Colin Cottell uncovers the secrets of the social media guerrilla
Two years ago Bill Boorman was at a low ebb. “I watched the training business I had built up flow away pretty rapidly. I had nothing,” he says. Today Boorman is ranked the third most influential person in the field of online recruitment.
From contemplating a future of DIY and gardening, Boorman now lists Hard Rock Café, Sodexo and Accenture among his clients. It’s quite a transformation for someone who himself admits is “not remotely technical”. From 50 LinkedIn connections, mainly family and friends, Boorman has now posted more than 46,000 Tweets and built up a worldwide following.
Sitting in the lounge of the City Hotel on the fringes of London’s Square Mile in the City, wearing a black leather motorcycle-type jacket, trademark bowler hat and black t-shirt, Boorman is clearly revelling in this new yet seemingly unexpected phase in his life. “Everything has been an accident,” he says on more than one occasion, as if unable to believe his luck.
The City Hotel is not just any hotel, however, but the venue for the latest in a series of events Boorman has organised that have not only helped resurrect his career, but are also arguably shaping the future of recruitment.
It’s about skills and what people can do, not what bits of paper they have. It is not about job titles. Go look for people, not for CVs
Boorman’s events are attended and followed through social media by some of the world’s leading thinkers and practitioners in social media in recruitment. Thought leaders, such as Kevin Wheeler, as well as corporate recruiters, such as Arie Ball, Sodexo’s vice-president of talent acquisition, are regular attendees at Boorman’s conferences. Actually, that should be unconference. September’s #TruLondon event was just the latest in a series of unconferences that Boorman has organised in places as far-flung as Romania, Sweden and the US.
First thought up in IT, an unconference is like no event most recruiters will have ever attended (see below). It was only two years ago that Boorman attended his first recruitment unconference in Dallas, where he gave a keynote address. At his second in Toronto, Boorman recalls, as the only person dressed in a suit and tie, because it was so hot he went and sat underneath a tree. “People came out all day and we just talked about recruiting and candidate experience, and all kinds of things,” he says. Boorman was hooked. “I just thought I loved this concept of the unconference no presentation, no PowerPoint and it was very participative,” he says.
From his first #Tru London event in November 2009, Boorman’s unconferences have clearly struck a chord. If all goes to plan, 15 unconferences will have been held during 2011, in three continents and next year Boorman plans 30.
Boorman seems an unlikely man to be at the forefront of social media in recruitment, a phenomenon that some believe could revolutionise the profession and the industry. “I am not a technical person in any way. I am not a digital media person. I always consider myself a recruiter and I have never really done anything else apart from work in the recruiting space,” he says.
And indeed it is more by luck, actually bad luck, than by design that he has ended up where he is today. Leaving school aged 16, Boorman worked for a number of City recruiters. Told he would never make it, and despite being sacked three times, Boorman persevered.
After 12 years at Primetime Recruitment as training director, Boorman set up his own training company. However, this was hit by the 2008 recession. “I had no purpose for getting up in the morning,” he says. Faced with a choice between “the washing up, cleaning, DIY or gardening, or to trying to do a bit of something”, Boorman chose “to do a bit of something”.
He admits that at the time he had no idea where he was going. But he took the plunge nevertheless. He first dabbled with social media, doing a bit of Tweeting and setting up ’The Good News Group for Recruiters’ on LinkedIn simply, he explains, “because everything was bad news at the time”.
Incongruously, Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles sparked Boorman’s interest in Twitter as he listened in his car and soon he was captivated by the buzz around social media.
“All Twitter is is a giant version of everyone poking their noses over the wall and having a little look into other people’s lives. I think recruiting is like that, in that you are asking questions and gaining information all the time about lots of different worlds. And when you put that into Twitter or Facebook you can be pretty informed about most things,” he adds, explaining why social media and recruiters make good bedfellows. Boorman’s Tweeting and re-Tweeting soon began to take off he has now posted more than 46,000 Tweets and counting.
This led to an appearance as a guest on Recruiting Animal, a US online ’shock jock’ type radio show. After one show featured mobile applications, Boorman began to realise that in some ways the UK was ahead of the US in how it used technology in recruitment. “We had been doing text messaging for 15 years as standard,” he says.
“I began to realise there were really early adopters in the industry, who had an interest in pioneering things. We were all trying to work out how to we use these channels for recruitment,” he says.
Not surprisingly, Boorman believes that the rise of social media within recruitment is more than just self-generated and self-perpetuating hype from the social media ’in crowd’. He points to his own success in using Facebook to find 120 staff for The Hard Rock CafŽ in Florence. And he positively drools over the success of Ivan Stojanovic, a recruiter at Irish staffing firm CPL, who used Twitter to source 27 specialist IT staff, even though they didn’t have CVs and weren’t looking for work.
However, Boorman is also appreciative of the business opportunities that #Tru and the social media buzz that has built up around him has provided. He describes how Keith Potts, the founder of Jobsite, contacted him on Twitter to ask if he would like a sponsor for #TruLondon. “How many calls would I have to make to get that?” he asks.
Boorman is also aware how his blogging and his Tweeting have enhanced his own personal brand, catapulting him to number three in the trakkr/HRExaminer index of “most influential online recruiters”.
His influence is not lost on Craig Fisher, founder of social media consultancy Fishdogs. It was Fisher who invited Boorman to his first unconference in Dallas. “He [Boorman] stormed onto the Twitter scene with a plan to Tweet more than anyone in the space. He did just that, gaining notoriety and considerable influence among recruiters worldwide. He is a great connector and uses technology and networking to that end like few people I know. He thinks, he studies and he innovates. Our community is much richer for his involvement.”
Rob van Elburg, owner of IT recruiter RAVE-cruitment, says Boorman’s contribution has been unique. “Gathering the best recruiters in the world, in cities like Amsterdam, Boston, Bucharest, London, Stockholm, Melbourne, Kaapstad… Only one person can do that. Bill Boorman. He is the right man, in the right time, in the right job to make this all happen. Inspirational, entrepreneurial, disorganised, unconferencial and most of all great fun.”
However, Boorman himself appears keen to play down his own importance. “#Tru is more important than Bill Boorman. It’s more important to push the conferences so they continue to run themselves,” he says. That said, when asked to define himself, his answer is perhaps illuminating: “My job title is being Bill Boorman, really,” he says.
Boorman has undoubtedly become a popular character on the social media recruitment scene. After someone spilt coffee on a t-shirt last year, around 70 people tweeted pictures of it. Boorman now changes his t-shirt seven or eight times a day.
Always with one eye on humour, one of his favourite t-shirts is emblazoned with ’I poached your HR manager’. And wherever he goes, Boorman has become known as “the guy in the hat”. He now sports a growing collection, from ten-gallon hats worn in Dallas to his trademark bowler hat. “It just makes you a little bit quirky and unique in an over-populated space. Business needs characters. If we all agreed, some of us would be irrelevant,” he adds, stealing what he says is a well-known business quotation, but whose antecedents escape him.
In addition to organising unconferences, Boorman has a number of other strings to his bow: building clients’ internal brands and speaking at various events among them. He appears genuinely surprised that since immersing himself in all things social media, events have turned out so well. “If I had planned any of this I could call myself a genius,” he says.
Be that as it may, after hitting rock bottom in his career just two years ago, Boorman is loving every moment of his new lease of life. “I used to work for a living, now I travel the world talking about recruitment; there is not a lot bad about that,” he says.
Secret of my success
I don’t fear failure, I don’t worry about things not working, but focus on how can I make it work. I expect to get a lot of things wrong, but when I do I learn from it and I move on.
Source: Recruiter Magazine. Article by Colin Cottell.