My Friend Steve and the Future of Recruitment ….AKA What's so Special about Specialisation?

During a recent long car journey home I caught up with long time friend and fellow recruiter I used to work with; Steve Williams of Highstar Associates ( Although we both do the same job we have very different backgrounds.

I’ve always worked in recruitment (, joined the industry in 1998 as a temp controller, then a team manager of contingent permanent recruitment and now I’m a headhunter for NRG Executive (

In contrast Steve became a recruiter in 2004 after 34 years with a major corporate and works for himself specialising in recruiting facilities management professionals (Steve was the Head of FM for his previous employer BT Cellnet / O2 – so he knows his stuff as he’s been the hirer).

After a conversation that ranged from the use (and abuse) of Twitter to wash-out holidays in Florida we signed off and agreed to have a catch up coffee sometime soon. As my journey continued I began to think about Steve and the work that he does and came to the conclusion that recruiters like Steve are the future of recruitment. Here’s why …………Specialisation

What’s so Special about Specialisation?

  • Clients can do the easy recruitment for themselves 
  • With pressure on fees you need to be able to show where you add value
  • It’s how you make sure you’re providing the very best industry talent and not just the latest CV website upload
  • You can truly become a trusted advisor
  • Recruiters like Steve actually “know” the industry they are recruiting in and the players in it. They won’t make costly or embarrassing faux pas 
  • They understand nuance and often know the background or hidden stories behind hiring and firing; gossip and reputation play a big part in business whether we like it or not (for good and bad) and specialists can sift wheat from chaff and triangulate if need be
  • A specialist recruiter lives and dies by his reputation in a small market; it’s important to him or her that they nail the project and everyone is left smiling
  • They are more discreet and confidential; great advantages in headhunt scenarios

And the future?

The rise of social media, the development of new and better recruiting tools (e.g. Linkedin Talent Pipeline and the In-House Recruitment Manager function getting better, slicker and more common in more and more industry sectors are just three obvious threats to those agencies stuck in the middle as generalist and vanilla.

So Recruiters .... find a niche, vocation, nook, cranny or place-of-one’s-own to specialise in and mine deep for the gold.

More power to your arm Steve - Long Live the Specialist!

Views: 341

Comment by Sandra McCartt on November 2, 2011 at 1:25pm
It's a double edged sword. As a specialist turned generalist after having been specialized in an industry that went down like the Titanic, only quicker, I will never again put all my eggs in one basket. We now work with multiple clients in very different industries. Our specialization is knowing that company. If one is not hiring another will be. We made money during the worst of the recession by being generalists. It's sure not vanilla to be able to switch from doctors to supply chain managers to java programmers to feed yard cfo's to sr. Marketing execs. We will reach out to specialists from time to time as we value their more narrow expertise but most of the time we don't have to. Most internals have to be generalists so TPR's who ever want to go in-house better be able to be a good generalist. A lot to be said for both. It's been an ongoing debate since the dawn of time.
Comment by Robert Wright on November 3, 2011 at 5:46am

Thanks for the comment Sandra. I agree that there is an all-eggs-in-one-basket risk to being a specialist and I guess the answer to that is to keep over heads low, fee structures flexible and closer-than-close to clients. But even then, I agree, if that particular sector goes down quickly it's going to be a rough ride.

Sounds to me that you too are a Specialist. Not in a narrow sector sense but a "Company Specialist" ... you know your clients inside and out but they are in different sectors. Sounds like an interesting strategy.



Comment by Mike Hard on November 3, 2011 at 9:48am

Based on what I see on Bounty, the data leans towards the "specialists" but generalists can and do have an amazing role that surprised me until I just accepted it. I don't mean an "all your eggs in one basket" specialists, but rather TPR's that leverage knowledge in one area (ie leadership roles in healthcare) to also gain expertise in another (healthcare analyst roles in financial services). The agencies that have a handful of complementary specializations are typically the most sought after and successful - at least in our marketplace. That said (big caveat), the specialization the customer thinks they want is often not the background of the TPR that performs the best.  

Comment by Robert Wright on November 3, 2011 at 1:10pm

Sorry can either of you explain to me what a TPR is?

Comment by Tom Dimmick on November 3, 2011 at 1:32pm

Third Party Recruiter

Comment by Robert Wright on November 3, 2011 at 2:50pm

Ah, cheers Tom! Feel foolish now.

Comment by Steve Williams on November 4, 2011 at 6:47am

I thanked Rob for this directly but would add here that in my normal working career prior to recruiting I worked for Finance Directors, Customer Service Directors, Property Directors, HR Directors and MDs and sat in their teams and therefore was inculcated with the way these departments think and what is important to them. So in a way, I am a specialist and a generalist as I can recruit into FM and Support Services across various disciplines as my knowledge and network covers this spread. I also knew what a TPR was. #smartarse! 

Comment by Mike Hard on November 4, 2011 at 8:25am

Sorry for the jargon, Robert. One could start a whole separate thread on what to call contingent agencies: headhunters, agencies, third party recruiters, TPR's, independant recruiters, search...


Steve, I think your path to specialization is interesting, and probably a key to success. Leveraging one specialty to gain expertise/network in others is a smart way to both diversify and play to strengths. Although the question of specialist vs. generalist is a very good one, "how" one chooses to specialize is pretty interesting too.


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