Hiring without FoM: What does it mean for the UK’s IT industry?

In March 2016 I wrote a piece arguing that, whether or not the UK remained in the EU, the current visa system needs a rethink if the growth of the country’s tech sector is to continue. Bluntly speaking, that hasn’t happened.

In the two and a half years since writing the article I’ve spent time in-house at ClearScore, one of the UK’s fastest-growing tech firms, and now know first-hand that visa application processes are slow, clunky and so unfit for purpose for these companies that they are effectively a non-viable option. When she announced an end to EU migrants “jumping the queue”, what Theresa May really meant is that UK-based employers will be disadvantaged compared to those of the other 27 EU member states. In the absence of any change to the Tier 2 visa system, rather than making it easier for UK companies to hire (more) non-EEA nationals, ending free movement only makes it harder to hire those with EEA passports. Put another way: pre-Brexit roughly 7%of employees in the tech sector (around 92,000 people based on latest ONS figures) needed a Tier 2 visa before starting work; post-Freedom of Movement, this number will double.

Irish border proposals notwithstanding, there’s been scant focus on technology in the Brexit debate so far. While many politicians and pundits lament the decline of the UK manufacturing, the country’s future should be seen in IT, a sector growing more than twice as fast as the UK economy as a whole. Per person, technology is also £10,000 more productive annually than other sectors. Access to talent is consistently one of the greatest challenges to digital companies. And while precise data on the makeup of the UK’s tech workforce more recently than 2015 is hard to come by, TechNation then painted a picture of an industry roughly equally reliant (for a total 13% of its employees) on EU and non-EU migrants, with the number of EU workers growing faster than non-EU. The equal split between EU and non-EU migrants is misleading; this indicates that tech hires a disproportionately high proportion of EU migrants compared to non-EU since net migration was more than three times higher from outside the EU than from EU27 countries in the twelve months to June 2018.

Table 1: Immigration, emigration and net migration to and from the UK by citizenship, UK, year ending June 2018. Source: Long-Term International Migration, Office for National Statistics

Most disturbing about those ONS figures is the sharp decline in net EU migration since 2015. 145,000 EU citizens emigrated last year. No small number of those will inevitably be IT professionals seeking more hospitable climes in the burgeoning tech hubs of Dublin, Lisbon, Amsterdam and Berlin. Despite this increase in emigration 74,000 more EU nationals moved here than left, but here’s the thing: that’s 10,000 less than in 2015, and there are still no legal hurdles involved in hiring an EU citizen. As things stand, from March 2019 the equivalent of the 219,000 EU nationals who migrated here will each have to out-compete (and thereby deny) a non-EU national for their place and the right to do so. In effect, this will more than wipe out the net 74,000 increase from the EU and will even come close to turning total net migration negative. In that scenario, an industry already facing major staff shortages whilst disproportionately dependent on migrant labour simply cannot grow.

What I consider the cream of the UK’s IT crop – small, agile, lean start-ups – will be worst hit. These companies struggle to access Tier 2 visa licenses compared to larger firms, and operate in a way that makes them more vulnerable to staff shortages and less able to shoulder the administrative burden of clunky, time-consuming application processes. Faced with the constant challenge of delivering promises to demanding investors and too cash-strapped to compete in a shrinking talent pool already teeming with ravenous sharks, these companies – that have spearheaded innovation and delivered disproportionately high tax revenues for their size over recent decades – will be snuffed out, their place taken eagerly by Irish, Portuguese, Dutch and German entrepreneurs.

The rapid growth of the UK’s IT sector has been made possible by freedom of movement from the EU, avoiding the cumbersome bureaucracy involved in the administration of Tier 2 visas. In the absence of a streamlined visa process, as well as a massive increase in the number of visas the government plans to issue annually, ending FoM spells the end of the most innovative edge of this high-growth, highly productive tranche of our economy.

How ClearScore Discovered Job Seekers That Use Glassdoor Become Better Candidates

First published on the Glassdoor for Employers blog at https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/employers/clearscore/. 

At ClearScore we love data. Since I joined the company unfamiliar acronyms like ‘UMARUs’ and ‘PUDL’ have bounded into my life like enthusiastic but confusing labradoodles. While data drives nearly every business decision we make, when recruiting in a fiercely competitive market we need tools that allow us to blend emotion with hard data.

Glassdoor has a suite of capabilities it offers in-house recruiters, beyond merely functioning as a research tool for prospective job applicants. Its focus on transparency and openness mirrors ClearScore’s mission to inject clarity and control into the world of credit scoring and personal finance, but this isn’t the whole story.

Without impacting or influencing this transparency, employers have a surprising degree of control over their Glassdoor profile. This includes the content on the landing page – company description, photos etc. – and like LinkedIn there’s the ability to post updates. It even (if you subscribe) functions like a “free” job board that most ATSs can post jobs onto. Which is where it gets interesting.

Having reviewed our sourcing data for the last 18 months, we’ve seen that applicants who apply through Glassdoor (i.e. click on a job vacancy directly from our Glassdoor page rather than going from there to our website) are 20% more likely to receive a job offer than applicants who apply through other free job boards. They tend to be better-suited to the roles they apply for and better prepared for our interview process. This greater efficiency afforded to in-house recruiters is invaluable when time is at a premium.

This is relatively minor, however, compared to the part Glassdoor plays in the applicant journey as a whole. While the majority of candidates who apply to ClearScore via external job boards will check us out on Glassdoor on their way through the process, the same doesn’t apply the other way around. The company’s strong presence on Glassdoor, particularly the blend of mostly positive reviews and especially our CEO Justin’s personal responses to the occasional negative review, played a central part in convincing me that this was the right opportunity when I applied. Best of all, because of Glassdoor’s transparency, this impression was accurate: I’ve found life at ClearScore to be just as good as I expected, and I feel I went in already aware of the company’s growing pains and the steps it was taking to address these.

Glassdoor tracks total impressions month by month, allowing these to be correlated with PR and tactics such as recruitment events and their effectiveness (in terms of impressions and applications) measured and compared historically. ClearScore’s product, as well as the company’s success, are built on the premise that “What can be measured can be improved”, and with ambitious plans to rapidly scale our team both in the UK and overseas over the next six months this ability to monitor the effectiveness with which our message is broadcast is a key part of our hiring strategy.

Finally, Glassdoor affords employers a measure of control over the nature of this message. As a Glassdoor partner we have a dedicated account manager on hand to answer queries and offer advice on how to optimise our profile, and ensure that our employer brand is communicated clearly through an increasingly important channel.

All in all, it’s tough to recruit in the modern world without a well-curated Glassdoor profile, and the more internal recruiters engage with the platform the more they can gain from it. It’s well-placed to provide the hard data behind subjective questions like “How well are we perceived by jobseekers?”, something any rapidly-scaling company needs to know.

Two Years and Two Weeks of ClearScore

First published Oct 17, 2017 soon after I started at ClearScore at https://www.clearscore.com/blog/two-years-two-weeks-of-clearscore

Most tech companies’ CEOs are almost synonymous with their brand. Bezos, Page, Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates and… Moose? When I crashed ClearScore’s end of race event just before starting here, it was Moose’s face that watched down on us from above the seven digits that tracked our number of users.

With Moose keeping an eye on the numbers, Justin Basini, the CEO and co-founder, congratulated the team (I had to remind myself that this probably didn’t include me just yet) for their efforts over the last three months. Then, with perfect timing and a big round of applause, the 4 at the start of the number ticked over to 5 – officially taking us over the 5 million users milestone.

ClearScore at that point was almost exactly two years old, having launched in August 2015. Two years after they were founded, Facebook had 5.5 million usersTwitter 5 million. When Justin and the other founders first made a plan for ClearScore, they made three predictions about how quickly the business might grow: one pessimistic, one realistic and one optimistic. The optimistic model had ClearScore on roughly 3.5 million users by the end of year two, with 5 million not predicted for another two years.

Despite the celebrations kicking off, Justin was quick to remind the team that the achievement was no excuse for arrogance. Rather than complacency, five million users demands humility. After all, that’s a lot of people relying on our work for their financial wellbeing. It’s this attitude of both pride and humility that stands out about my first two weeks at ClearScore.

My first week was a whirlwind of new information, from fumbling my way around a Mac to discovering that the director of our latest ad also did the music video to A Design For Life (which should really be our coaching plan’s subtitle). Four days in I had a briefing, along with ten other recent starters, on the “ClearScore Operating System”. Justin talked us through his vision for the company, the benefits ClearScore brings, and why our working culture is central to achieving these goals. In such a highly independent working environment, taking the time to understand how our working culture and key principles tie into the importance of the jobs we have to do, is a useful focal point.

In a flash, it was the end of the week one. This also meant it was time to take part in a ClearScore tradition for new-joiners: saying hello to the team while decked out in an item of novelty fancy dress. I’d already seen a few ClearScore rituals by this point, like the post-probation wall-signings and 1-year-service mug awards, but this was the first I was directly involved in myself and it’s a great way to quickly meet everyone.

With week one a crash course in new ways of working, week two is an exercise in applying them. Whilst still constantly learning about the working environment here and the capabilities of the product we’re building, I’ve also been flat out conveying these things to job applicants. There’s also been a lot of work with the People & Potential team to discuss upcoming initiatives that will help to improve and nurture this culture. ClearScore’s Glassdoor rating is 4.6 and while that’s high enough for us to have been featured on Glassdoor’s list of exciting places to work, here that also means plenty of room for improvement.

Before I started, a friend congratulated me on landing a job with ClearScore but asked if they were worried that other big agencies were now following suit by offering free credit scores. I didn’t know the answer at the time, but as soon as I started it became clear this was seen internally as a huge success – disrupting the credit scoring industry was one of ClearScore’s main goals. But, as our vision states, free credit scores are just one part of our goal to help give people control over their financial wellbeing. What sticks in my mind two weeks into ClearScore, two years into their mission, is there’s plenty we’ve done to take pride in, and plenty more to do.

If you want to join the team, we’re hiring and have a number of exciting roles open. Just check out our Careers page for more information.

It’s OK To Hate Recruiters

First published on LinkedIn November 2015

I was chatting last weekend to a friend who works as a project manager at a digital agency renowned for not using recruitment agencies. They basically brand themselves on it. A typical call to them is usually answered “Hello, we don’t work with agencies, how can I help you?”

I asked him why they’re so intent on not using agencies, which seemed bizarre given that they are an agency, and the service provider concept is fundamentally the same whether you’re supplying marketing campaigns or software developers. I was told – matter-of-factly – that “you use a lot of really underhand tactics to get hold of people”.

Do I now? Thanks for letting me know. As a project manager you presumably exceed your budgets and fail to meet your deadlines, while alienating everyone in your team with your Machiavellian approach to leadership.

I know the guy well, and I know he’s too intelligent to apply that kind of blanket generalisation in everyday life. So I was too surprised and, to be honest, amused to come up with a response as apt as the above paragraph on the spot, or point out the obviously flawed, baby-bathwater logic that underpinned it. I can’t actually remember how I responded – being a recruiter I imagine I consoled myself by checking my bank balance and cackling sadistically.

Which leads me onto this article, which was passed around work last week. It’s a decent read – lazy stereotyping, dogmatic vitriol and a social finesse reminiscent of Linus Torvalds in his less diplomatic moments notwithstanding. The last thing I want to do is defend the kind of recruiters the writer condemns, personified by the piece’s antihero “Shithead”. Anyone familiar with the concept of Rec-to-Rec will know that being a recruiter does not make you immune from recruiters – I get all the same spam emails and LinkedIn messages you do (and because it’s important for me to make my contact details public, I probably get a lot more cold calls to my desk than you do – that’s annoying). For the record I always send polite “No thanks” responses to well-written, individually-tailored messages because I know first-hand the time and effort that goes into writing them.

What I would like to do is point out a few reasons why it’s inevitable, given the role we’re performing, that the recruitment industry as a whole will always piss people off. You’re right to hate recruiters. It’s OK to hate recruiters, and to the verbal genius who penned Don’t Feed the Beast I’d say I didn’t take any of it personally (I’d add, of course, that I know where you live). The article however follows current fashion in overlooking a few important points about what it takes to be not just a good as in “ethical” recruiter, but also a good as in “successful” recruiter – which leads to a very widespread misconception concisely summarised in the phrase “they are not incentivised to act honestly”.

Recruitment consultants are effectively sales consultants, which in the good old days (before Management Speak really got its act together) were called middlemen. It’s a matter of opinion whether or not sales consultants generally are a good or a bad thing, but there’s an important distinction in play for recruiters which a colleague of mine, on my first day in my company, explained neatly: “this is the only sales job where the thing you’re selling can say no”. Shithead and the other morons hackerfall slams can’t force anyone to take a job they don’t want, no matter how much they’d like to.

Let’s for now park the debate over whether recruitment agents have any sense of empathy, morality or professional ethics – I could write an entire article on that – and for simplicity’s sake go with the assumption that they don’t and are to a person feckless, money-driven moral degenerates. As sales consultants, their job is to mediate between prospective buyers and prospective sellers, in crowded markets where specialist knowledge and tools are needed to help the two find each other. As recruiters, they’re mediating between a company that wants to hire and a person that wants to work, and representing both simultaneously.

Think about that. The two parties can have widely divergent interests. Jobseekers want the funnest jobs, the shortest hours and the most on-the-job training, with the highest salary possible. Companies want the most diligent, talented, innately-motivated people for as cheap as possible. Our job is to mediate between these two extremes of expectation and find matches that benefit both parties. In individual cases, and for good recruiters more often than not, the match exceeds what both parties were hoping for in the first place. But no market is perfect, least of all recruitment, and our industry exists as a professional punching bag for employees and employers to vent their frustrations on – the client’s minimal, unhelpful feedback is our fault to the candidate, the perfect candidate’s ludicrous salary expectations are our fault to the client. Across the board, we bear the brunt of the opposed interests of the two groups we represent, each of which will look at the balance of our industry as a whole and say “They’re not doing a good job”. Who can blame them?

If the perception of recruiters as a whole is then unavoidably negative, the onus is on individual recruiters to rise above the rest. This brings us back to the earlier point about what we’re selling. Companies keep coming back to agencies when they need to hire quickly, or hire specific niche skill sets, and when agencies do it right they get repeat business. I’ve since learned that what we sell isn’t a person – this would be human trafficking and illegal – but a relationship. Essentially, trust. To be a successful recruiter it’s crucial to build trust, both with candidates and clients.

As above, no recruiter can force anyone to take a job. With Glassdoor and other similar sites, the amount of information available on prospective employers is almost infinite. If I lied to a candidate about what a company is like, they’d find out quickly and would neither take the job nor work with me again. So why bother? Trying to talk someone into a job they don’t want is not only unethical, it’s pointless hard work that saps not just their time but mine as well. When your time is worth as much as mine and Shithead’s, you don’t waste any of it. Good (successful) recruiters only put people forward for jobs they’re genuinely interested in in the first place. Yes, from then on your job is to make the offer as appealing to them as possible – but to be successful in the long run this can only be done by presenting relevant information accurately. Recruiters who lie to candidates to make them take offers don’t last. They also miss out on the one bit of the job that is most satisfying and completely unique: the genuine gratitude you get from someone you’ve just found the dream job for. I can’t think of any other profession that offers that.

Clients equally will only work with recruiters they trust – they pay us to find qualified people that want the job they’re offering, not to waste their time. If the first few people you place aren’t up to it, or realise it’s been mis-sold and leave after a few months, you lose trust and you lose the client. Nothing is more valuable to us than a reliable client who trusts us and offers a constant stream of roles we understand and know how to source. I see lots of agencies marketing themselves on the massive percentage of their turnover derived from new business. I always think they must do a terrible job if so few companies want to come back to them. Most service providers pride themselves on the amount of repeat business they generate, and recruitment shouldn’t be any different.

Like all companies any recruitment agency exists somewhere along the spectrum between high-volume, low-quality offerings – “Spam and Send” recruitment, Shithead’s forté– and high-quality, low-volume models that invest more time and training in their staff. In my previous post I discussed how the recruitment landscape has changed since the UK employment market recovered from the crash. In the aftermath of the crisis, with jobs in short supply, spam-and-send worked for a lot of recruitment companies that now dominate the scene, since the market was so short on jobs that developers responded to generic mass-marketing emails. They had to.

With the recovery, and the resulting saturation of channels like LinkedIn, jobseekers are now in a position where they can tell mass-marketing recruiters where to stick their generic advances. The REC’s latest report shows that larger companies (35 + branches) make on average, per branch, less permanent placements, at lower per-placement fees, than smaller companies (1-9 branches). Shithead and his kind are losing market share using an approach which prompts angry reactions in the very people they hope to build trust with, and they aren’t trained to do otherwise. There are still a lot of these recruiters out there, but that’s changing.

So hackerfall, and my PM friend and your digital agency – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Every decent recruiter I know loves the buzz of finding someone their dream job as much as, if not more than, they value the commission they get for it. Despite this, whether or not individual recruiters have a well-calibrated moral compass (the answer, as in all industries, is that some do and some don’t) the nature of our job, being positioned between employees’ and employers’ interests and representing both at once, means it’s inevitable you’ll hate us as a group. And that’s OK.