It’s Vector's 25th Birthday this month and to celebrate we will be taking a walk down memory lane with our staff members that have served with the company for over two decades. We kick off this series with Peter Cordner, our Contract Recruitment Director to see how the industry has changed and why he believes he has had such great longevity in his career.
How was your start at Vector?
To give you a bit of context, my wife Colette was seven and a half months pregnant. Before Donna hired me, she said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I said, “Yeah”. She said, “I think you're mad”. And I said, “Yeah, maybe, but I have to make it work and I’m confident I’ll succeed”. And that was that. I started here on the 15th of January 2001.
The very first day I started Donna wasn't ready for me. I think she forgot I was due to start, I got there for nine, and at about quarter past nine, and she didn’t quite say it, but basically said “I'm not ready for you. Here's a few magazines take them home, read them and I'm going to test you on them tomorrow.” The next day I gave her this great big spiel of all this stuff that I spent preparing. And she was like “All right, fair enough. Anyway. What we're going to do is….”
I was focusing on the same areas then as I'm doing now, ERP and CRM. She had an eye on CRM for me but as it turned out I was drawn more to the ERP side of things and that was where it really started paying off for me.
When did you make your first placement?
It was in April 2001, and almost the whole thing was done on email. The client emailed me out of the blue saying he was looking for an SAP MM consultant. I was thinking “What's an SAP MM consultant?” I had to try and work it out as I went.
I found someone on our database and placed him after a quick telephone interview, and that was my first placement. I went running around the office in Crowborough screaming “Yes I did it!”. The next day he dropped out. So, I had another look and about two weeks later found a guy who was coming from perm and wanted to go into the contract world. He stuck, and he was there for about a year and three quarters, and then I placed him again a few years later elsewhere.
As soon as that first one stuck it all seemed to click for me, and I placed lots of contractors quite quickly. I was placing SAP trainers with a training consultancy, who were providing SAP trainers to SAP UK and SAP Belgium. They were all short-term placements, five days here or seven days there, but to be an SAP certified consultant, you had to go and do your course at SAP UK, or SAP Belgium. So, it kind of got my name out there a bit.
How do you think recruitment has changed over the years?
In many ways it hasn't. I mean, technology has obviously changed. When I first started, SAP was a growing market. I can remember counting how many people we had on the SAP side of things. It was about a thousand candidates and barely any clients and we probably weren't covering them all. And now it’s grown into the behemoth it is today. Now if you did a fairly generic search for SAP you'd get, Godness knows how many tens of thousands of candidates, it's absolutely huge.
If you look at how you can secure SAP resources now, you've got a lot of it that's been outsourced, so that's become a bit of a challenge. Back in the day, in terms of providing SAP resource, clients were falling over themselves to work with you. Whereas now they can go to a Wipro or, some of the big partners to get their resources, and a lot of that resource is offshore. Back in the early 2000’s, the idea of offshoring something, wasn't really a possibility. The idea of the cloud was something you had in the sky, everything was on premise and that’s where all the work was done. Another change is the profile of companies we were working with. SAP and the other big ERP’s were all being used at FTSE100 and FTSE250 companies, and it was relatively easy to get in to. PSL’s existed, but they weren't able to deal with very specialist stuff. You still had to work very hard to have clients to sell your wares to. But it was perhaps a smaller market and slightly less competitive to what it is like now. It isn't so much of a niche anymore.
So, how has it changed? I mean, the whole idea of providing a solution hasn’t changed in the slightest. I think the key thing is, if you can speak to the right person, and identify what their problem is and work out very quickly what that solution is, and show that you have the ability to do it, it’s very much the same as you did it back in 2000. It’s a case of picking the phone up and knowing that you've got the ability to sell something, whatever it is, whether it's IT recruitment or selling something else, and it's a case of knowing how to properly target the right kind of people to be able to do that.
It's not just the tech side that has changed, in-house recruiters weren't really a big thing, LinkedIn, wasn't a thing. When I started, we were still occasionally sending CV’s by fax. If the client was near enough, we’d take CV’s and hand deliver them. The biggest challenge for recruiters is always going to be new business. It’s what everyone's always looking for. So that's just the same as it was many, many years ago. Everyone's always falling over themselves to try and work out the quickest and easiest and best way of doing it.
What’s been the hardest thing that you’ve had to compete with?
I think for me personally, the hardest thing is once you break into a client, and you can’t believe it, it’s brilliant right? Not always. You pick up a job and then you find out they've also gone out to three or four other agencies at the same time. And you know that in a very, very tight market, when you're looking for something like an SAP PP consultant, there might only be four or five on the market who are available at that particular time. It’s literally a race, and if you are briefed on the role last then you have almost no chance of finding those candidates. Then you get to someone who you know is absolutely perfect, and they say, “Someone phoned me 20 minutes ago” - that’s incredibly demoralising. You know that that's probably the placement gone and it's taken you maybe three months to actually get anything out of the client in the first place. So, for me that’s quite tough. Battling down PSL’s has always been another tough one. Like any commission-based job dealing with ups and downs has always been tricky. You have a colossal month or quarter or six months, and then suddenly everything's gone to pot, and you can’t figure out what went wrong. So, there's various challenges, you need a certain level of toughness to deal with the difficulties of recruitment.
What's been your personal highlight?
I think it would be very easy to say getting into specific accounts, but that's just the nature of the job, and you are just so grateful when you get them. There are some food companies I broke in to, and I’d think “I'm never going to get in there”, and then suddenly you make a placement, and you think you’ve mastered the craft - then you don't make another placement with that client again.
I suppose realistically, when you've been doing this for as long as I have, the personal highlight is seeing who you bring through, that's always been the biggest thing. I have really enjoyed mentoring, leading and training people who come in from nothing. From “this is the phone, this is how it works, and this is how our software works”… to knowing that, however long later, 18 months, two, three years later, whatever it might be, having achieved various targets, they are now driving around in a nice company car, having grown as people, having seen them really thrive and flourish, knowing that whilst it's all their hard work, you've played a fairly key part in it.
I’ve done it loads of times and Simon's the obvious one who's still here. When he came in, he was pretty rough the around edges, he’s still got his own ways about him, but he's great and he's made his market very much his own. Where he is now in terms of the IFS side of things, it’s amazing to see. He started off back in the day with SAP and was doing alright but not amazingly with it. Once we gave him IFS which was a market that he could really get his teeth into and really make his own, he absolutely flew. And he's brilliant. He's really, really good at it.
Do you have a company highlight from your time here?
I think it's any time we've had growth. When we moved from Crowborough to here, that was a nice time. The Crowborough office was something else, it was an old Victorian house, and we were on the top floor. There was a dentist below us and every so often you could hear the dentist drill going and someone vaguely screaming, but it had character. I joined at a time where there were lots of us who'd been there for 12/18 months, we were all at a similar stage of our journey. So that idea of all of us coming to Hartfield and setting up was exciting.
I think all the end of year conferences, they've been awesome, the feeling of coming together particularly the recent ones. Scotland last year, that was something else. That's probably also a personal highlight thinking about it. We were sat around that campfire looking back at what we’d achieved in very trying times, that was quite emotional. Especially after COVID and everyone thinking, can we get through this? Will we be alright? Everyone being together and having a bit of a laugh, but also kind of reflecting on what had been a bloody horrible couple of years.
Why do think you've had such a longevity in your career?
I think the way that we are structured. Realistically, if I'd gone somewhere else… Actually, I think if any of us had gone somewhere else, then we’d do ok, but that’s it, we’d be average consultants. If I had gone to certain agencies, I probably would've been sacked just because you have ups and you have downs, it can be ruthless. But here, whilst you might have a quiet month or even a quiet quarter, the company is very good at reminding you that you've got the ability to find new business and that you've done it before, and you can do it again. And I’ve never felt under an unfair amount of pressure which has always helped me pick myself back up again.
I mean, ultimately, I’ve had bills to pay, three children, a house to run so that has kind of forced me to keep going. But at the end of the day, Vector is a really nice place and it's always been a very nice environment to work in. Even when it's been tough, you look around and say, “Would I want to go anywhere else?” Well, no, I wouldn't. I think from that perspective, I can genuinely see me being here in 10 years’ time, which is a scary thought!
Burnout is a massive issue in the industry. How do you think you avoided it?
It is, and I’ve seen it a number of times, but bear in mind not everything I do is on the new business side of things. I have that ability to mentor and to lead people which is a nice distraction. I think if it was a case of us having a pushy person in charge, who's standing there with a stick and trying to smack you around the back of the head saying, get on the phone every 30 seconds, then I wouldn't last. But because of the mentoring, that's a different angle and I'm not spending all my time on the phone. Perhaps my contractor numbers compared to what they used to be aren't as high as they were, but I don't need them to be.
What I am getting now is that enjoyment of seeing people come through and doing Director things, such as talking to people like Victoria and Jodie and whoever else is coming through, saying what are you doing? Can you work like this? Can you work better by doing this? Victoria’s had some moments where she’s been struggling a bit with certain clients and saying, “Have you tried this? Can you try that?” Trying to give her a fresh perspective. It's using my experience to be able to help people. That helps me through a lot of the tough times. I think if it was to go back to just entirely new business, that wouldn't be fun, and I might not still be doing the job.
When's been the toughest time to recruit over the last 20 years.
Covid was horrendous, that's the easy answer. New business in April 2020, was just dire. It was just absolutely dire. No one was hiring, we were trying to provide free perm business to the NHS. They didn't want to know. I think we had one client who was vaguely interested, we were trying absolutely everything. It was just impossible. I think everyone was just terrified for their health, family, and jobs, us included. Clients, candidates, everyone was panicking, and no one was doing anything. So that was horrendous.
The other obvious one is the financial crash of 2008; the whole real estate fiasco and energy prices were going through the roof and spending was being cut all over the place. For me personally, I was quite lucky because I’d just broken into a FTSE100 who had a huge programme starting. But I could see others around me that were really struggling, and it was quite upsetting. Everyone else was really struggling, in the meantime I was going “This is great”, so I was a bit conflicted. But at the same time, I was seeing that whilst my numbers with that one client were going through the roof, it got to the point where I didn't have any contractors with anybody else at all. So, if that client had said, we're terminating all your contractors, then I'd have been in real trouble.
So those are the two obvious ones, it's always to do with market conditions. I think ultimately you can have a candidate rich, or a candidate short, or a job rich, or a job short market, which obviously are dependent on each other, but whichever way round it is, it doesn't really matter to the recruiter. You still just deal with it. If you've got no jobs, you have to find something from somewhere. You need to find a way of making money. And then similarly, the other way around, if you've got loads of jobs with no candidates, well bad luck, you still have to do something about it. Which is where we are now. Lots of jobs, no candidates. And you can find a whole load of jobs and you've got loads on, which is fantastic. And normally you’d be crying out for that but if you can't fill them, then it's, as bad as the other way around.
Fortunately, the future is looking very rosy for both myself and the company. The investment in IT and business change seems stronger than ever and we have a fantastic crop of new talent coming through. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for us.