The 90s, Noughties and Now. How has recruitment changed?.....or has it at all?

by Giles Hampson

The 90s, Noughties and Now. How has recruitment changed?.....or has it at all?

As part of RMG’s 25th year in business celebration, I have decided to explore how the recruitment market, and indeed me….a recruiter, has changed over the years, as well as how the skills to be successful have largely prevailed through the three decades in question.

I have personally worked in this market since 2007, so whilst I can provide some context for the last 12 years, I have consulted externally on the other years and was interested in the views I heard.

The 90s

Many modern day recruiters would be like ‘a fish out of water’ in the 90s. There was no email, there was certainly no LinkedIN, in fact mobile phones were not really that prevalent until later in the decade. All this amounts to a need to source candidates and clients through face-to-face contact and networking. This resulted in more time being spent ‘out of the office’ selling to clients and candidates. Those who were not able to excel in these areas simply did not make it in the industry.

One of the consequences of this (having spoken to a number of people who recruited in the 90s, as well as ‘clients’ and ‘candidates’ of the time) was a poorer candidate experience. Hiring companies were very much seen to hold the upper hand, there were fewer options for candidates as they simply didn’t have the instant access to the masses of opportunities now available to people. This often resulted in unsuccessful candidates receiving a particularly poor experience. There were none of the same consequences that exist in today’s world (disgruntled applicants can now post negative social media content, poor reviews on Glassdoor, for example).

The Noughties

It is fair to say that the ‘noughties’ was a decade involving lots of disruption and change in a variety of industries. The recruitment sector and the wider employment market was not unaffected by these developments. The biggest threat to the recruitment market over this period had to be the increasing challenge of online job boards and CV databases that were always going to ‘cut out the middleman’ and make the recruitment industry redundant. This time period also precipitated the age of Recruitment Process Outsourcing or RPOs, on a larger scale.

It was certainly a period where recruiters increasingly needed to demonstrate value by accessing and delivering unique talent in the marketplace. Whilst the accessibility of candidates via job boards became seemingly much easier, there was always a feeling that companies utilising this approach were hiring ‘the best of a bad bunch’, and recalling my early days in recruitment, clients were craving the unique talent who were largely disengaged with online CV databases – the ability of a professional headhunter / recruiter at the time to identify and attract unique talent rather than ‘throw mud at the wall’ often set companies apart.

In addition to the fallout of the recession in the last noughties, the above mentioned themes Contributed to a change in the recruitment sector, with many businesses unable to adapt to new market demands, whilst those that embraced the challenge, flourished significantly. In fact as a brief anecdote, 2009/10 saw record levels of trading for RMG in a market enduring a recession (record trading later surpassed in 2017 and 2018).


Notwithstanding the clear technological advances and disruptions of the last decade, it is clear to me that the individual skill and craft of a successful recruiter really hasn’t changed in the last ten or indeed 30 years!

Technology has undoubtedly created efficiencies over recent years. The ability to quickly and efficiently research client companies through effective use of alerts and tracking news, makes one often appear more researched than in previous years. There are other efficiencies created via the ability of a recruiter to quickly check the background of a prospective candidate (typically via LinkedIN) and rule people in or out of a job process without the need for unnecessary conversations.

Conversely, I have found that in my own experience as well as the experience of other recruitment leaders whom I’ve spoken with, technology can create great inefficiencies.

It is a mistake to believe that advances in business social networking bring ‘all the talent in the world to your fingertips’. The reality is that accessibility of data has been getting easier for years! Ten to 15 years ago, a company would outsource the research of names in a given industry, in fact as recruiters we would often sub-contract any particular research that required a ‘deep dive’ into an area of the market we are unfamiliar with. Today, this data can be easily found through effective Boolean searching.

Given the above information and assertions, one would believe that to be a successful modern recruiter simply requires a strong social media presence and the ability to carry out effective, lawful, hacking of data! The reality is that it is not about the data, or availability of it – it is about the skill base of a recruiter to attract and secure interest from the human at the end of that data. The success of a modern-day recruiter lies in the human factors associated with attracting and gaining interest from candidates whom are used to being approached, and often have over-inflated opinions of their true worth as a result. Speaking with a highly-respected recruitment opinion leader last week, who has been in the market for over 30 years, convinced me that the skills and attributes of the successful 90s recruiter are more relevant than ever in today’s market. The other reality is that candidate experience is improving, due to hiring companies becoming more conscious of their social footprint and long-term employer branding. This means that employee engagement, onboarding and talent tracking is arguably far higher up on the boardroom agenda than in previous years.

As suitable close to this piece is to make a prediction about what recruitment will look like in a further 25 years?! Given the rapid development over the last few years, it would be a forlorn effort to predict with any accuracy how the landscape will look in the 2040s, but if I was a betting man, I’d wager that a number of the positive human traits that have sustained recruiters over the years, will still be relevant, and the ability of a recruiter to embrace the technology of the day and combine that with the human capability to engage will still be key.

Thank you for your time in reading

All the best


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