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My career at Caspian One...


The next chapter in Caspian One’s new interview series - today we speak with UK FinTech Manager, Phil Staples.

In this article we’ll discuss Phil’s journey to Caspian One, the career path he’s travelled, and what his team are achieving today under his management. The full interview can be read below. 

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Let's start with your journey to Caspian One... How did you get here in the first place?

Prior to working at Caspian One I was working as a new business manager for a small boutique insurance firm that dealt with event insurance, the job was - okay. I just... I wanted more. I wanted more money. I got to a point at that company where I just thought “what's next?”  but couldn't see a future within that job, I was feeling quite restricted.

I was friend-of-a-friend with Adam (Vipond). I went to a mate's birthday party held at Adam's house and pulling up,  and I recall thinking “he’s doing alright for himself - What’s Adam do?”. We then got speaking - it was around this time of year six years ago.

The following week I took a look at the Caspian One website to see what they do. I noticed Caspian One were hiring, and it had a list of what they we're looking for - I looked through and thought, “I can do that”.

So I got in touch with Adam, sent him my CV. He forwarded it on internally and that was it. I had a couple of interviews with Dom and Marcus, and then I was offered the job - and luckily It was on UK FinTech which was my preference. I was over the moon. It was a no brainer. I accepted there and then on the phone and then when I started the January I actually worked for Adam, for the first few months.

What were those first couple of weeks at Caspian One like? Quite intense? Just naturally a fit?  Tell me about that experience.

Yeah, intense. I had no recruitment experience and I hadn't done anything with regards to investment banking or IT either, so it was a massive learning curve. I was quite fortunate to be one of five people on the newly introduced training hub. I think that made life easier; going through training, getting up to speed, learning the basics that you would need before then getting onto a desk. Prior to that I think the environment was very different.

I think I was quite fortunate. I joined at a time when people were very supportive, and I found that when I got on a desk the team continued that level of support.

Would you say that the company still encourages collaboration now? Everyone working together to support each other?

Definitely. I think we hire slightly differently now. We've just had someone start on their own rather than in a group, but there’s still lots of training and people on the desk will be very helpful to aid him. It's a really good, collaborative environment.

Excellent. So you’re now working at Caspian One... tell me about what's happened since you joined?

I worked with Adam for about three months. One of the roles I was working on got quite close, but didn't work out, so I started working with Lucy on a couple of client campaigns in Scotland.

We didn’t have many candidates on the database for Scotland at the time, it was a market we'd never really worked previously - but actually, I did really well. It was quite a learning curve. I found the people in Scotland were a bit easier to talk to as they didn’t have the same negative perceptions and ‘recruiter scars’ as the guys in London.

It made Scotland a very different market. It's a bit more relaxed, you have more time, It was good for networking. I think it helped me in my first 12 months, as I was able to find my feet in Scotland… it was almost like i owned the market because we'd never done anything in Scotland before.

It took me four months to make my first deal. I think I went on to do five or six deals that calendar year - so compared to others who started at the same time, I was off to an absolute flyer. At the Caspian One Awards at the end of the year I got ‘Best Newcomer’, beating quite a few new starters that year which I was chuffed to pieces about.  

You mentioned earlier the negative perception people have of recruiters. How difficult is it to get past those views? - particularly with new contacts.

A lot of people do have their barriers up. Typically most people will have maybe two or three contacts that they’ll use; and that's the best way to do it. So it’s trying to make sure you're part of that two or three which is vital... but it can be quite difficult to get get in.

I think Caspian One have a good name. That helps make it much easier, saying you're from Caspian one, which I always do. I get the impression that takes away some of the barriers.

We've got a strong reputation, but also - a good reputation. There are some agencies out there people will entirely refuse to deal with. Other agencies people may consider working with because there's some good people there; but they still know they have to be more selective and cautious.

The Caspian One name has kudos to it, but even then some people still prefer to go direct so it’s just breaking down those barriers. I remember dealing with a candidate that I’ve since placed, who used to put the phone down on me all the time. I persevered and finally after a few calls, we had a conversation.

“No, not interested”

“Okay, what would you be interested in?”

We spoke and I found out what he would be looking for, which started to form that relationship. A couple of months later I believed I’d found something that would be right for him... and I had - and then I managed to place him.

So yeah, it's perseverance and breaking down some of the barriers and remaining profressional, because when you speak to these guys you realise they’re getting 15 - 20 calls a day when they're looking. Good ones are getting 15-20 per day, regardless of whether they're looking or not. You’ve got to appreciate their side of the fence as well.

You mention people typically use only 2 or 3 recruiters - where is the value in this practice?

During an initial conversation, it's not just me talking at them about what I've got - it's me understanding what they're looking for. So therefore, when I do contact them is going to be relevant.

I had a call recently with a candidate that just said;

“look, I'm not looking right now. This is a great opportunity, but I've just moved so I’m not looking right now, maybe a year or so; but I definitely know where to go in the future because whenever you contact me, you always have relevant and really interesting roles”

So they know that if I'm going to call them, I'm not going to waste their time. It's going to be relevant because I know or understand roughly what it is they're looking, and i’ll tailor my telephone calls - appreciating that not only are the getting calls every five minutes from other recruiters, but they’ve also got a day job to do.

Coming back to you then, tell me about how you transitioned from Scotland back to the London market...

We started getting busier in London, and less so in Scotland. I proved myself in Scotland, and then it was a natural transition into London because the salaries and contract rates are higher, therefore the deal values are greater.

I came to the London market still under Lucy, working with pretty much the same clients - just in London as opposed to Glasgow. I had five or six contractors at the time, and then started working permanent roles in London, again making more placements. I had a really strong year, not only from contract placements in Scotland, but also through making leeway with some permanent roles in London, which were good salaries and good deal values.

In that timeframe you also become a Team Lead - and more recently, Manager. Was this due to specific events or achievements, or was it a more natural progression?

Timing was everything. At that stage there was three divisional managers - Adam, Dan Hammond Smith, and then Lucy.  Lucy took an opportunity to work in North America, and off the back of an unbelievable year in terms of sales and billings I took her position, with a promotion to team lead.

I started managing Zack Keane, Mike Baxter and eventually Tom Booth, along with a collection of accounts from Lucy. So within the space of about four or five months I went from being a recruitment consultant, to principal consultants, to a team lead.

How do you balance recruiting and efficiently managing people at the same time?

I’d never really been in a position where I was directly managing people, and also managing accounts. It was almost like going from just managing my own desk, to managing three people's desks whilst also managing accounts... and it was a lot to take in.

Initially my personal sales took a hit because of it, as I put too much time on the guys and not enough time on myself and my accounts. After about a year it became apparent that it maybe too much, so we stripped it back a little bit and I shared some of my accounts with others in the team, retaining those that were smaller, easier to manage.

I focused my time more on doing personal deals and got myself back on track. As a direct result the team could see me doing well, putting me in better position to manage my team. Since then I've been going from strength to strength, including another promotion to manager in the last 12 months.

I started to bring on more accounts and be more involved with account management, so now I'm doing all facets of the job. What was a big learning curve initially (maybe too much too soon) has helped, as now I'm doing the account management, team lead, and still billing myself as well.

Tell me about your team. What's happening now with you and your people?

Me personally, I'm still working Java, mainly FX, although because of a client I brought on recently I'm also doing some work within equities as well. Similar profiles from a candidate perspective, just a different business area.

My team is pretty much all development, looking after anything Java, C++, C#, and the UI stack as well. We cover virtually all development work at Caspian One UK FinTech. Additionally, the team size has doubled... so where previously I was managing just three people, now there are six.

My guys are getting more experienced, they're in a position now where they can start to hire. In general I look after the whole group, but in terms of direct reporting, that's more on the people that have obtained the experience underneath me, who’ve then had promotions since I've been managing them.

So Mike’s gone from a recruitment consultant under me to a principal, and now senior principal consultant. Zack and Tom have gone from consultants to principal consultants and are now talking about senior. Supported by my management they're moving up the chain as well.

You've got to be quite proud of that, seeing people creating their careers with you?

Massively because I know what It was like when I was in their situation, what I wanted. Caspian One has brought me a career, and the path is quite clearly defined. If you join as a consultant or as a resourcer, you know what you need to do to get that that next stage, plus you have that sense of achievement when your promoted, but can still see there’s a next stage ahead.

Finally, is there anything you’d like readers to know about you as a recruiter?

I've built up good relationships with the vast majority of people I’ve worked with (candidates and hiring managers) over the years; in-fact a lot of relationships I developed in my early stages, I'm still working with today.

This is because from a candidate, a team lead, to even a hiring manager perspective  it’s appreciated that I'm not in it for the short term. I've been doing this for six years. I don't envisage that I'm going to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Candidates that I speak to - I'll say that i am speaking to some of the best candidates in the market, they've got multiple offers on the table. I get that, and they're not always going to accept mine. It's fine. We'll just work together when the time is right.

People tend to stay in a role these days, for two to three years before they look at the market again. So there's candidates I've place more than once already, since I've been here at Caspian One and I’m sure that will be repeated again and again.

For people who may be looking to get into recruitment, what I would say is that all of my team, apart from one, never had any recruitment experience. So if you're thinking about getting into recruitment but are concerned about career direction or because you haven't gotten the experience - come to it with an open mind.

There's a lot of internal training, there's a lot of people with experience who will help you. You just have to come into it with the right mindset. You have to come into it knowing this isn't a nine to five and you have to put the hours in, but... put the effort in and Caspian One can change your life. I would strongly advise if you're thinking about getting into recruitment,  coming up and having a conversation with us.

Today’s interview was with Phil Staples, a Manager on Caspian One’s UK FinTech team who’s been with the business since 2013. For more information on Phil see his profile page, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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