Recruiting for membership bodies: (3) how to fill a specialist role

Susie Schofield writes: At FJ Wilson Talent Services (FJWTS) we work closely with professional membership organisations, awarding bodies, and learning providers. In the process, we have been fortunate to gain a number of insights into talent acquisition and management in these sectors.

Here we continue a five-part series with Lucy Carmichael, Director of Practice at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and  Adam Harper, Director of Strategy and Professional Standards at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), in which they kindly share their thoughts on recruiting candidates for member organisations’ professional standards departments.

In this third part, we asked Adam and Lucy how important is it to have a recruitment consultant who understands the specialist nature of their business and its context

Adam Harper

‘Extremely important,’ was Adam’s reply: ‘Given the challenges that can be faced in finding a suitable calibre of candidates for specialist roles and functions, being able to rely upon a recruitment consultant who understands your organisation and what you are looking for is essential.’

Lucy first came into contact with FJWTS when her previous Head of Professional Standards left to a position in which FJWTS had placed him. Lucy immediately asked him, ‘Who stole you? I want to work with them!’

Lucy Carmichael

She knew that the role of Head of Professional Standards at RIBA was ‘critical to the business’ and that Lucy was ‘quite confident that we were not going to get the right candidate through the open recruitment process because it is such a specialist role and that there is a limited pool of candidates.

‘We needed someone who was already in an equivalent specialist role as you can’t transfer skills to it.’

Adam expanded the point: ‘The risk associated with having unfilled positions is a significant one, both in terms of the time-commitment involved in going through an extended recruitment process or in terms of perhaps appointing someone who isn’t of the required standard.’

Lucy justified the expense of hiring a specialist agency by arguing that ‘with this particular role, we had to have continuity [of service] as the risk to the business was too great. We had to ensure a smooth transition.’

Working with FJWTS was, says Adam, ‘unlike any recruitment process exercise’ he has encountered. Fiona [Wilson] gave Adam ‘a lot of confidence in that she understood what it was I was looking for. There was no disconnect’.

After his first telephone call with Fiona, Adam went away ‘very confident that Fiona understood what knowledge, skills and expertise he was looking for’. And, Adam remembers, all the candidates presented by FJWTS were ‘clearly very strong candidates who met expectations and exceeded them’. Ultimately, Adam reports, ‘I couldn’t have anticipated [the recruitment] to have worked as well as it did. I’m really happy.’

Lucy concurs: ‘The cost of not getting the right person is high. If they are not a good fit they are much more likely to leave. Fiona helps find people to whom this would be a good move. She understands candidate-drivers.’ It means you’re ‘not recruiting in a panic’.

Lucy realised that to attract as many people as possible from a small pool she was going to need specialist help. In the end FJWTS put forward nine candidates in total and she found it difficult to shortlist as there were lots of good ones – ‘they were all interview-able’.

A year on, Lucy reports that ‘Carys Rowlands* has settled in well. She’s everything we hoped for in a sense. She’s knocked everything into shape, caught up on outstanding cases and brought about change. She’s highly regarded within the organisation’.



*FJWilson Talent Services placed Carys Rowlands in her current position at RIBA. Look out for our interview with her about her experience of using FJWTS as a recruitment consultancy.


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