Understanding Recruitment

Understanding Recruitment knows how to keep its employees engaged. After all, this is now the third consecutive year that the St Albans-based staffing firm has been a grand prize winner in SIA’s Best Staffing Firms to Work For contest.

Understanding was founded in 2007 by duo Chris Jackson and Dale Swords, both of whom attribute the group’s high level of employee engagement to the support that Understanding gives to its staff without micromanaging them.

“As a business we offer our staff complete autonomy,” Jackson says. “We really look to give them the freedom to express themselves and to work in the style that suits them.”

Opportunities Galore

If you ask Understanding’s staff what makes it a best firm to work for, it comes down to one word: opportunity.

Mat Ferdenzi joined Understanding in 2015 and now heads up the AI and machine-learning team. Before recruitment, he worked in films for several years, which he says prepared him for the business. What he loves about Understanding is that there’s no limit to the amount of opportunity within the company.

“There’s no ceiling to the role and you feel like you’re building your own business within a wider company,” Ferdenzi says. Ferdenzi’s managers never told him to get involved with AI; instead, he approached them about it, pitching the idea of the company getting involved in the growing niche.

“I said I want to do this based off research I did,” he says. “Next thing you know, AI and machine learning is one of the biggest things in the company.”

He added that the company gave him all the tools he needed to progress in the company, which he says keeps him engaged.

Recently, Understanding sent Ferdenzi to an AI conference — something he wanted to do in order to network. He doesn’t believe any other company would have given someone with so little tenure such latitude. “They trusted me, and that’s a big thing for me to have that trust,” Ferdenzi says.

Hannah Beach, a machine-learning and AI resource consultant, was fresh out of university when she joined Understanding a little more than a year ago.

“I interviewed with a few other recruitment firms and rejected a few offers,” Beach says. “Everyone made me feel so welcome here. I already felt like part of the team when I was interviewing.”

Beach also considers the opportunities that Understanding offers as the top feature that makes it a great place to work.

“I feel like I have more career opportunities than probably most of my friends combined,” Beach says. “Every bit of training that they could possibly have given to me in the last year, I’ve had. I feel I’ve got the experience of someone who’s been in recruitment for five years.”

To maintain a sense of support for its staff, Jackson and Swords work on the same floor alongside their employees as well as senior staff to remain accessible.

“If you’re having a bit of a down day I always find that the people here are always supportive,” Beach says. “The leadership is always there saying ‘you can do this’ and that is very important to carrying on in a role like recruitment.”

It’s this combination of opportunity and support that keeps employees at Understanding engaged.

Lofty Goals, Big Rewards

“As an organization we offer employees continual challenges,” Jackson says. “We’ve got a number of people who have moved up in our business are now running their own division.”

Everyone in Understanding knows exactly what they need to do to reach their goals and even though the office is a competitive environment, it’s also a reward culture.

The team goes out for lunches to the best restaurants in London and enjoys fun activities. Recently, the team participated in a dragon boat race and a charity event in Scotland.

Other incentives include trips around the world. Last year, staff members travelled to Croatia, while this year, staff members are going to Iceland.

“There’s lots of stuff to get involved with that motivates you,” Ferdenzi says.

But to enjoy these perks, employees must hit 100% of their targets. Inside the office there are tallies for each employee to help motivate them. At the start of every quarter, each employee knows what their targets are.

“In my first year at Understanding I found the goals to be very achievable,” Beach says. Ferdenzi concurs: “It’s a very attainable goal, there’s not just one or two people just going on these trips,” Ferdenzi says. However, it’s not a gimme, Ferdenzi adds. “The targets get more challenging as an employee gains experience.”

The lively office at Understanding also offers amenities such as a pool table, healthy food, as well as a fridge stocked with Prosecco, beer and soft drinks. Understanding also provides gym memberships for its employees, which most of them use incentives and perks help to keep staff motivated.

“We want to make sure that we understand what each individual’s priorities are and then reward them accordingly,” Jackson says.

Engagement From the Start

Understanding looks for candidates who they feel are going to be top performers and who share the same values of their business. “We don’t find too many people who are mismatched in our particular business,” Jackson says, adding that Understanding is transparent with what they’re looking for. “A lot of time and effort is spent sifting through talent,” Jackson says.

Most of the people who Understanding takes onboard are at the junior level in their career and are relatively young, such as Beach and Ferdenzi, who are both in their 20s.

Understanding also takes on these trainees with the expectation that success won’t come overnight. To get the recruits engaged from the start, Understanding taps into their motivations and looks to their experienced members to give junior employees the coaching they may need.

“The leadership team are all homegrown, they’ve all moved through the business so they all share the same vision and the same value, which I think can only rub off on everyone else,” Swords says.

The proof is in the pudding. Understanding will soon be expanding to the US and continental Europe.