BlockIT Making Recruitment Personal
When and why did you start Block IT Recruitment?
I’d been in recruitment for quite a while. I had been quite successful, but I felt that I simply wasn’t appreciated. It was in June 2017 when I decided that I couldn’t carry on working for idiots.
I always put a lot of effort into building personal relationships with both clients and candidates. During telephone conversations I would often pick up on any common ground that we might have outside of recruitment. If someone had an interest in live music, for instance, we might spend a couple of minutes chatting about a band that we had both seen. That helped to build a rapport with the client. Though they might not be recruiting at that moment, when I called back three months later they’d remember me and be happy to take my call.
I always saw relationship building as a vital part of any recruiter’s role. Unfortunately, the company culture was focused entirely on short term (or even instant) results. The crunch came when my line manager plonked an egg timer on my desk and told me that four minutes was the maximum I could spend on any call. That’s not an environment I could work in. It’s simply not possible to provide anything like the best customer service if you can’t put the necessary time into the relationship.
After that incident the atmosphere got worse and worse. I still feel sick just talking about it. Every day I’d dread turning into the office car park and wish I could just keep on driving, like Thelma and Louise.
Eventually I decided that my mental health and wellbeing was more important than any job and decided to launch my own business.
Where did the name Block IT come from?
The” IT” part because I decided that I would focus on the IT Sector. The “Block” came from my interest in Blockchain Technology and the impact it has on IT.
If I’m dealing with an IT company, they get it; they understand the Blockchain connection. If I’m dealing with a business outside IT, it has less meaning, and they are likely to call us “Blockit” as if it was some kind of plumbing product. So long as they are happy with the service it doesn’t matter what they call me.
What did you do prior to Block IT?
I served in the British Army, based in Europe, married a soldier. Moved back to the UK and over a twelve-year period fostered 5 children on short term respite. One of them stayed with me right through to adulthood under what’s called “supported lodgings” until she took her law degree. She’s now happily married and working as a solicitor in London, though she still uses my house as her Northern base.
Workwise I got into retail and eventually became a manager with the Victoria wine chain, back in the days when they had a branch on every high street. The job was enjoyable but when we suffered a series of armed robberies you can imagine that it became very stressful. Eventually I decided to take six months break and think about my future.
Is that when you moved into recruitment?
That’s right. I had a rough idea what job agencies did. It didn’t seem too complicated, so I did the rounds of local agencies in Stockport and was offered a position at Bennet Staff Bureau. In fact, we have continued to stay in touch and still work together on occasions.
I began in industrial recruitment. That’s basically unskilled labour. Typically, a client would phone me with a requirement for 15 warehouse staff to pick and pack, starting at 8.00am tomorrow. You can imagine it was very reactive and instant. If someone’s driver didn’t turn up for work, I would have to hit the phones and find someone with the hour.
I also worked on the commercial side; that’s Secretaries, PAs, Admin Staff etc. I also managed a branch for a while.
My next move was into the more specialised area of education, including nursery nurses, teachers, teaching assistants, special needs and primary schools. As well as advertising and interviewing I would have to get candidates referenced, and DBS checked, and make sure that they would be available to work. As always, a good relationship was essential, and I made a special point of building relationships with the school secretaries as well as the Head Teacher.
Then I fell into the Welfare to Work sector.
You make it sound like a complete accident, how did it come about and how did it work out?
I wasn’t looking for a new sector; it just sort of found me. In the same office block where I worked was a charity that funded employment for people with disabilities, health conditions and other restricting issues. We shared a kitchen and some communal spaces, inevitably I got chatting to their staff and over time discovered a sector that I hadn’t known even existed.
I think the definition of Welfare to Work is something like “encouraging unemployed people and others receiving state benefits to find a job, for example by paying a fee to their new employers.” But for me it was much more than just a government policy or initiative, for me it meant empowering people to do something long term. It’s not about simply doing it for them but teaching them to do it for themselves. Showing them how to sell themselves and see their true potential.
My role went beyond simple recruitment. I had to spend time with applicants building their confidence, getting them interview ready, keeping them motivated and even working through their finances. Once people could see that they would be better off working, they could then begin to break old habits and get out of the house and into the workforce.
It also involved engaging with local employers to show them the benefits of tapping into this neglected workforce. I had to explain that these were people who could not be judged simply based on a CV or brief interview. These were people with low self-esteem, little or no experience and no confidence to go out and sell themselves. They needed to be given the chance to break that cycle. Once they were in work and learning new skills their self-worth would grow.
It was often a matter of getting employers to forget about what or who they thought they wanted but to keep an open mind about alternative solutions. For example, I convinced an employer that their telephone receptionist job could be done remotely by someone working from home. The person I had in mind was a blind lady who was more than capable of doing the job, but she would face enormous obstacles in getting to a city centre office for an interview, let alone commuting there every day.
Are you choosy about who you work with?
I’m quite happy to work with any business in any sector, but I am fussy about the quality of the relationship. If a candidate or client is not communicative, then I don’t see any need to pursue them. There are plenty of good people out there, so I don’t have any desire to work with clients who are not fully committed to the process.
Likewise, with candidates, I don’t see any point in working with anyone who is going to let me or the employer down. I’ll often ask a candidate to send me an email outlining their expectations or why they would like to work for the company. For me it’s a test to see if they really want this job; it filters out time wasters and gets buy in from the more committed candidates. If they don’t bother to respond, there’s no way that I would put them forward.
What is it that makes you different?
I think the main thing is that I don’t see the candidate as a £ sign. For me it’s not simply about, “How can I fill this job right now?” I’m much more strategic, I want candidates to come back to me in three years when they are ready for the next career move.
Most younger recruiters are more tech savvy than me, they will be quicker than me at navigating and searching on-line. I take a different and slower approach, a much more personal approach.
Money is the motivation for the larger recruiters. How they judge success doesn’t work for me.