Recruiter Motivation Horror Story: One from the Archive… but is it?

How do you motivate your staff? – particularly in recruitment, a seemingly sales-led, financially-targeted industry. 

WARNING: Shut your children’s ears… this story may contain some swearing, violence and seens of a very UN-sexy nature. 


My first job in recruitment was when I was 19 years old (1990), for a company called Temps Select – they don’t exist anymore, unsurprisingly – an industrial & driving agency based in Nottingham. The hours were long. 7am to 6.30pm – and I lived on the outskirts of Nottingham, so had to get 2 buses in starting at 5.30am. It was just me and my branch manager Graeme, an Essex boy – about 23 years old, a nutty Spurs fan, and whose favourite player at the time was Jason Candy, because he was a school-mate or something. I later found out this was Jason Cundy – but my naive northern world was not familiar with the dialect of people from Dann Saaff, which is apparently where Graeme came from. It turns out Dann Saaff was a place south of Leicester. 

I was a `Contracts Controller` and I didn’t know what the job was, and I’d only worked in a camera shop and had been sacked the previous week. Graeme and the three 22 year old Directors (from the lofty head office location of… Walsall!) thought I would be perfect. I was shy, but a nice lad – I had potential. I think the other reason for getting the job is because I was desperate, needed the beer money, and was compliant – theirs to mould. Salary £8,000/year plus £20 for each new client won. I was thrilled, I’d been sacked from a job earning £60 per week 3 days earlier! 

So me and Graeme, in a tiny serviced office for two, without proper desks – just 3 wide planks of wood with brackets fixed to the wall. 1 for the printer/typewriter, 1 for Graeme in the middle, and one for me – in the corner – furthest from the window. So I was in recruitment apparently – what do I do? Graeme showed me the phone. Then he showed me a long box of contact cards like you get from WH Smith. A REALLY long box. Then he showed me a script, sellotaped to my plank of wood/desk, with a another sheet of sellotaped paper with objection handling options. 

That was it. Training done. Next week I was taking a trip to Walsall for a days sales training, but for now – that was it. “Sell”, Graeme said. “Tell ’em we can get ’em temps, and make me appointments”. So I did. 7am to 6.30pm EVERY day, I would make sales calls. EVERY day, I would phone some Transport Managers 3 times. Once at 7am to “check all their drivers had turned up”, again at 2pm to “see if they had planned the next days temps, and would they use us?”, and again at 6pm to “ask whether you got all the slots filled”. I reckon I did 300 attempted sales calls per day. But the scary part was when Graeme was in the office to make his 10 sales calls a day to the `cream clients` – that I wasn’t allowed to touch.

Graeme was an angry man, you see. We got on, and talked a lot about football, girls, etc – I would contribute shyly, and he would bark a lot. But he hated potential clients saying no. If I was on a call, or he was making one of his, he would pace the office like an agitated tiger. If he failed on a call with a client, he would end the call and hurl the telephone back on the hook from whatever distance the cable had twisted to, and shout “FAAA**K OFF!!!” – probably with the client still on the other end of the line. This would usually be followed by more swearing, comments about the clients’ mother and the final flourish would be to kick the brackets under his desk, or his chair across the office. I was often struck by flying pens, diaries, client cards or stray saliva. 


Equally, the sales script they gave me was sacred. If Graeme heard me stray from it whilst listening to one of my calls, a similar ritual would take place. Graeme would shout untold abuse at me and often throw the nearest object at me, and being so shy, I would just take it on the chin, or the back of the head, more often… One day he kicked the brackets of his desk so hard, he broke it off. With glee for the next month it was something for him to wield as he made calls, or swing as I was making my calls – and the greeting of a poor sales call would be this piece of wood thwacking down on my desk, millimetres from my right hand, followed by a further volley of abuse. 

Eventually, one day he said to me in one of our break chats – “Why don’t you jast tell me to fa**k off? – you’re too soft” – he was right, maybe I was. But he thought that that was the way to inspire me – make me angry. But I was maybe just a bit bigger than that. I was just doing my job – and actually I was doing it well because I got very good at non-script calls when he wasn’t in the office, and would make lots of appointments; but their persistent unwillingness to change from set formulas meant they were stagnant, and I became less motivated and after only 4 months there, the office was closed, and soon after the company closed down all of it’s 3 offices and went into administration. 

It’s a horror tale from the past, sure – but who is to say that sanitised versions of the same aren’t happening all the over the UK right now. It wasn’t that long ago that I was working for a recruitment company who still advocated making sales calls between 9am-10am on a Monday morning, purely to see if all the temps had turned up! Arrrghhh – how crass? While they’re at it, between 10am & 11am they could knock on all the doors of an old-people’s home down the road to check if anyone had died over the weekend, and see if there were any spare bits of food in their fridge left over! Between 11am & midday, they could check the cat-flaps of all the cat owners in the neighbourhood to see if a plate of tuna is reachable, so that recruiters can have something for lunch on the bread that was left over in late Great Aunt Mildred’s fridge. 


Have we not learnt? Are we just going to say “it’s worked for years, so why should we change?” – or do we adapt our communications strategy to better reach the marketplace. Are we not going to inspire our recruitment consultants to be creative, imaginative, driven by personality and human connection – and not by sales activity targets, KPIs, and staid formulas set by recruitment directors still stuck in the 1980s & 90s. Clearly not, as the corporate recruitment industry still sacks people after 3 months, and still has staff retention numbers in the 30-50% region. 

Even 1995 when I had my first recruitment management job servicing the industrial estates of Crawley/Gatwick – cold calls were a supporting strategy to us walking the industrial estates, talking people on their cigarette breaks, chatting to folk at the burger vans and knocking on warehouse managers delivery doors. We won business because of people, not the telephone or because of KPIs.

People in recruitment don’t always understand why am so pleased to say that I haven’t made a sales call in what is nearly 18 months now. I have proven (to a degree) that there are other methods of communication that can win business than flirting with HR Managers’ voicemails 15 times a day. I see it in good recruiters. I have brought Katie Colbourne to work with me and replicate the same methodology, and it’s early days – but she is winning clients and it is exciting to see, and I expect her to be really successful. 

Multi-dimensional relationship based recruitment is alive people – and not a stick of wood in sight. 





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