No Image Available

Charlie Duff

Sift Media


Read more about Charlie Duff

James Reed: The three Rs – recruitment, retention and relationships


James Reed is chairman of Reed specialist recruitment, who are celebrating 50 years of recruiting. Here he talks Charlie Duff through what has changed in the industry, from recruitment through to talent and retention.


How did Reed start?

Reed was set up by my father, Alec Reed and 2010 is a particularly special year for us as we are celebrating our golden anniversary. This is a fantastic milestone, both on a professional and personal level, because Reed remains a family-run company. My father continues to be involved in the company’s management and I joined the business in 1994 after a career with the Body Shop, Saatchi & Saatchi and the BBC, becoming chief executive in 1998 and chairman in 2004.

The success of the company – we are a leader in the recruitment market with more than 3,000 permanent employees working out of 350 offices across 30 specialisms – is testament to my father’s continued energy, drive and passion over the years. He opened the first Reed branch in Hounslow and very quickly set up the first ever specialist recruitment business, Reed Accountancy, after recognising the need for market segmentation. This innovative spirit has stayed with Reed over the years – we were the first recruitment company to go online in 1995 and today it is Europe’s biggest job site, used by 85% of the UK’s top 100 recruitment agencies.

What has changed most over your time in recruitment?

The biggest change has probably been the shift in employees’ attitudes to their careers. In the past the top priority would have been securing a job for life whereas now the jobs market is much more mobile. Obviously economic factors have impacted this, but increasingly employees are seeking job satisfaction and a good work/life balance above all else, as a result of longer daily commutes and working hours. People are willing to move roles more frequently to secure the jobs they want – ones that come with the reward packages they desire, such as flexible working hours and the ability to work from home.

Recruitment trends have also changed over the years, with the advent of online recruitment standing out as the most significant development. Employers and employees alike are still turning to specialist consultancies such as Reed to help them fulfil their recruitment needs, but the channels have expanded to include online as well as direct communication with candidates and traditional print media advertising.

Are there some things which remain the same?

Businesses will always need good talent. They will continue to look to the recruitment industry to offer specialist consultancy services by drilling into the business needs of the organisation and identifying the right candidates and job descriptions to fulfil that need.

What difference has social media had – or will it have?

Whereas my generation were digital ‘migrants’, those currently in the jobs market are digital ‘natives’ and are much more comfortable with new technology.

The trend toward social media will continue with businesses making greater use of tool such as LinkedIn to stimulate networking, referrals and recommendations. However, our experience tells us that there is a long way to go before social networking replaces online recruitment and recruitment consultancies. Job-seekers and employers are still looking to specialists to broker the relationship between the right candidate and the organisation and this will continue to drive the jobs market for some time.

What will be the main difference about recruitment in the future?

There will be an increase in specialist recruitment as new career paths evolve. In Reed Technology for example, we have noticed a trend for IT project managers who consult not only on technology integration, but also employ great strategic and people skills – this is quite prevalent in the banking sector where large consolidations and mergers are taking place. This is quite a complex skill set to find in one candidate, so businesses will increasingly turn to specialist recruitment consultants to identify the talent they need.

How would you describe the relationship between recruiters and HR, and why?

The role of HR has expanded over the years and as a result so has our relationship with HR departments. Undoubtedly, HR has become a more strategic function in most businesses and has a much stronger presence at board level than it did 10 years ago. The economic downturn has only served to accelerate this and we regularly work in partnership with HR departments to help them manage the recruitment process. However, our work with HR professionals doesn’t end with the placement of a candidate or team. Our Reed Consulting business works directly with HR professionals at every stage in the working lifecycle, both at a strategic and operational level, for example advising on attraction and retention policies, reward benchmarking and employee screening.

It’s important that the HR function continues to grow in stature in this way – as an increasingly knowledge-based economy, understanding and nurturing the talent within an organisation is vital as they are central to the success of a business.

Do you believe there is a good opportunity for organisations to source great talent now as employee mobility returns?

There is always great talent out there and we anticipate some migration of public sector workers to the private sector, following the recent pay-freeze announcement. As the economy recovers in many areas of the private sector, employers do have the opportunity to recruit people with a strong skill set to their organisation. However, despite the economic climate, there is always competition for good people and we are seeing instances of bidding wars developing in areas where particular skills are in high demand.

What makes an attractive employer to your recruitment clients?

People are always looking for interesting and challenging opportunities, but stability and progression are words that our consultants hear every day, so demonstrating these attributes to potential recruits is essential.

Many people are also seeking a more flexible working arrangement with the option of working from home, in an attempt to seek a better work/life balance. This isn’t necessarily about working fewer hours; employees are just seeking a less rigid way of working. Employers that can offer this type of flexibility that is tailored to the specific needs of the candidate will be able to retain talent more easily than those who do not.

How can HR departments hope to retain their best talent at these times?

While traditionally it was a case of whoever offers the most money wins, these days employees are becoming much more discerning in what they are seeking from their jobs. Candidates are seeking more than just the right salary package, they are making their final decision based on which company can offer them the most job security, training and/or mentoring, a career progression path and many are seeking out companies with a good track record in CSR as a must.

James Reed is chairman of Reed Specialist Recruitment.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks Alan

    Glad you enjoyed this Alan – recruitment moves so fast, it was interesting to look at Reed who have been in the industry so long.

    It appears talented candidates are something which survives even the bleakest economic times, and I thought his assertion that HR is more strategic was particularly interesting as I often hear conflicting views on this (and I’d be interested to know your view on it too!)

    Many thanks for your comment –



  2. James Reed Interview

    Excellent interview by Charlie of one of the pioneering companies and leaders in the industry.



No Image Available
Charlie Duff


Read more from Charlie Duff

Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.