My Millennial Mentor

Let’s have a quick recap of what life was like for a budding recruitment consultant in 2007.

Email had only just superseded the fax machine as the gold standard of communication (fearful myths that each one cost 10p to send had run rampant up until this point). A Collins page-per-day A4 diary was combined with two inches of laminated card to form a ‘manual’. Access was provided to a database with over 10,000 contacts, alongside a hardwired phone and instructions to pick up the Yellow Pages and “make sh*t happen”. A very basic form of LinkedIn had just snapped into existence. Recruitment, it seemed, was simple. Hit a letter picked at random on the database, acquire a client, longlist, shortlist, interview and place the role.  One hundred calls a day. A new client every week. I lived and breathed KPIs. I was – at best – a trained telephone monkey.

Over the next 10 years, I persisted and became more efficient. 100 dials a day became 50; I knew who to call and when. While I felt that I was improving at my job, my methods of communicating and sourcing information still needed work. Meanwhile, change crept in – and for too long, I didn’t notice. The market became saturated. Recruiters with the same tired message were bombarding hiring managers with voicemails that they didn’t want and didn’t need. The keepers to the iron gates had learned to identify recruiters by tone. One by one, the gates closed. Subtle changes took hold so gradually that it was hard to see that the entire landscape had shifted while I was obliviously rooted to the same spot I’d been taught to stand in. Everything, it seemed, was now a case of luck over judgement.

Technically speaking, I’m a millennial. But a millennial taught by the old guard. My mentors were good – but their way of thinking was entrenched in a system that was old before I’d arrived. I followed orders, delivered against metrics and generated revenue. What had I brought to the party in terms of new ideas during that time? Had I changed the industry? Revolutionised the way companies partner with recruitment firms? Broken new ground in any way?

No.

Which meant that it was probably a good time to start.

I wasn’t necessarily seeking a millennial, but I’m a firm believer in hiring those who are smarter and more driven than you. Nonetheless, a young millennial felt risky. I’d seen similar hires made by previous companies. Promising interviews followed by individuals smacking of entitlement, no work ethic, and the frustrating sense that they were just along for the ride. I went ahead with it anyway.

My millennial was a graduate from a top-tier university. He was clearly intelligent and had enough of a spark for commerce to ease my concerns. I did my best over the following months to indoctrinate in him the proven method that had worked since the dawn of recruitment. I taught him cold calls and prime selling time ethos. I shared the methodology and persistence that had ‘successfully’ won clients for the last 10 years. In response, I was given a host of quizzical looks, blunt accusations of inefficiency and an endless reel of “WHY?!” On a wholesale basis, he attacked our way of life. Eat, sleep, prep, repeat – under review. Initially, it didn’t sit well with either of us. I felt that he was all about shortcutting a proven process. He felt that I was a dinosaur.

He wore a wireless headset, sauntered around the office with total freedom, submitted eye-watering expenses, gave up paper and blogged about it. BLOGGED! What is blogging? Giving away trade secrets? Highlighting your client base to competitors? A means of shaving hours off prime selling time for a cause with no immediate impact on producing opportunities? This was a young man who did things his own way with no regard for the rules. Proven rules. Rules that formed the basis of my existence.

And yet. He was winning new clients that I’d been calling on for years. He was turning candidates who’d been previously difficult to manage into consummate allies (not to mention drinking partners). He was getting the kind of recommendations that you’d kill for on LinkedIn.  He’d swan off to his club for the day but would host eight meetings with eight conversions.  Within a couple of months, candidates he’d worked with but not placed were fighting his cause in their new companies.  As far as classical recruitment goes, that just doesn’t happen.

His methods felt obscure, but they were brining success of a level and quality that was just too remarkable to ignore. He’d brought new ideas about digital engagement, taken all of our information into a collaborative cloud format, and piloted and implemented a team messaging tool that made Outlook look like a wounded carrier pigeon. His blogs were gaining traction, and clients were beginning to be won via digital engagement.  The wins certainly weren’t quick, but they were good – as engagement grew, relationships were cemented, and the clients respected his opinion because it was informed.

The change struck on a cold Tuesday evening, about four months into his tenure. After a day of thankless cold, warm and ‘hot’ calls interjected with unanswerable “why’s” from my millennial, I felt antiquated and out of touch with the industry I’ve known for a good proportion of my working life.

The previously murky situation had now become clear: I needed to evolve.

Over the last few months, I’ve embraced new ways of working smarter while still focusing on the high intensity work ethic I grew up with. Instant messaging has become an integral part of my working life; I manage data more efficiently in the cloud, I approach prospects with more knowledge and a genuine value proposition. New clients are being won – and existing partnerships are flourishing.

The future looks bright for my millennial and I.  He’s a driver of change with fresh ideas and no qualms about questioning the status quo. Does he make mistakes? Absolutely. But through this process, my vision of what it means to be a mentor has changed. My working practices have been updated, and consequently, I’ve been brought singing and dancing into the digital age. I’ve learned a lot from this experience and would thoroughly recommend hiring a Millennial – not to train and drill, but to encourage them to bring in new ideas, to drive business and transformation.

I’m an old dog, and I’ve learnt new tricks.

Credit – James Martin [Edited by Clare Toner]

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