindset. You have to work hard to get results and take things on the chin when they fall down. And you have to have the humility to learn, grow and adapt. The most successful people I know have worked on themselves so they can learn and move on to the next things. This humble approach is a big theme. I’ve sat down with 150 people in the podcast and can honestly say there’s been no dickheads. The individuals that are at the top of their game universally know they can learn from others to support their own development through crises and are open to challenge and change.
X2: You must have also heard some pretty disheartening stories too and we know you’ve got a particular interest in building resilience in the sector. Can you expand on any of this at all?
HA: If you’re a recruiter you’re going to set very high expectations for yourself. This means that people will be trying to hit the same outputs and achieve their best but then not getting the same outcomes. Not just on an individual level but if you’re a good recruiter you pride yourself on doing the best for the business so your confidence will take a knock. The good businesses need to be communicating to their recruiters and celebrate smaller wins to make it clear that expectations are not the same and are naturally lowered. Mental health is going to be severely impacted by this entire process and we all need to be ready to cope with what that looks like to build the industry up.
X2: What advice would you give to recruiters at the moment who are maybe furloughed or being made redundant and simply don’t know what to do?
HA: I’ve spoken a lot about this recently and it’s disheartening. People have good days and bad days. Hopefully businesses have communicated in the right way and not positioned it as a negative. The first thing to say is don’t be hard on yourself. It’s easy to say ‘I’m going to learn new languages’ but that’s unrealistic. But on the flip side do try to remain ‘match fit’ for when you return. You’d be stupid to put your feet up and switch off entirely. Attend webinars, read books, work on yourself so you have the best possible chance to hit the ground running. Recruiters who’ve been out in the trenches will have an upper hand when you’re back, so stay aware and awake.
X2: What do you think is going to happen next?
HA: Common themes I hear are:
- Flexible working is going to stay. People who thought before that employees needed to come into the workplace have been surprised about how their people have risen to the occasion. And the infrastructure is now in place, so no reason to discard that investment.
- There is a definite feeling also that some leaders have been caught in ‘headcount vanity over bottom line sanity’. We will be seeing leaner recruitment businesses getting more out of the people they have.
- If you’re a transactional recruitment business with no niche or not an expert in your space you’re going to struggle.
- And finally, the businesses that will survive will have good relationships, value drive, and innovative with solutions. It’s going to fast forward this massively and if you’ve got those things in place you’ll be around for the long term.