Jason Elias, FRCSA is a shining example of how attracting high calibre young talent into our industry pays big dividends for the long term health of the recruitment sector.
As a high achiever at school in Sydney, Jason completed a BA and a LLB at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) while finding time to get involved with plenty of on-campus activities, including the University’s Debating Society. Ultimately Jason represented UNSW at the World University Debating Championships in South Africa.
During varsity vacations Jason supported himself by working as a Gentil Organisateur (GO) throughout the Club Med resort network. The GO role encompassed working in Kids Club, Entertainment and Public Relations teams in places such as Bali, Noumea, Lindeman Island, Huatulco (Mexico) and Coral Beach (Eilat, Israel).
In 1996 Jason completed his Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the College of Law and after only three years as a lawyer he decided recruitment looked a more interesting career option.
Elias Recruitment kicked off in 2000 and, predictably enough, given his many student leadership positions, Jason soon accepted a leadership role within the local chapter of NPA Worldwide which started his passion for industry-wide collaboration.
Jason carved out some time from his many current roles including; Chairman of the RCSA NSW/ACT Regional Council; Chairman College of Law Alumni Association and CEO of his own agency, Elias Recruitment to answer my questions about his win in the recent RCSA (Australia) Awards.
Ross: What was your background prior to becoming a recruiter and how did you come to choose recruitment as a career?
Jason: I was an IT lawyer at Baker McKenzie in the 1990s, which at the time was the largest legal firm in the world. Whilst studying law I also worked at Club Med resorts around the world on and off for several years.
Like many, I fell into recruitment. I liked people more than documents so made the transition to legal recruiter in 1999 and started my own firm in 2000.
What aspects of recruitment did you find the most challenging when you started?
The same thing I find now; time management. You want to help everyone but there are not enough hours in the day. Learning to prioritise is still a challenge.
How long did it take working as an employee before you realised you wanted to start your own business?
I was mentored by the wonderful Adrienne Langman at a company called Learned Friends. The moment she left there, I knew it was time for me to start my own business.
What did you find to be the biggest challenges in moving from being an employee to running your own business?
Like many who like sales, admin is not a strength of mine. Getting on top of the financials, the compliance and managing a tight start-up budget was definitely a challenge. I remember being covered in black ink trying to manually fill cartridges as it was cheaper than the genuine replacements.
Why did you decide to seek to become more broadly involved with the recruitment industry, firstly with the NPA and then the RCSA?
I found out about the NPA by accident really. I advertised in a publication and saw another agency in accounting did the same. I arranged to meet Owen Firth (Careers Australia and then Finance Mark) for a beer at the Shelbourne in Sydney. We became mates and he introduced me to NPA in 2004. I joined on a Monday and attended my first conference on the following Wednesday. I was elected onto the board as the Australian Director from 2007-2011.
I have been involved with the RCSA since I joined the industry. I think it is important to be part of the peak body for many reasons including ethics, lobbying and professional development. I stepped off the NPA global board in 2011 and with the spare time, I became more involved in RCSA. I have been on the NSW/ACT Regional Committee for many years and have been Chair since last year when the wonderful Nina Mapson Bone rose to National President.
How has this industry involvement helped develop your leadership skills?
Sitting around a boardroom and working on committees teaches you a lot about people and about yourself. I try and lead by consensus and this is not always easy with disparate views and personalities.
I try and use empathy and realise we are all volunteers aiming for similar goals. NPA has been particularly good for getting an appreciation of cultural diversity as our board is comprised of Directors from Hong Kong, UK, US, Canada, Indonesia, Korea, Germany, The Netherlands, Brazil and Australia.
Who have been important influences in your recruitment career and what have those people specifically contributed to you?
Graham Jenkins has been very generous to me over the years as a mentor and a sounding board. I am also indebted to the many excellent trainers not least of all you; Ross. As you know, all my new staff attend your Rookie Training Program.
Belinda Kerr runs an excellent Accelerator Program and I never tire of hearing Greg Savage who keeps reminding us of the important basics we too often forget.
I also am lucky to have a few trusted recruitment buddies who generously act as a sounding board for me from time to time – including Anita Hagarty, Glenn Arnold, Paul Hallam, Erica Westbury, John McCluskey and Fred Molloy. I also constantly learn from my amazing team at Elias Recruitment who keep to our mission of helping lawyers with their big career decisions.
What do you attribute your win in RCSA 2020 Australian Recruitment Leader of the Year to?
I think COVID has had some silver linings, one being that recruiters are learning to collaborate more. My win is a win for all those who believe in collaboration and the concept that half a loaf is better than none.
Those who are happy to work together to help candidates and clients get the best match possible. Through the NPA I have learned the value of collaboration and at least 30% of our revenue is through working with other recruiters.
What are the most important things that a recruitment agency leader should focus on to build a team with strong morale, excellent skills and outstanding results?
Simon Sinek says it best: Find your why? Make sure you know why you are in the role- help your candidates develop their careers and help your clients get the talent to grow.
I am not a fan of KPIs and metrics (wish this was the case but my brain isn’t wired that way) and leave it to common sense, deep understanding of your niche and being authentic in all your interactions.
What personal philosophies drive you each day in your job?
I remember when I started law the partner, who I was assigned to, mentoring me on legal ethics- he said never do anything that you wouldn’t want your mum to read about on the front page of the newspaper.
Maybe it is my legal background, but ethics have always been key for me. I also love the thrill of each and every placement- even after 20 years in. The making a match, the call to tell the candidate she has the job and the client that the candidate has accepted.
I won’t lie- getting a juicy fee is always appreciated too. There is no other industry where we get to write our own pay cheque like recruitment.
What’s something about you that very few people in our industry would know about you?
I am a sucker for game shows and was on Sale of the Century and Wheel of Fortune. I won a trip to Cairns!
What advice would you give to a recruiter who has leadership ambitions?
Go into it for the right reasons. Work out what you are trying to do and find your why.
Communicate effectively, be empathetic and authentic; do what you say you are going to do.
As Groucho Marx said “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
Thanks for answering my questions, Jason, and all the best for the future.
Interview with 2017 SARA (Aus) Recruitment Leader of the Year: Claire Woodhouse of Fircroft