I’ve been in recruitment for 38 years. Here’s how it’s changed.

I’ve been in recruitment for 38 years. Here’s how it’s changed.

I started my career in sales recruitment in 1985–the year “Back to the Future” came out. A movie that ended with a journey to the distant, fantastical year of 2015.

Amazing to think I’ve made that journey now–and more. It’s been a wild ride. Recruitment in 1985 was another world.

My first basic salary was £125–a week. And that wasn’t a bad wage–the average house price that year was £30,400.

There were no job boards in those days. We posted job advertisements in the newspaper, under “Situations Vacant”. There were no copiers in the office–we had ink-based duplicators that messed up your shirts! And there were no laptops or PCs–just manual diaries, hand-written notes, and hand-written job descriptions. Hand-written everything, actually. Instead of a CRM system, we had boxes upon boxes of record cards.

Email didn’t exist–how would we function now without being tethered to it? And there were no mobiles. How did we talk to people remotely? Teams and Zoom didn’t exist. You called somebody’s landline from yours. Some up-to-the-minute clients had fax machines, but for most, you posted CVs out to them.

While the tech got a bit more modern, there were no big changes in recruitment for most of my career. The routine and the general approach to hiring stayed the same. You discovered a vacancy, posted several job ads, looked at the applicants, arranged interviews, and made an offer. It’s only recently that this has changed–partly due to the internet. Being able to apply for jobs around the world with a few clicks gives applicants a lot more control than dialling a rotary phone to tell us they’d seen our ad in the newspaper.

Now there are huge changes in recruitment at every stage of process, from application to onboarding, thanks to the advance of tech. It’s hard to narrow it down, because tech is everywhere, but these are the changes that stand out to me:

Social media

I remember when having a presence on Facebook was a revolutionary idea for recruiters. Now there are social-media platforms purely for business, like LinkedIn, as well as recruitment websites like Glassdoor. Employers and candidates can conduct detailed searches and find out vast amounts about each other without leaving home. It’s put far more power in the hands of the candidate and created a huge shift in perspective. Businesses didn’t worry about their employer brand when I started out–the concept didn’t even exist.

The millennial mindset

This follows on from the rise of the internet. Digital natives know they have options at their fingertips and will leave any job where they’re not treated with respect.

It’s hard to convey just how new this is. Back in 1985, people were expected to be grateful for their jobs and to serve the company loyally, often for their entire careers, to be rewarded with a gold watch on retirement. The first millennials seemed shockingly selfish by comparison. It took me a while to realise that they had a point. We’ve caught up with them now–these days, recruitment is a two-way street where the candidate gets to interview the employer (and the recruiter!) as much as the other way around.

Remote working

When I started out, you worked within an hour or so’s commute of your house–and if you couldn’t make the commute every day, you basically couldn’t work. The only home working opportunities were exploitative joblets like “envelope stuffing” (in the era of mailshot advertising, there were always envelopes to stuff). The remote work revolution allows people to build high-flying careers from the comfort of their own homes, and businesses to conduct video interviews and hire talent from all around the world. It’s a tremendous leveller, and one of the most positive changes in recruitment I’ve seen.


If you’d told me in ‘85 that I’d be working with AI, I’d probably have imagined a plucky little droid making beep-beep noises. The growing role of AI in recruitment means we can consider far more candidates and pick the best of the best much faster than a human (or even a team of humans) could. We can use it to improve accuracy, drive out bias, hone the perfect fit, and make sure companies avoid controversial hires that could damage their reputation. Now we’re really living in the future.

The one thing all these changes have in common? They’re accelerating. I expect to see exponentially more changes in recruitment in the last few years of my career. The world of work has already changed beyond my imagining, and now we’re heading into completely uncharted territory. Is it scary? A bit, but mostly it’s exciting. We’ll adapt.

Although there have been significant changes, the heart of recruitment remains the same – matching people to people. Finding the best role for the best candidate. That will never change whatever advances and adaptations we have to make.

“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” – Doc Brown, Back to the Future


Authored by: Graham Brown, FREC, Associate Director – Sales & Marketing


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