Simon Gomez, previously head of talent acquisition and employer brand at wagamama and now Founder of GMZTAlent, reflects on his two-decade history in recruitment, highlighting the industry’s evolution, the shift towards reimagining the candidate experience, and the importance of data in recruitment.
So I said this a few months ago and it genuinely frightened me when I said it: I've been in recruitment for over 20 years! I started in recruitment in 2003 at Kelly Services, which used to be everywhere on the High Street. Recruitment wasn't a career I chose; it just happened. I was a salesperson for an IT company before that. I spent about seven years in agency recruitment, a mix of secretarial and office support, and later moving into banking, finance, operations, back and middle office roles. Back then, you'd walk into a High Street agency with your CV in hand for a face-to-face chat. Job boards existed but were in their infancy. The main ones at that time in London were TotalJobs, Monster, and "Secs in the City" for secretarial staff.
After about a year with Kelly Services, I noticed them closing branches, consolidating them into others to shrink real estate, and transitioned to an independent agency that was acquired by a larger organization. In 2010, after my daughter's birth, I asked myself if I could see myself in agency recruitment at 40, and the answer was no. So, I started looking for more local in-house or RPO roles. Luckily an RPO in Telford that had just won the Pitney Bowes account in Harlow, 20 minutes from my home. I joined as a recruitment business partner and eventually became the account manager for Pitney Bowes.
I talk a lot about the change and transformation I’ve seen in the industry during my career. At some point around 2007/8, LinkedIn became a thing in the UK and kicked off the transition from purely job boards to some social media recruitment. About a year and a half later, Indeed landed. That was a big thing. I remember when Indeed was an office of 5 people in the UK. And then it just kept changing: social media recruitment, using Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, gained traction, and from around 2010, LinkedIn started to dominate.
I spent around five years with ResourceBank before moving to Penna in late 2015/early 2016. I wanted to gain experience in employer branding and communications, and to manage Met Police recruitment for police constables.
And then the pace of change slowed slightly. Programmatic advertising gained more traction, LinkedIn still dominated, and Indeed was massive. Indeed was a one-size-fits-all solution and even though it didn’t work for everyone, it was the ‘big thing’ and everyone wanted it. About six months into my time with Penna, they were bought by the Adecco Group. And that turned out to be the best thing ever because it gave me access to the transformation team. I shifted from recruitment to central services, focusing on change management for their new back-office system. After 18 months in central services, I moved to PeopleScout and was there for just over two years, all the way through the pandemic.
The driver has always been to work in-house, so when the opportunity came up with wagamama to rebuild it after the pandemic, it was too good to pass down. And the rest is history. wagamama is an amazing but extremely fast paced place to work; six months there feels like a year and a half elsewhere.
The biggest challenge revolves around how recruitment is approached. Working with inploi was a game changer for me. This whole CV application process is just so archaic, it’s like a 19th century working practice is a 21st century world. You’ve spoken to someone who you think is the best candidate ever, and the hiring manager says no based on their CV. I just don’t understand it. It’s why I think skills-based assessment has to be the future, especially when you’re in a skill-short market.
And the other challenge, more in line with what you guys do, is recruiting managers having “the way they’ve always done it” mindset. The amount of times where they want to go to a specialist job board, and it may generate the applications but you are probably not going to get your hire from there. And I know because I have seen the data time and time again. It’s trying to explain that to managers and get them to understand the work that goes into finding the most suitable candidates for them.
At some of the places I’ve worked, if you said “we're targeting passive candidates through these channels and we're targeting active candidates through these channels”, it would just blow their mind because they just think “candidate”. They don't understand the motivations and the underlying dynamics.
Massively. Pre-pandemic and pre-Brexit, wagamama had a 35% European workforce, predominantly Eastern European, who would do 50-60 hours a week. That’s now changed. Post-pandemic and post-Brexit, when I left, our European workforce was only 3%. And we were backfilling with a UK workforce that, if I remember correctly, were doing an average of 15-18 hours a week.
We lost a workforce that used to put in long hours, and now we need more employees to make up for it. And they aren’t coming in with the experience, so they need a lot more training. We used to speak a lot about the “time to competence”. For instance, if it takes two weeks of training for someone to become fully competent, but now they are only working 1 or 2 five-hour shifts a week, their “time to competence” is considerably longer. Plus, because they are only doing 2 shifts a week, they may only absorb about 30% of what they are being taught.
This is where the core business challenge lies, tied to the new way of recruiting. It involves speaking to managers to explain that the pre-pandemic/Brexit doesn’t exist anymore, and we're having to do things differently. Including no longer looking at CVs and investing more in training. That’s a big change curve.
It takes time. When we were implementing this new process, inploi and the assessment process, I would say that it’s a 9 to 12 month adoption period to get hiring managers on board. And that’s because the only way you could really demonstrate that it works is through results: data, successful hires, and reminding them when they weren’t going to see someone.
The attraction part is a lot easier, and that’s where inploi helped us out the most. At wagamama, we had a gut feeling that we had about a 70% drop off at the front end of the process. But it was only when we did the London campaign with you guys that the data allowed us to really unpick that, and validate our assumption. wagamama were really open to these changes and by taking the wider people team, and specifically the hiring business partners, on a journey through the rich data we now had access to we were able to quickly get people on board. We’d look at the more active job seeker channels, and then move onto passives, and we would look at the views, clicks, and applies. It all meant something. Playing the numbers back to people meant they knew they didn’t have to worry. So I think that the critical part is evidencing it and the inploi dashboard, and the work we did with you guys to put it in our language, meant that everyone was able to understand it quickly.
In RPO, absolutely. 10% causes 80% of the noise. No questions asked, that’s a no brainer.
Last year at wagamama, I would have laughed at that question. When I started, we had over a thousand live vacancies across 155 restaurants. And in addition to that, we had 138 Fab4 (senior BoH and FOH managers) vacancies live with my team. It was like trying to put the wheels on the car whilst it’s rolling down the road.
Fast forward to this year, and my answer would be yes. When I left, we had fewer than 250 live roles across approximately 165 restaurants. In the Fab4 roles, we only had 35 vacancies, within which we had a few hot spots - Cheltenham, Gloucester, some of the Central London sites - but I wouldn’t say that’s the general rule of thumb. It wasn't the norm last year; it certainly was this year.
Last year at wagamama, our catchphrase was "the need for speed." In hospitality, candidates apply for multiple jobs at once. I made a dummy application to Marugame Udon because I wanted to see how quick they were. I applied whatever night it was, and I had a call by 10:00 AM the next day. I used that as an example back to Wagamama. People want to work for wagamama, but its fastest finger first. If someone’s already in the middle or later stages of a hiring process, they are unlikely to even bother with wagamama unless there was a compelling reason.
And the thing is, we launched a new employer brand this year - “dishing up different” - which is brilliant for the brand. But the need for speed, the need for a great candidate experience is what we really needed to change and why we partnered with inploi. When you go to one of our restaurants, everything is quite quick. But when you applied for wagamama, candidates were waiting for 10-12 days. This is where inploi’s chatbot apply functionality became vital. Our consumers are our candidates, and our candidates are our consumers. We have to ensure our candidate experience matches our customer experience.
The London campaign completely flipped our contract renewals on their head. The data that inploi gave us access to last year meant we knocked out two job boards because it just didn’t deliver anything for us.
And it changed our relationship with Indeed significantly. If you look at the proportion of spend going through Indeed from 2021 to the end of last year, I would say it was a 55% reduction in spend, if not more. And what did that mean? Yes, we spent some money with inploi, but we reinvested that money in other areas to fund other projects like Spotted Zebra and our ATS project.
The biggest opportunity is onboarding. In a recent survey, I asked what was the most mutually important candidate and recruiter part of the process. Everyone said application or interview, and yet no one said onboarding. You’ve done all the hard work of recruiting, paying for advertising, and then you forget about them in the onboarding process. They felt the love all the way through and then it’s just a meh experience. It’s the biggest risk. Even once you’ve onboarded them, if they don’t get a great induction, if they aren’t looked after by their manager, they’ll leave you within 12 months.
I would focus on metrics from attraction to probation complete to getting past their 12 months. You might be hiring from the right source to put the bum on the seat, but if a consistent pattern of poor performance emerges, it suggests that the source isn't providing the right people. That’s the ultimate measure of success for me.
The challenge lies in how people and HR teams often treat recruitment as separate from broader people and HR functions. It means no one has that wider view of how recruitment correlates with success in-role.
ChatGPT is an absolute game changer on so many levels. I recently read an article about how companies are trying to detect ChatGPT usage in applications. And in the article they showed a student applying for a job, and she’s got her laptop in front of her doing an assessment, and she’s got her phone next to her using the listen plugin to give the answer. That’s mental!
I also think it can make talent acquisition life a lot easier. It’s part of the reason behind why I set up GMZTalent. I think specialist teams will shrink and the on-demand talent - the virtual EA (or virtual TA as I call it) - will step in. We talk about people having their side hustles. I think we will start to see more people having multiple side hustles, or at least certainly the subject matter experts.
Don't accept the status quo. Always challenge is there a better way of doing this?
You need to start challenging this weekly because there is always a better way of doing something.