TALES FROM THE FRONT: Once in a lifetime opportunity to challenge the status quo

It’s been almost four weeks now since I lost everything.

The award-winning, highly-successful hospitality recruitment business I established just over 12 months ago in the heart of Manchester’s glorious Northern Quarter – a business that employed six hugely talented individuals – came crashing down in the space of seven hours one fateful day last month. 

It took the rest of the hospitality sector perhaps a week to follow suit, but by the end of the craziest seven days in history, most of us had been completely decimated.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve fought back the tears, I’ve sat staring at walls thinking ‘What on earth do I do now?’, and I’ve tried to ignore the articles that say it may take ‘years’ for my beloved hospitality industry to recover from this cataclysmic turn of events.

Finally, I’ve arrived at a point where I want to start thinking about how my team and I can come back from Covid-19.

And I’ve taken comfort in knowing I’m not the only recruiter who has been forced to witness the swift annihilation of their sector in recent weeks, whether that be in finance, retail, marketing or like me, in bars and restaurants.

So how do we move forward from here?

  1. ‘Dig deep and believe in your vision and mission more than ever’ – these aren’t my words but those of Brewdog’s James Watts in his awe-inspiring book Business for Punks. He says: “The fallout from your business dream can be devastating. That’s when you need to dig deep and believe in your vision and mission more than ever.” 

    Reading this last week was a seminal moment for me – Sixty Eight People’s mission has always been set in stone and it’s something we hang our hat on every minute of every working day: ‘Our crusade is to change lives, disrupt recruitment and shape the industry.’ Everything in my being is trying to achieve that. Everything I do, every Zoom meeting I have, every Instagram post I write, every conversation I start and every job brief I take. Without a firm raison d’etre there’s no point in any of us doing what we do.
  2. Accept that the post-Covid-19 landscape is a vastly different one – if any recruiters are planning to do what they’ve always done, I just don’t think they’ll make it. Recruitment may never be the same again, not in a naysayer way but in a ‘sorting the wheat from the chaff’ way. Amongst my many irritations of conventional recruitment, the top three would be: dated sales tactics, poor candidate experience and limited sector knowledge.

    Recruiters should see that they have the capacity to influence how sectors bounce back from the big C and behaving conventionally just won’t cut the mustard. It's clear that clients are naturally going to be more cautious than ever before, at least initially, and certainly in my sector people will be looking for greater value for money. If they don’t already, they will want to partner with genuine sector experts. Technology and flexibility will reign.

    I’m certainly prepping for a world of long-term video interviewing and a team of staff that may demand more flexibility in working conditions. I suppose we don’t know exactly what recruiter life post-Covid-19 looks like – but I’m certainly braced for change.
  3. Refocus, adapt and innovate your offering – I can’t sit here scared about whether my once-thriving business will make it back from death row. I know that it will. I must plan and believe that I can be an instigator of change. In the midst of this post-apocalyptic coronavirus haze, that – let’s face it – none of us could ever have really planned for, this is what I am pledging to do:
  • Create an army of like-minded people who align themselves with our beliefs and want to join our crusade. Our social media is essential to our growth, and now is the time to build followers and online advocates. 
  • Launch a ‘value add’ jobs board for hourly paid hospitality workers, a programme of events, training workshops and (genuinely supportive) initiatives to offer strategic help to clients and jobseekers in the post-Covid world.
  • And lastly, I’m going to rip up our terms and go back to the drawing board. Not only looking at protecting my business a little better but also recreating our fee structure. I’ve always hoped that one day fees could be based on candidate performance – so with my reinvigorated ‘disruptive’ mindset, I’m doing it. Yes, read that again – it’s ground-breaking and shows our deep-seated belief in the quality of the people we connect.

So, while my wonderful team furlough the days away in the sun (crikey, I miss them!) – I’ll be working out how the heck I’m doing to do all this.

In conclusion, I urge any recruiter in a similar boat with a meaningful purpose to dig deep. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to challenge the status quo, to niche your business, to add true value to your customers and to come back bigger than ever before.

• Abi Dunn is founder and managing director of Sixty Eight People. With a client roster including Mission Mars, Everyman Cinema and Dishoom, she is City of Manchester Business Awards’ current Recruiter of the Year and has spent 20 years in bar operations, including six years as head of recruitment and training for Revolution vodka bars. For those not in the industry, Sixty Eight is bar code for ‘back in stock’!

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