Interview: Slow Recovery Expected Across Europe as Executive Recruiting Sector Bends with the Times

December 17, 2009 – Catherine Brossard is founding partner of HR consulting firm AIMS International France. Since its inception in 1994, Ms. Brossard has specialized in one-on-one executive coaching, team coaching, skills assessment, HR development training, managerial and team competency development, and executive recruiting. Ms. Brossard built her career in the high technology sector where she gained invaluable sales experience; this was followed by roles in human resource management. Ms. Brossard has an MSc and PhD is psychology from Sorbonne University in Paris, where she headquarters her business today. In the following interview, Ms. Brossard discusses the slow recovery she expects to see across Europe in the executive recruiting and human capital management sectors as European economies continue to struggle with the deepest recession the continent has witnessed for decades.

Catherine, over lunch in Paris last month you seemed quite concerned about the current state of the economy in Western Europe. What is your primary concern and what other concerns do you have?

We have major business problems with the economic crisis and our national and European political cash economy. It is still a big issue for next year.

Do you anticipate a slow recovery across Europe? Are you concerned about other regions making significant gains on Europe — like China, India etc?

It seems impossible to project a recovery. We do not know how long the recession period will be – it is anyone’s guess. We can only hope that indicators begin to point in the right direction around the world. Of course, we are concerned about other regions gaining on Europe because it modifies our labor market and our economy. Countries which I think we can begin to see gaining on Europe are not only India or China but Eastern Europe too.

How has the recession been in Paris and how badly affected have headhunters been in this market?

The headhunting industry in general I estimate is down some 30-40 percent in this market.

We've also been told that business in Paris might be down as much as you say — are you starting to see some signs of improvement as we enter 2010?

I am sorry to say that we see no real sign of improvement yet – but we are patiently waiting!

Has this downturn provided an opportunity for search firms to reinvent themselves and their businesses?

I don’t think so. Those who already worked in ancillary business lines are the ones who, like me, had work in progress in the overall talent development business. But I have seen recruiters focus their business approach on services like coaching, management assessments, human resource consulting, etc. But it only can be efficient if you already have competencies in this area.

What pressures have you seen clients put on your business? Have fees been crammed down at all?

Clients play with competition and fees. When they need to recruit, they are even more focused on large competencies and skills scale and on time limited assignment.

Are buyers of recruiting services now expecting more from you — more assessment services, more leadership development training, more coaching — and if so how difficult can it be to provide these services while at the same time trying to run a small, traditional recruiting-focused business?

Some buyers want more talent management and human resource consulting work done, yes. This would include areas like talent acquisition and talent development. In our case, we have been working in both talent development and acquisition for years, so it is not so complicated for us to run on those two service lines.

There seems to be a significant global contraction happening in the recruiting profession today — how concerned are you about the recruiting sector right now and in the next couple of years? Will there be time to survive the downturn for most recruiters?

That is a very difficult question. The recruitment market has changed a lot over the years, most especially since the internet revolution. Job-boards, big company websites and also social networking sites are changing lots of things, and changing them rapidly. Having a large set of competencies and services, being very professional and international in focus seems in our point of view to be the possible combination of skills and talents to win the game. But we have to stay humble.

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