“Prague has quickly become a number one spot for young expats,” Kevin Smith and Oliver Donoghue say
22. 8. 2017 +Rozhovory
As NonStop Recruitment gears up to build on its significant growth, with clear plans to take its business model global, Business Animals learns this consultancy hires for attitude rather than aptitude. Why? Well, aside from an industry-leading, award-winning training academy that gives people all the skills they need to become successful recruiters, this pan-European company knows it takes a certain mindset to make it in this highly competitive industry. But it’s more than that, NonStop owners are passionate about giving people a chance – regardless of who they are, where they’ve come from or what they’ve done previously, should they display the right mindset, NonStop wants to give them the opportunity to achieve their potential.
- Kevin Smith, 45 y.o., Founder of NonStop Recruitment
- Oliver Donoghue, 34 y.o., Managing Director
- NonStop Recruitment is a recruitment consultancy the likes of which we have never seen before in Czech. The way they do recruiting is exciting. Sales-oriented. Recruiters here are passionate about their jobs, they get very intense sales training, grow professionally and are able to make truly life changing sums of money.
- Why are they successful? Training and development, pure and simple. They put a huge effort into making sure their employees are taught all the skills they need to become great recruiters, and are supported throughout the process. Their core values lie in running an ethical, sustainable business.
- Kevin is a founder, Oliver got on board in 2004. How? „I wanted to make money, enough money to ensure a comfortable life for myself and my family and I knew recruitment could offer that. As I’d completed en economics degree I thought that meant I had to go into the City of London and work for a financial recruiter but the commission I was earning was not all that much. Then, my recruitment mentor went to work for NonStop for much better commission and the more I learned about the company and Kevin and his ideals, the more I liked it so I applied for a job too.“
- Today, him and Kevin are a smooth-working duo who managed to double the company’s net fee income in only one year. They‘ve also got big plans ahead.
With the above mentioned style, Kevin and Oliver are shaking up the recruitment scene both here in Czech and in their native Britain. They’ve brought a high performance, sales-driven, commercial recruitment style from London to Prague and developed an ever-growing multinational team of currently about 150 young people who are all passionate about their jobs and their lives in Prague.
“It may sound crazy”, Kevin says, “but recruitment, even though that is on the face of it, our product, is actually the by-product of what we do. What we do, and do very well, is train and develop people, including teaching them how to develop other people which in turn, should mean a sustainable business”.
In talking to Kevin about his own background, it is easy to see where this passion for giving people a chance came from.
Kevin, you mentioned you had about 30 jobs in the space of a few years. How did you go from that to wanting to start your own recruitment company?
Basically, university wasn’t really for me, I couldn’t connect the studying with rewards and dropped out after one year. I had great plans to be super successful, but a number of factors meant that it wasn’t long before I was homeless and hungry living in a car in London.
It’s difficult to get a new job when you’re in that situation and have no proper address so I really started at the bottom with a job at a fast food restaurant and by chance started the same day as a man on probation who acted as a Good Samaritan and helped me find support to get somewhere more stable to live.
From there I had a lot of different jobs, driving the Zamboni at an ice rink, selling fish door-to-door despite a mild allergy to fish, and then I eventually found an opportunity in recruitment.
Looking back I can see how many of these experiences taught me that I alone was responsible for my destiny while selling fish taught me customer service and selling and of course resilience.
I seemed to take to recruitment like a ‘fish to water’. In my second month after some initial training I placed eight candidates in new positions, set company records and never looked back.
After three years as a top billing recruiter I wanted to create a new business with different ethics and approach, focusing on developing and training recruiters to deliver an exceptional level of service, something that I felt the industry was lacking.
So your company became a sort of incubator for recruiters – taking people without experience in recruiting and training them to be successful. Wouldn´t it be easier to work with professionals?
Not really. Initially we tried that approach but we found it´s much better to train your own professionals. Back in the UK I had become a little disillusioned with the way some recruitment agencies worked – a by-product of a lack of regulation – and I thought the industry was lacking a professional image. The advantage of training our own recruiters is we could develop the right approach from the beginning, which is much easier than trying to break bad habits of experienced people. It also fits closer with my personal ethics. I suppose we could say its more rewarding taking people with no experience and seeing them become successful business people. I recently heard someone say turning “under dogs into champions” and I think that sums it up well.
When we set up our Pardubice office, it became the training academy, which has now moved to Prague.
Why Pardubice, Czech Republic, of all places you could have gone?
“Simply, I used to play ice hockey and on one of my trips to play in Pardubice I met my future wife. The rest, as they say, is history.”
“We applied for EU funding, to set up the Czech business to supply outsourced recruitment services to the rest of the company. This included operational support, market research and other functions that are commonly outsourced to third parties. We managed to structure it that some of these roles perfectly prepared people for the role of recruitment consultant and so we managed to combine outsourced service provision with basic training.
“Seeing people develop and seeing their lives changing is a huge motivator for me and setting up our Czech office allowed us to take that desire to train and develop people to a location with a much lower cost of doing business (about half the cost of London), meaning we could invest more in their training and development. It allowed us to finally put something much more substantial in place to ensure that we delivered a good service. And to assist more rapid training and development, we built a dedicated Quality Assurance team.”
In this largely unregulated industry, a QA team is unheard of but as Kevin explains, “You wouldn’t get on a plane that had not gone through a thorough quality check, so why entrust your recruitment to a process that is not quality checked?” You’ll read more about why and how this team was developed, and what they do in a later piece but for now, know that QA is key in the training programme, in helping NonStop employees develop and instrumental in proving they are ready for promotion.
“Czech Republic was and is an exceptional location too. For a lot of people from other countries it’s an interesting and exciting culture and for the people we were bringing over initially, the cost of living was much cheaper meaning they could afford to do more with their money here.”
A key requirement of gaining this funding, they explain, was to hire a number of people in Pardubice. They balanced this between expats and local people, building up a very culturally diverse business environment which they say was unusual in the region but created a positive environment locally.
And why did you decide to move to Prague?
(Kevin): It got to the point where it was difficult to grow in Pardubice. The town square seemed to become a NonStop Recruitment party zone every Friday night, I think we just outgrew the city.
As we aim to attract high-achieving people from all over the world, Prague was a logical step. It is an international city, people love to live here and it has a potential to become a commercial centre too. So, we signed an office deal to house 150 people here in Danube House.
(Oliver): We are building a London-style atmosphere, which is quite unique here we think. We love the energy and work hard, play hard mentality that comes with working in London, New York and these commercial centres. It is not typical in Czech, or in Europe, yet Czech especially has a lower cost of living than places like London and New York. We are trying to give an opportunity to those who have this drive, want to learn new skills, want to make very good money and also want a fast-tracked career. Here you work hard, but you can also live a very good life.
Do you have similar mindset as Kevin and Oliver? Are you a high achiever struggling in a job that leads nowhere? Get on board with NonStop Recruitment and become a successful, high-earning salesperson!
In terms of training, how exactly do you work with your sales people? What is the training about?
(Kevin): Well, first of all, the training never stops. When you start, you train the hardest of course. The first couple of months are very intense. We are basically taking people from all over Europe, getting them used to being in an office environment, getting them used to be on the phone. As people are often afraid to pick up the phone and call, we first just get them to talk to candidates we have worked with recently, which has the added benefit of allowing us to check people are happy with our services. Once they get confident with that, they get more in-depth training – how to do recruitment call etc. We also teach softer skills like effective communication and empathy. We try to make it interesting, do role plays, video trainings, classroom sessions, at-desk coaching.
(Oliver): Like Kevin said, the training never really stops. Even when people have become great recruiters, they still have things to learn. This is when we start teaching them how to coach and develop other people, how to become great team leaders, managers and then business leaders. Basically, anyone who joins has the chance to become a NonStop leader should they have the right attitude, as we said earlier, should they be able to apply the training. For these future leaders we have our Business Accelerator Programme, which is basically a very intense mentorship programme with very high targets but also very high rewards. It essentially pushes some of our highest performers to develop faster. Three people on the programme have just met their first Business Accelerator target and been rewarded with a Ferrari.
And in a target-driven environment, how can you realistically maintain ethical standards? We know it can be an issue in recruitment, but your company claims to be very ethical.
(Oliver): First, when you grow your own people, it gives them sense of ethical grounding, you can instil a sense of ethics from day one and not have to retrain them to get rid of any bad habits that could be unethical. Apart from me, Kevin and maybe two other guys, there is no one in the company who had previous recruitment experience.
(Kevin): And the second thing, like we mentioned before, is our Quality Assurance team (QA), which assures the quality and ethical standards are being met. They give valuable feedback to our salespeople, because when you write an ad or make a phone call, you need to know Was it a good phone call? How can I make it even better next time? It‘s like if you were a football player and saw footage of your play in order to see how to improve. A QA team is not really an innovation, but it is in recruitment.
We’ve talked a lot about attitude rather than skills, Kevin, you mentioned earlier you sometimes meet people with the right attitude in shops, for example, and then hire them, so you recruit as you go?
(Kevin): Of course I do. That´s what you need to do – spread the word. I met a great guy in Tesco in Hradec, and hired him for the QA Team. Basically, as long as people have a positive attitude, are resilient, self-motivated and willing to learn, we can help them achieve.
(Oliver): Kevin is right, because when people have that energy, that enthusiastic mindset, they go out and experience the world but then quite often they end up working in shops or restaurants. Because, they´ve lived abroad, perhaps worked in the USA or Australia, they’ve travelled but now they’re back and realise: Well, I don´t have experience as a project manager or in real estate, what can I do to provide for myself? I wish they knew there is this opportunity at NonStop Recruitment.
And how do you as individuals make sure you always have that positive attitude? As leaders of such a fast-growing business, it must be stressful sometimes and difficult to maintain that attitude. How do you manage to stay at the top of your game? Can you give our readers five tips?
- Exercise. (Oliver): We both learned the hard way that exercise is important. People who work the hardest generally get given the most responsibilities and over time you come to a point where there is too much on your shoulders and you become ineffective. We were both pushed to our limits, so I signed us up for the New York marathon. That was a game changer.
- Exercise some more. (Kevin): We also did this race across New Zealand, where you start with a 3km run, 55km cycle, 33km mountain run then the next day a 15km cycle, 70km white water kayak, then 70km more cycling. It was epic. The scenery is beautiful but it was the hardest thing I´ve ever done. I remember the camera man at the top of the mountain shouting „Run for the camera, run for the camera“ and all I could answer was: „I´m never running up a mountain ever again.“
- Find your peer group. (Kevin) You need to surround yourself with people who have a similar story, who know how hard can it be to run a company – business mentors and business peers.
- Get a dog. (Oliver) We both got dogs because they keep you moving. I did a 20km run yesterday and Kevin woke up at 6 this morning to walk his dog before flying from Switzerland to Prague.
- Get perspective. (Kevin) Last thing that‘s important, I believe, is to step back as a CEO of the company. You need to see the business in perspective, think a little bit outside the box, see where and how the change is needed. My life has got a little bit easier now and I get to do all that because Oliver is more in control of the business, managing the company.
Photo: Petr Klempa