Insights from New York

James Ryding, Global Head of Recruitment, NBC

James Ryding, Global Head of Recruitment, NBC talks to us from his office in New York. Interviewed by Darren Wentworth, Partner, Frazer Jones

What first attracted you to recruitment?

No one wakes up on their 16th birthday and says they are going to dedicate the rest of their secondary education to recruitment. But it does tick a lot of boxes depending on what your motivations are. If you’re motivated by building a business, if you love making a match between someone who needs a job and someone who is looking for a candidate, recruitment is for you. However you get your kicks professionally, recruitment can fulfill those motivational aspects. For me, I got a real kick out of making the match between exactly the right person and the right hiring manager. It’s a very psychological pursuit and the influencing process is fascinating to me.

Do you think certain people are better at recruitment?

In short, yes. You need certain attributes as a foundation in order to be a good recruiter. If you’re organised, have a high emotional intelligence and understand how people tick, you’ll be good at recruitment. I also only ever employ people who are radiators and not drains, as you need to have positive people around you.

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What’s been your steepest learning curve?

Going from agency to in-house was a huge one. The key difference is that if you fail as an external agency, you lose the fee, whereas if you fail in-house the issue doesn’t go away, the manager is still standing by your table asking for people. So there’s less of an escape. Relationships are long term, and incredibly important.

How does working in the US differ from the UK?

The US is very different from the UK. New York is really, really fast and full of people who want to give it their all for five years, be successful and then move elsewhere. The pace of work and socialising is very fast and career progression is expected to keep pace. In the US, if I have a good idea and bring it to my boss, she wants to know why I haven’t done it already, which is really exciting for me. It’s partly a cultural thing, as there’s less of a fear of failure in the US.

What are the biggest challenges for NBC Universal?

From a recruitment perspective, with the economy being in such trouble for the past few years, fewer people have been recruiting. What happened is that recruiters, who are very adaptable, go off and do something else. So we are finding that there is lots of competition for good recruiters. Finding good people and keeping them is hard even if you have a great brand and pay well. The whole marketplace is more competitive than it has been for many years and so at NBCUniversal we’ve put in a really transparent career structure. We have invested in creating a pathway to make it clear how people can grow their careers with NBCU. But for me as long as I’m driving the business agenda through talent, I don’t mind what I’m doing.

Why have you chosen to build a big in-house team? (James has an in-house recruitment team of 55)

It’s about scale, value and repeatability. My team does about 3,200 hires a year. If I was doing 10,000, it might be better to go down the RPO route for a proportion of our hires. From a cost-efficiency perspective, my team provides an average cost per hire of less than $2,000 - the US average is around $5,500 - and so I know it offers very good value and we’ve got the right model. Moreover, if you’re regularly looking for a niche skill set and can build a good pipeline, you’re likely to be better keeping it in-house.

What’s next for talent acquisition?

There are many exciting developments happening in the industry, specifically around technology. LinkedIn has 300 million users, which is incredible. There are sites out there which have almost all the jobs, such as Once you have all the jobs accessible and all the people accessible, it’s about matching the right jobs and the right people and finding out what technology you can use to help you do this. Big companies are going to invest massively in technology, as it is no longer about accessibility of talent, instead it’s about quality. However, the process will never be completely automated, so you’ll never be able to take out the human factor. Recruiters will always be needed to make decisions based on their understanding of a company and people.

Finally, what’s your funniest moment in recruitment?

When I was a young headhunter, my senior consultant fell asleep during an interview we were doing jointly. I decided I was going to let him ask the next question. The silence woke him up and the question he came up with was ‘So how about your wife then – is she married?’ The candidate wittily replied ‘Yes! To me in fact!’. And so concluded our interview.