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Recruitment Leader Showcase - Sean McGhee
12/06/2019

Built Blog spoke with Director of ATS Recruitment, Sean McGhee, to find out more about his career journey and to discuss some current issues impacting the industry.


ATS Recruitment, part of Air Technical Solutions Ltd are a specialist recruitment agency formed in 2012. We work with a wide variety of companies and have a number of long standing relationships with both our candidates and clients alike. Being a privately owned business we can be adaptable to our clients/candidates needs and expectations and can tailor a package to suit each individual company. We can recruit for both freelance and permanent candidates, in the UK as well as on overseas assignments.

IM When did you start out in recruitment?
SM It was just over ten years ago. Quite surprised how long it been! 2008 I started.
IM Did you set up ATS Recruitment alone?
SM My colleague and I were working at another company together for a couple of years. We decided that we wanted to be our own bosses. We set up six and a half years ago. I have looked at other recruitment leaders journeys on your blog but I have to say ours is a bit different. We had someone that we knew within the industry, who had a lot of contacts. He went out and found us a large recruitment company that was prepared to offer us the infrastructure to utilise their finances until we started running properly. It worked really well, we had to pay them for the services but it was great because we had the systems in place from day one. This way we could get on with making money straight away!
IM Were you a separate company or a branch of this larger company?
SM It was a separate company. We set up our own company and just used their Backoffice support. With regards to freelance candidates, we had to put it under their terms because we were using their services. Eventually, we transferred everything over to our company. We were really lucky that we had someone within the industry who was able to go out and find us a contact like that. A few companies were prepared to do it for us, in the end, we chose one that understood what our goal was, a lot of others just wanted us as consultants making money for them remotely.
IM How have you structured ATS Recruitment’s hierarchy?
SM James and I are both Directors and we have Clare who is the Office Manager. We are lucky as everyone is really good at what they do and they manage their time and resources effectively. James and I will always help and give guidance where needed but, as I said, they are very good at what they do. Clare will keep on top of all admin, new legislation and any changes we need to be aware of. It works really well and we have a really good team.
IM What is your current headcount at ATS Recruitment?
SM It is slightly lower than it has been, we are down to about seven. We are always looking to grow. What has happened now is we have got to a point where we have a really good team and everyone is very good at what they do. They are all very self-sufficient there are no issues. I think we have reached an area where maybe growing it more isn’t the idea and keeping the team we have now is what we are looking at, so at the moment we are quite content. Everyone gets on and that makes it a nice working environment.
IM What are your thoughts on specialising in recruitment?
SM  Personally, in the long term, I think it is key. When I started in recruitment I specialised in design engineers. The good thing about specialisation is you get a technical understanding of the industry you work in. It’s quite a saturated market, there are a lot of consultants coming in and will try and work in any sector. I understand the reasons why but the problem is they don’t understand the sector. They can send over CVs but struggle to answer the technical questions and look deeper into a CV. That’s why I think specialisation is key. On the flip side of that what we have always been good at is the account management side of things. We will get a client that will give us repeat business. What happens with that is it can veer away slightly from your core sector. For example, we might do administration roles in something we haven’t done in the past. It can veer away to a certain degree but its always with the same client. The technical understanding of the industry for us is imperative. I think if you’re a generalist you can hop from one client to another and the problem is you can’t utilise your CRM or your clients if a good candidate comes around. Ultimately if you specialise it makes your job a lot easier.
IM I think a lot of people would agree.
SM What is difficult at the moment is getting new business in. But once you get that business in you can get a lot out of them. You do that by knowing the industry.
IM Was it difficult to bring in recruitment consultants who knew your industry or did you find it easier to train consultants?
SM We did both. To be honest one thing we have always struggled with is getting good consultants. We have taken consultants that have worked in the specialist sector before. Our work might be a slightly new area for them but they have experience in the core of what we do. We have taken on people with no recruitment experience before and trained them up but depends on who is available and what the time constraints are. At the start when we were really busy it was hard to take people on who didn’t have the knowledge because we didn’t have the time to train them up. In general, finding consultants can be quite difficult and I think it’s a problem for most companies. They would grow a lot quicker if there was a lot of good staff out there.
IM Are you also finding issues with a candidate skills shortage?
SM Definitely. As a company, we used to do a lot more on the temp side. That has flipped on its head now, it’s almost all perm staff and fewer temps. There is a lot of skills shortages in there. I think it also depends on which company you deal with in the food chain. If you deal with an end client or the main contractor the salaries are slightly different, the good people will go to work with the end client because the salaries are higher so it makes it harder for us. It depends on the sector and the job itself.
IM Another big topic is Brexit, what are your thoughts on where your company stands currently and how things might be affected in the future?
SM Our problem is our clients’ uncertainty. Even if our clients aren’t doing any work in Europe, it is so intertwined now with materials or projects that everyone is affected. We have found that a lot of construction companies in the UK are owned by European companies. We do a lot of work with a German construction company, they tend to work on hospital construction projects within the UK. They have got as an example, two more projects in England kicking off in the next few months, I spoke to the director last week in fact and his worry is if a no deal Brexit comes in that he’s not sure if he will use the previous men or if he can get the materials and machinery into the UK from Germany. So they have to source a lot more candidates and the materials which will obviously increase the cost to them. Therefore it is affecting the European companies as well as the UK ones. I think it’s a massive issue at the moment and I think until there is some confirmation on what’s going to happen it’s going to affect everyone.
IM What are your top tips to scale a recruitment business?
SM Going back to what we mentioned before I think having good staff is key. Getting staff when you can, you have to be quite reactive regarding that. When you get your good staff you have to keep them happy. Ultimately they front the business. I think going back to what we mentioned also having that specialism in what you do is really important. There are too many generalists out there. When you can prove to a client what you do you’ll get that repeat business. They don’t want to have to speak to 20 recruitment agencies and get 100 CVS that are no good every day they want one recruitment agency that they know will supply good candidates. Its better for them and then you don’t have to worry about getting loads of new clients in so it’s a win for you as well.
IM Going back to what you said about your infrastructure, do you think its worth a one-man band starting out to invest in technology from the outset.
SM 100%. CRMS don’t have to be expensive to start out, there are even some free ones. I think what is good about CRM is it’s great for recruiters to just keep a note of who they speak to. I think people don’t utilise their CRM enough. Job boards are a free for all. All recruiters have access to the same candidates on them. If you know your clients well, going back to what we said earlier about specialising, you can do a search on the CRM. We have placed the same candidate with different clients multiple times on freelance contracts. This candidate wasn’t on a job board so only we had access to them through our CRM. I think a CRM is really important.
IM I agree a lot of other recruitment leaders have said that for them it’s about finding a CRM that is quick to use.
SM I think when you get into the habit of putting the details and information onto a CRM it becomes second nature. Especially if you want to grow the business you need that information available. I think it’s imperative to have a centralised system. You can find candidates that aren’t on any job boards and that you know personally. It’s worth its weight in gold if it’s used properly.
IM Do you think when a company is first starting out then that it is worth investing in a CRM that will support them as they grow or would it be better to wait until you reach a certain point and then start using one?
SM I think when your starting out a lot of people will want to keep their overheads to the bare minimum. We were quite lucky because we had that infrastructure when we started. If you start up a new company and you don’t have a pipeline or you have a restricted covenant you have to be prepared not to pay yourself, realistically for the first six months. That gives you time to bring money into the company. In that sense, I can understand why people wouldn’t invest in a CRM from the outset. What we did eventually is invest in a bespoke one. It wasn’t without teething problems, my advice to anyone who is considering getting one is to have a clear plan of how you want the CRM to look and work. Everyone wants something different. It’s an expensive way to do it but it worked quite well for us.
IM I think you’ve given some great advice and tips for others Sean, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I’d be interested in finding out how you are doing post-Brexit.
SM Definitely, it would also be interesting to hear how others are affected. Thanks, Isabel.