Moving from a large recruiter to a boutique firm

Luke Higgs joined SRM Recruitment in the summer of 2019 to establish and grow our Northern Home Counties office. Before coming to SRM, Luke worked at some of the world’s largest recruitment consultancies. We want to know, what are the benefits of moving from a large recruiter to a boutique firm?

Luke Higgs large recruiter to boutique firm
Luke Higgs is Business Director of our Welwyn Garden City office

Can you tell us a little about your career path up to this point?
I went straight into a career in sales – my first job after university was at HSBC, selling mortgages, loans, etc, both in a call centre and online, which in 2005 was quite a new area. Around that time, I spoke to some friends who worked in recruitment and it seemed to me that with the commercial acumen I’d gained I might do quite well in the industry. I joined Martin Ward Anderson, which is part of Randstad, a huge global organisation, and built up my professional knowledge there.

When I met my wife, who is from Welwyn Garden City, I decided to move there, and transferred with Martin Ward Anderson. Then, Robert Walters, another leading global recruitment firm, called me to ask if I would come and work for them to set up their St Albans office. It was an incredible experience – I helped grow the team to 12 people, and in year one we made more revenue than any of their other start-up offices.

With a young family, I knew I wanted to work for a company where there would be more flexibility. I considered starting up my own consultancy. Then about a year ago, I met with Andrew Setchell, the founder of SRM Recruitment, who I knew from my early days at Robert Walters. Andrew is someone I trust and respect, and it seemed like the perfect balance – to have the freedom to grow a business but with the support of an experienced team.

What appealed to you about SRM?
When I first considered joining, the main appeal was the opportunity to work with Andrew again. He’s a very talented recruiter, and the network, processes and support he offered at SRM were a combination for success. As an experienced recruiter myself, I was drawn to the culture at SRM, where I would be given the tools I needed, but then would be trusted to do the job. Andrew trusts and values everyone who works for him, from director to consultant level. Sometimes you find that at a senior level in larger firms, but it’s rare for consultants to be given that freedom to manage yourself.

The other big draw was the commission scheme, which is market-leading in terms of what they offer financially. It’s also the work-life balance, which with a young family is really important to me.

How have your first few months been?
It’s been great, though quite an adjustment! I went from an office in St Albans managing twelve people and turning over a million pounds a year, to working on my own. It can be a bit lonely, but you get into your stride, and I recently recruited Liz Hawkins as a Principal, so there are two of us now! It’s a completely different way of working here. Robert Walters was such a big firm, you wanted to register at least five candidates a week, to ‘stock your shelves’. Here, we are much more targeted in our approach and we headhunt for each role. It’s a different pace – you’re doing less but of a higher quality. It took me until Christmas to adapt, but it’s a much better way to go about your business.

I now spend far less time on KPIs and managing other people, and I can invest that time in building relationships with my candidates and clients. It also means I have a lot more flexibility in my working day because I’m so much more productive. I used to work from 7.30am – 6.30pm at the earliest, whereas now it’s more like 8.30am – 5.30pm. That work-life balance is much appreciated as it means I can spend more time with my family.

What sort of people do well here?
This isn’t a classroom environment – we’re all experienced recruiters, so it’s not a training school. People who are motivated and proactive will do well. You’ll be given tools and support, but you’ll have mentors, rather than trainers.

With the maturity in our approach, I think there’s a lot less ego and arrogance you see in some bigger firms. Everyone here is good at their job and there are some great opportunities for all of us as SRM grows.

One of the big opportunities is for people here to really do recruitment. So often, in larger firms, the more experienced recruiters and top billers get promoted to management roles that they may not enjoy, and that takes them away from the actual business of recruitment. Here, regardless of your level, you’re going to be on the front line, recruiting, for most your day.

What advice would you give to someone looking to further their recruitment career?
Try to decide what it is that you really enjoy doing. In a larger firm, you’re likely going to need to choose whether to focus on recruiting and be comfortable staying at a Principal level. Alternatively, if you want to go into management, you’ll spend less time recruiting, but instead you’ll be passing on the knowledge you’ve gained and you’ll further your career through others.

That’s the main difference when choosing between a large recruiter or a boutique firm – at a small firm like SRM, you don’t need to sacrifice one or the other because by necessity you’ll be doing some of both.

Can you sum up how SRM is different?
SRM really headhunt for every role. A big thing for us is meeting candidates even if we’re not going to place them straight away. A lot of those people get jobs and use us to fill their teams. There’s a real emphasis on building relationships.

The culture is so unique, and it’s a great environment to work in. I’m earning money and I’m happy at work – there isn’t a compromise.

You can have a work-life balance here. You don’t have to choose between growing your career and building your family.

If you’d like to know more about working at SRM Recruitment, visit our work for us page and discover what makes us different. If you’d like to have a chat about the opportunities we can offer you, we’d love for you to get in touch.