Recruitment sector awards: stand out from the crowd

14 Oct 2018

Business people

We are in awards season, with the APSCo Awards for Excellence and the Recruitment International (RI) Awards taking place in October. Recruiter and Global Recruiter magazines and the REC also lay on very popular awards functions during the year. That’s not to mention the many general business awards that exist on a national and local level. The reception areas of the recruitment businesses that I visit are often full of trophies and certificates.

Do these awards serve any purpose and, if you’re going to bother entering, how do you maximise your chances of being victorious? We are regular judges for the APSCo and RI Awards, as well as current (and previous) winners of the APSCo Affiliate Member of the Year Award, so we thought we should share our experiences by creating this short guide for those agencies considering entering for awards in the future.

Why bother?

In an extremely competitive sector, the ability to differentiate yourself from other agencies can be particularly valuable in terms of discussions with clients, contractors/candidates and staff. Agency owners looking to sell their business can also benefit from the publicity that comes with winning awards.

Preparing content for an awards entry form is an opportunity to reflect on what you do well and what you could do better. Even if you’re not successful in winning the award, the feedback from judges and the process of doing some self-analysis can often result in a business making changes that will improve the experiences of clients, candidates/contractors and staff.

Preparing a successful entry

Having reviewed hundreds of awards entries over recent years, certain themes clearly emerge that differentiate winning entries from the rest. We see far too many generic comments, such as “we provide outstanding client service” or “we provide a dynamic working environment for our staff and excellent opportunities for progression”. One of the most important factors in a successful awards entry is therefore to back up these claims with as many facts as possible. This can include client and contractor surveys, client case studies and testimonials, staff satisfaction surveys, staff retention rates etc.

We are also seeing an increase in the number of agencies who monitor their Net Promotor Scores. If possible, the investment in training should be quantified in terms of hours and monetary value and the return on that investment should also be reported in an awards entry. That could for example translate into the number of promotions, an improvement in net fee income, margins, client retention or staff productivity.

Judges are increasingly looking for examples of CSR initiatives, as well as a focus on diversity and inclusion in the workforce. They also expect to see a very clear business strategy for growth that is understood by staff and reflected in working practices and key performance indicators.

Top tips for success

Here are some of our top tips for awards success:

  • Don’t get fixated on one thing about your business that you think you do amazingly well – others may not think it is that important, or that great.
  • If attending an interview/pitch meeting, don’t use props (videos, audio, big handouts etc) – try to keep it intimate and personal.
  • Make sure your pitch team are suitably senior, eg don’t send in a junior marketing team member or a mid-level consultant. Judges will usually expect to see and speak to the business owner(s) and/or someone from the senior management team.
  • Ensure your pitch team has a good grasp of the financials of the business, as this is often an area which gets asked about. It’s all too easy to demonstrate a lack of understanding of your business if you aren’t familiar with at least the ‘headline’ financials.
  • Make sure the vision and strategy of the business are clearly and concisely articulated both in the written submission and at any pitch meeting – don’t waffle or give an unclear message. You need to be crystal clear and punchy.
  • Be prepared to answer the question: how will winning this award affect your business? Or, what are you going to do about it if you win this award?
  • Stick to word limits in any submission documents, and stick to time at a pitch meeting. At a pitch, make sure you allow time for judges to ask you questions – don’t talk so much that you leave the judges feeling like they didn’t get chance to ask all the questions they wanted.
  • Be confident, but humble – humility counts for a lot!
  • Avoid ‘management speak’ or clichéd/over-used industry phrases – the chances are somebody before you has already used it, and it will weaken your pitch. Keep it factual and clear.
  • Do a pre-mortem: sit down as a pitch team beforehand and identify what your weaknesses are (not personally, but of your submission, and the business generally) and what you will say if challenged on them. Be prepared for the question(s) you really don’t want to be asked.
  • You won’t win an award based on things you are going to do, only on things you have actually done (and have evidence for – both the doing, and the effectiveness of). Don’t try to sell your vision of what your business will be like in two years’ time, or what you want it to be. You’ll only win it based on what it is now, and what it already does.

In summary, winning an award can provide real benefits for recruitment agencies, but success will not come down to offering staff free bowls of fruit and reward trips to Ibiza or Las Vegas. Rather, the entry needs to be crammed full of evidence to demonstrate how you set yourself apart from other agencies in an incredibly crowded market. If you have entered any awards over the course of this ‘awards season’, then good luck!