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Businesses are founded on moments of opportunity — on thoughts of ‘someone should do this or ‘I would love it if someone made that for my family.’ The #OpportunityKnocks series showcases small business owners who have seized those moments to fill a market gap, solve a problem or address a new need – even in the face of adversity. Where some saw risk in an uncertain environment, these owners spotted opportunity and made their move. Learn how these Canadian businesses opened the door to create something new, different or better. Discover how when opportunity knocked, they answered.
Before launching their recruitment firm, the partners at Junction Collective had a vision to change the recruiting paradigm. They saw an opportunity to bring more transparency, clarity and collaboration to the hiring experience for their clients and candidates alike. As soon as they opened their doors in March 2020, however, hiring came to a screeching halt due to the onset of the pandemic. Instead of closing up shop, the partners found ways to stay true to their original vision by nurturing relationships and doing some good while biding their time until the tide turned.
Then the Great Resignation happened, as workers across North America voluntarily left jobs in search of better opportunities, more flexibility and a deeper sense of purpose. For Junction Collective, when opportunity knocked, it practically banged the door down.
RBC recently chatted with partner Joanne Acri about the journey she and her partners have travelled since launching their recruitment start-up – and how they seized opportunities as they arose.
Q: What was it like opening a recruitment firm at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Acri: COVID-19 hit while we were setting up shop. Everyone was losing their jobs – there were mass furloughs and layoffs. No one was hiring anybody. So, we just tried to be helpful. I started doing free Zoom calls on Fridays, where people could book 15-20 minutes with us and answer their questions. Space would fill up within 10 minutes. I helped people with their resumes at no cost, including at-risk youth and new immigrants. My partners, Amanda and Marcia, started doing portfolio reviews for people. We just wanted to be as helpful as we could in an industry that just got totally blown up.
But we never once considered cutting our losses in those challenging early days. We knew we had a winning and unique perspective to offer clients and candidates alike. When we founded Junction Collective, we wanted to create a recruiting agency for the Canadian marketing, advertising and creative industry. Since we’ve been on both sides of the recruiting fence – we’ve spent most of our careers in agency and marketing roles ourselves – we saw an opportunity to be a more transparent leader in the recruiting industry.
Q: How did you use the downtime to your advantage?
Acri: We built our own website and started getting all of our administrative pieces into place. We got all our contracts done, talked to lawyers, set up our bank account and figured out how to pay our taxes. All of this work would have actually been a lot harder if we’d hit the ground running, so in the end we were thankful to have had the time to set things up properly. It also gave us an opportunity to really spend some time listening to our candidates and future clients, to best understand their pain points during this crazy time.
Q: When did you start to see the turnaround in the job market?
Acri: We have a client in the U.S. and we started to see the turnaround there in early 2021. We saw crazy things start to happen, like overpaying candidates for jobs and offering huge signing bonuses. Then we started to witness ‘the big resignation’ here and suddenly there were more jobs than people. And we got very busy because hiring got very difficult.
Q: How did your client conversations change?
Acri: We started having discussions with our clients that we never thought we’d have. We were very transparent with them and would tell them, ‘however long you think this is going to take, double it and add $10,000 on top of the salary you think you want to pay. And, even more important, candidates in our industry now expect remote work and flexible working environments at least. We had to paint a picture of the situation they were walking into, what the market looked like now, and how the pandemic has turned office culture on its head permanently.
Q: How has the current state of the work affected your business?
Acri: Everything about recruitment is different than before the pandemic. We used to meet candidates face-to-face over coffee. Now we have to determine how to assess a candidate through Zoom. We have clients we have never actually met in real life – we have clients around North America now that we would have never had before. Our reach has expanded, both with respect to our clients and our candidates.
Also, as recruiters we would always go into clients’ offices to understand the vibe and the culture. We don’t do that now, and the reality is, no one cares that a company has a cool office downtown because we’re all sitting in our living rooms.
Q: You’re obviously really busy now. Are you going to be able to keep pace with the volume of work?
Acri: Working remotely, I can get so much done in a day. I never would have taken 13 meetings in one day before, but now I can. We are all working at an extremely high level of productivity.
Q: Is there anything you wish you had more time for?
Acri: We are definitely missing our “CEO” time. I haven’t been able to afford a chunk of time to think about how to move the business forward, for example, or have the capacity to step back and evaluate where we’re at.
Q: What has surprised you most since you started Junction Collective?
Acri: First up, as a start-up I never would have thought we would be in a position to turn down business, but we have passed on work that doesn’t fit within our areas of expertise. We focus on what we do best and partner with other search firms, sharing business when we know another recruiter has the experience and relationships to better serve a client.
Also, it’s been gratifying to hear from businesses that they’ve been hungry for a recruiting collective like ours. They appreciate our transparent approach and fee structure that is not usually seen in the recruiting industry.
Q: What would you say to other entrepreneurs who are starting up during unsettled times?
Acri: I work with candidates who, over a year into their job, have never met their boss, which causes a real lack of connection. There’s no job shadowing or casual conversations. So, I would recommend to new businesses, as they hire, to pay special attention to their onboarding and create meaningful connections with new staff. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.
Also, make time to set up your business properly from the beginning – because once you get busy, you won’t have time to go back and manage all those administrative details.
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