How Agency Recruiters In Lockdown Are Finding New Ways to Connect With Talent

From virtual beers to interview tutorials via Instagram

W+K Amsterdam recruiting assistant Isaac Chukwumah, W+K Amsterdam talent director Sophie Worth and W+K London recruitment director Paul Brannigan. WKTalent on Instagram
Headshot of Sara Spary

Key insights:

With hiring largely frozen in the agency world and many industry workers feeling immersed in a cloud of uncertainty, agency recruiters are finding new ways to connect with, nurture and energize talent.

Talent directors working under quarantine are shifting their daily tasks and expanding their roles to emphasize aspects like professional development, long-term talent scouting and increasing the internal visibility of colleagues.

Here are some of the ways they’re doing it:

Sharing professional development advice on Instagram

Sophie Worth, talent director at Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, and Isaac Chukwumah, her recruiting assistant, had an idea to pivot the agency’s W+K Talent Instagram page away from posting job ads and toward offering tips on personal development—directly from recruiters across the agency network’s eight offices.

At a time when many are losing jobs, being furloughed or graduating into an unprecedented era, the team found that transforming their Instagram platform to offer career advice was an engaging way to connect.

It’s earned W+K new followers, which points to the fact that there’s a growing appetite for content aimed at personal development. At the start of lockdown, the team prompted followers to ask questions, and, after receiving 100, they’ve set about to answer the most frequently asked via Instagram Stories. They’ve been posting two to three responses a week, answered by different recruiters from around the world.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_AQcb4gSxF/

It was really important for us to put something out there that was valuable,” Worth said. “There’s a lot of noise right now, and people are spending a lot of time on screens and on Instagram, so we wanted to help in any way that we could. We know we have a lot of knowledge that people are really craving to tap into.”

"We wanted to become more human at a time where really there’s a need for human connection."
—Sophie Worth, talent director, Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam

The project has also had the benefit of putting faces to W+K’s recruiters, Worth said–something the agency wouldn’t usually have time to do.

“A lot of people know our names, but we’re nothing more than LinkedIn profiles or an email address that sometimes doesn’t reply to people,” she said, “and we wanted to become more human at a time where really there’s a need for human connection.”

Keeping an eye on future hires

Ben Major is the recruitment director for strategy, partnerships, diversity and inclusion at agency Mother in London. He only joined the company, from R/GA, one month before lockdown, so he’s found himself in the unusual situation of working remotely after only just getting his own feet under the desk.

It’s true, Major said, that there’s not much “movement” in terms of hires going on currently, but that doesn’t mean that the wheels aren’t still turning in the background. The opposite is often even true, he said, especially now that recruiters have “breathing space” to think about long-term strategic aims, like succession planning.

“The lockdown isn’t going to last forever; it’s still business as usual,” he said. In fact, he urges anyone who has found themselves concerned about the future not to give up hope but to use this opportunity of relative downtime to strike up new connections when senior managers may have more time to respond.

“Every agency is always interested [in having a chat with prospective talent], but sometimes work gets in the way. And while a lot of agencies are still very busy now, there are parts of the business that have got more time, so now, more than ever, is a great time to be in contact with an agency,” he said.

"Getting the right job is a long-term game, and it's these small chats you have now that could have a big effect in the future."
—Ben Major, recruitment director, Mother

Mother has hired people who started, remotely, during lockdown. And much of what Major is currently focused on, as are other talent recruiters, is strategy–so it would be unwise to assume this has all stopped.

“Getting the right job is a long-term game, and it’s these small chats you have now that could have a big effect in the future,” he said.

Connecting over virtual drinks to build team trust

Staying connected with talent internally is also on the top of many agency agendas. It can be a real challenge for employees to go from working in an office surrounded by teams to suddenly working alone–juggling home pressures like childcare and housework on top of the day job.

Sue Gillan, chief talent officer at O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul, said the agency has spent “more time and creative energy” on talent development lately–including making time to have a coffee over Zoom to make sure people who might be missing colleagues continue to feel connected and engaged.

O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul have a bar inside the agency where people can get together informally to have conversations–and chew the fat on ideas. It’s a space, she said, “where great ideas can spark” in a really informal setting. One challenge since the team went remote has been losing that face-to-face interaction.

So Gillan has worked to recreate that sense of camaraderie by introducing virtual bar talks, where three or four people are pulled together at random for a virtual group chat, joined by a partner or a member of the executive leadership team. The idea is to create a space where bonds can continue to be built and strengthened, albeit remotely–over a beverage of their choice, making the setting more relaxed than you’d usually experience over a video conference.

Natasha Kesaji, Sue Gillan, Andrea Stoll, Aubrey Walker and Nick Paul join for a virtual drink.
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@saramayspary sara.spary@adweek.com Sara Spary is a freelance journalist based in London. She's been a reporter for eight years, covering advertising and consumer brands.
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