Interview with 2018 RCSA (Aus) Recruitment Professional of the Year: Jane Lowney of Robert Walters

In June, the RCSA announced the winners of the Australian RCSA awards for 2018. The winner of the award for Recruitment Professional of the Year was Head of Engineering & Infrastructure at Robert Walters (Australia); Jane Lowney.

Originally from Clonakilty, a small town on the south coast of Ireland, Jane studied Civil Engineering between 2005 and 2010 and always assumed she would work as an engineer. Jane’s final year of study coincided with the post-GFC slowdown and few graduates were being hired in Ireland. However Robert Walters in Dublin did have a graduate vacancy. They were looking for a graduate engineer to join their engineering recruitment team. Jane went for the interview and concluded it was a good career fit. Drawn to the interesting mix of people engagement, clear expectations, global opportunities and an opportunity to stay in the engineering sector, Jane accepted the job and subsequently moved to Australia two years later. After a short stint with a local agency, Jane re-joined Robert Walters as a consultant in their Brisbane engineering team and hasn’t looked back since.

Jane kindly agreed to answer my questions about her career and her win in the RCSA awards.

Ross: What aspects of recruitment did you find the most challenging when you started?

Jane: Initially I had imposter syndrome. I didn’t believe in the value I could deliver to clients and found commercial negotiations around fees particularly challenging. I loved business development and learning about people’s careers, yet I struggled with the contractual/commercial aspect.

Due to the local market conditions in Ireland, we had identified that our best opportunity was to “export” engineering talent from Ireland which created an extra layer of complexity early in my career. I placed Irish candidates in the UK, UAE, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which meant dealing with expatriate contracts, international relocations and visas, and that was very challenging in the early days.

What sort of training did you receive when you first started as a recruiter?

Robert Walters has an excellent training program which is a mix of formal training as well as shadowing experienced consultants to learn about the recruitment cycle. I regularly role-played scenarios with colleagues to work out how to best approach clients and candidates. I also had lots of access to the leadership team to mentor me through the early days. When a consultant has been with Robert Walters for 6 months, all new starters from the region are brought together for a two-day intensive training recap. This was held in London and I remember being so impressed with the opportunity to visit other offices and to meet my peers across Europe. We continue to do local training sessions, offsite planning days and lunchtime lessons to continually develop our skills.

What niche do you recruit in and what have you found to be the biggest challenges of recruiting in that niche?

I recruit for engineering professionals across of range of industries including: Transport, Resources and Power and Water, generally for major projects. Currently, one of the biggest challenges our sector faces is the lack of available talent due to the volume of infrastructure spending in Australia. This is putting pressure on salaries, candidate availability and the ability to truly partner with clients who are urgently seeking suitable talent. The boom/bust nature of the major projects’ world can be very challenging, creating short-term false market conditions, followed by major slumps.

What do you do to keep up-to-date with issues in your market niche?

I am a reader, so I read lots of reports and articles to ensure I am up to speed with the latest market information and I ask lots of questions! I aim to attend one event per week related to my market and network frequently with relevant industry leaders. Some of my most valuable contacts do not fall into the “client” or “candidate” category, they are industry experts who are happy to reciprocally share knowledge, insights and networks. These relationships are critical to getting a well-rounded understanding of the technical aspects of the sector.

What do you do to continue the development of both your recruitment and personal skills?

I am fortunate that Robert Walters provides ongoing training and development via internal channels. They often engage external speakers and leaders to develop our skills. For example, we recently had John Buchanan (ex-Australian Cricket Coach) work with us on building and retaining high performing teams; the parallels between team sports and recruitment are significant!

I regularly attend RCSA events and find the webinars useful, particularly for legislative changes and/or other updates/disruptions relevant to our industry.

From a personal perspective I invest in development that I feel I need or am interested in. I have done short courses on everything from commercial negotiations to time management and have mentors that I work with to assist me in my development.

Do you use statistics or KPIs to manage your performance? If so which ones and how do you use them?

With my engineering background I have always enjoyed crunching the numbers. The metrics I pay most attention to are:

– Conversion rate/Fill Rate

– Face to Face Meetings (Client & Candidates)

We measure most of the usual KPIs but I find that conversion rates give you great clarity around who your key clients are, who might be wasting your time with, and where you have weaknesses in your talent pool.

I believe recruitment is all about relationships, knowing your candidates and clients beyond their technical needs/capabilities so face to face meetings are a key metric for me.

Over time, I think you naturally know how you are performing, and a good recruiter is their own best judge. I think measuring and managing performance using KPIs is important for new recruiters to give them an understanding of how they need to approach their desk.  When you look at KPIs across high performing recruiters they naturally exceed targets without having to actively measure them, but this takes time.

Who have been important influences in your recruitment career and what have those people specifically contributed to you?

Not wanting to be too clichéd, but my parents have had a huge influence in my recruitment career. They started a retail jewellery business in our small town in the 80’s so from a young age they influenced my perception of hard work and owning your own business, but mostly they instilled the importance of personal reputation in me. A frequent saying at home was; “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and seconds to ruin it” and I have carried this through my career.

I have been fortunate to work with some fantastic people over the years, the biggest influences have been:

Louise Campbell – MD, Ireland (Robert Walters): Louise helped me define and understand my contribution and value in the market and how to rely to clients and candidates in my early career and supported me every step of the way.

Gemma Allen – Director, Ireland (Robert Walters): I always remember Gemma telling me the following about business development in the early days: If a client gives you a job on the first call, they give it to every recruiter that calls, recruitment is about the relationship, don’t get distracted by the illusion of a “job on”, focus on building relationships.

Sinead Hourigan – Director, Qld (Robert Walters): Sinead has been an incredible professional and personal influence since I arrived in Queensland in 2012. She has helped me transition from a consultant to leading a team, has supported my growth internally with Robert Walters and has been a brilliant confidant over the years, both from a professional and personal perspective and we have a lot of fun doing it.

What do you attribute your win in RCSA 2018 Recruitment Professional of the Year to?

I was so proud to be nominated by Robert Walters and genuinely never expected to win it, there are so many fantastic recruiters in the market! I do believe that the win reflects the hard work and commitment of the whole team at Robert Walters from our receptionist Tash, who meets and greets every client and candidate, through to all the consultants, leadership team and back office support.

In 2014 in Queensland, we recognised that there was a significant infrastructure boom on the way and myself and Tim Cornwell, my colleague, worked extremely hard to position ourselves for the next wave of major projects. We were disciplined and strategic about the key clients we wanted to partner with and it took us about 2 years to solidify these relationships and gain significant market share.

This market positioning; support from the business to grow out the infrastructure market and the people who I work with every day had a huge role to play in my personal success and ultimately winning this award.

What personal philosophies drive you each day in your job?

I’ve always believed: If others can do something, then so can I (except anything musical or arty!!). This mantra got me through the first six months of recruitment!

I get genuine satisfaction from recruitment and this is what truly drives me. I love my clients and candidates and am really invested in delivering for them, but temper this with the fact that we are not brain surgeons and while we play a very important role in industry, it is not life or death!

(Sir) Alex Ferguson (legendary manager of English Premier League team; Manchester Manchester United) always say to be consistently successful you have to do the basics well and I think this is very relevant to our daily lives in recruitment!

Many thanks for your time, Jane, and all the best for the future.

My pleasure, Ross, thanks for asking me.

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