Talent Talk: Q&A with Allen Russell, Sales Director, Xpand

PictureA subsidiary of the Rubicor Group and winner of multiple awards for service excellence, Xpand is one of the marquee IT recruitment brands in Australia. In the backdrop of an economic downturn which has been particularly tough on IT recruitment firms, I caught up with Allen Russell, National Sales Director, to discuss a range of issues including the employment market, candidate sourcing trends, IT skills currently in demand and Xpand.

Q. Allen, can you give a brief overview of Xpand for Destination Talent readers?
Xpand is a recruitment firms specializing in IT&T and Digital Media, with offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore. We provide permanent and contract recruitment, executive search, recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) and research services such as names generation, market mapping and competitive intelligence.

Q. The recruitment industry, especially the IT sector, is reeling under the pressure of the global financial meltdown. How has the downturn affected Xpand and its operations?
We’ve definitely seen a big drop in permanent job requirements. As in any market though, there are niche skill-sets such as security that are still in high demand. Contract requirements have remained reasonably steady and in some areas we’ve seen an increase of contracting requirements replacing what previously would have been permanent requirements. We’ve seen a big increase in the demand for recruitment outsourcing which can drastically reduce recruitment spend.

Q. Is it true that, regardless of the state of the economy, opportunities are readily available for ‘A’ talent? What are you hearing from your clients, are they open to hiring good talent if they are available, regardless of the existence of a position or not?
Definitely. Many companies are turning over the bottom 10% to 20% of their workforce and the smart employers are using this as an opportunity to bring in better talent. For ‘A’ players this means there are lots of opportunities, particularly those that are in revenue generating roles such as sales and marketing.

Q. Xpand invested heavily on sourcing – importing a sourcing expert from the US, and developing a proprietary  search technology. Can you shed more light on this this initiative. What advantages does Xpand have as a result of this investment? 
Yes, a few years back we took a good look at the US market to get a sense of where the recruitment industry was heading and found that research driven recruiting was the big thing. We’d been early adopters of Linkedin, social network and Internet based searching, and found that while very effective, these methods of finding people can be very time intensive.

As a result we identified one of the leading authority in Internet based research and engaged him to establish a dedicated research function, which our consultants can draw upon when they have a hard-to-fill or senior role. Essentially the research team will conduct a targeted search using a variety of tools and techniques (both internet and phone based) to uncover passive talent that’s off the radar, e.g. people that have never applied to a job advertisement. They then populate a hit list, complete with name, title, company, email and phone number which is provided to the consultant to make a direct approach.

In terms of tools, we use a very cool application developed by the same sourcing expert – if you’re interested to know more you can track him down here www.worldinksearch.net – and a variety of other tools available on the web such as Broadlook, etc. We’ve recently started to sell our research capability externally and have some very strong interest from employers wanting to understand their competitive environment in more detail, from a talent perspective.

Q. Xpand often says it operates differently. How are you different from the rest. In other words, why must companies work with Xpand?
I wouldn’t say companies must work with Xpand, but our focus is on employers of choice, marquee brand names and companies that have something unique about them. In summary, we want to work with employers that attract top talent. This in turn enables us to build a strong profile so that top talent comes to us.

The challenge is of course, every recruiter wants to work with the best employers, so we work very hard to provide the highest quality of service. This extends to candidates as much as clients and we’ve been privileged enough to win SEEK’s Annual Recruitment Awards (SARA) in 2003, 2004, 2005 and we were awarded the top honour of "SARA Legend" status in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Besides all that, we try not to take ourselves too seriously and I think we’ve been very successful in building a team of down to earth people who enjoy their work and are fun to work with.

Q. What technical skills are hard to find, if any, in this market? Are there still shortages in some pockets of the market?
We have done extensive research across the Asia Pac region to forecast demand and based on the information gathered there will still be strong demand for Security Professionals (Internet Security, Identity & Access

Management) Enterprise Applications skills such as SAP, Oracle & Siebel, and Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing skills. There are certain sectors of the market that will continue to hire and are considered somewhat "recession proof" and these are the key areas Xpand will focus on in the coming 12 – 24 months.

Allen can be reached at allen (at) xpand.com.au

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