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Neil Woodhams «It’s a cliche that practice makes perfect but that really is the case»
Languages: English – native, Spanish – basic professional
The interview: Edited after having a chat through skype on a Thursday evening.
We know that Blackbox Europe is especialized in niche IT recruitment. Would you tell us something about it? When did you start the business?
Before establishing Blackbox Europe I had been working as a senior recruitment specialist with Spring Group PLC and S3 Group PLC, both great companies and very successful in their own right, for around 7 years. At the time I felt that I had learnt a great amount from each company. With this experience within IT staffing, I wanted to branch out and start my own company, knowing I had the experience and training I needed to succeed. I started Blackbox in 2006, opening up the first Blackbox office in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Was it international or local when you started?
Initially we started as a local Dutch company, focussing solely on the Dutch market. However, as our business has developed, we have branched out into other regions and are placing candidates in other countries, like Sweden, Malaysia, Singapore, Czech Republic.
And so, what about Spain?? Because now you have offices in Barcelona. Do you have many clients based in Spain?
We do have clients in Spain, mainly large International clients. For these clients we are placing local candidates but also candidates from outside of Spain. The Spanish market is challenging currently but we do still see opportunities in certain skill areas.
Would you say Spanish IT business is growing?
The Spanish market in certain areas I would is growing still, but realistically not as much as other markets like Holland, for instance. Spain and Barcelona in particular have a very strong business/candidates in the creative, design and Internet areas and there are many Online companies established here. I also see many start up companies in these areas where freelancers are starting their own ventures. So this could be seen as an area for growth.
In your opinion, what are the main differences between Spanish candidates and candidates from other countries as regards to competences and skills?
One of the reasons that we established an office in Barcelona was to take advantage of placing Spanish candidates into clients in other country locations. Spanish candidates generally are very well educated and have a very strong command of the English language. Notably they are also flexible, motivated to push their careers forward and seem to be very culturally aware. In a world where it is becoming increasingly common to have to work with counterparts from all over the world these characteristics, outside of the required technical skills, are very important to us.
…Really? Spaniards are meant to be the last in the line as far as language competence is concerned. From your experience, is this just a cliche?
I think it is a cliche. My experience of dealing with Spanish candidates is actually positive in that area and we have placed many Spanish candidates over the years. It may relate to the level of candidate that we place, which are nearly always senior, experienced candidates. At that level, I guess, candidates are more advanced.
That is definetively good news… Yes, especially when it comes to the IT niche you are especilized into. What is it?
We started as a SAP recruitment company, and we are still very strong in this area, however through continued success we have diversified and now offer services across other IT skills too. We focus on hard-to-fill or niche roles where our clients don’t have the know-how or time to find these skills in the market. We are particularly strong in the Middleware & Integration area (webMethods, Tibco, WebSphere) and Banking and Risk Management applications too. However, it is important to note that we are able to mobilise candidates quickly in almost any IT area given commitment by our client that they have a real need.
And coming back to languages, have you ever needed assistance from any language or multilingual communication agencies in your work? I reckon you use mainly English for your communication, or do you contact candidates in their own language?
We have used translation services in the past to translate role specifications or for writing adverts for country specific locations. We haven’t used an interpreter as yet because normally our candidates have a sufficient level of English for us to be able to communicate with them. However, this is something that we would considering utilizing in the future, especially as our International business grows or if our clients require this service. It is definitely something that I would suggest for the future. It is also important to note that our clients often require local language skills plus English, so we have to be sure that the level of language skills are sufficient. For this we use consultants with local language skills wherever possible.
And to finish, we know you are learning Spanish? Catalan? What is the most diffucult part of it?
It’s quite easy to learn the basics of Spanish but taking it to the next level is always difficult. Juggling a busy work and home life, it is easy to just get by with basic conversational skills, so maintaining and building upon what you have learnt is key. It’s a cliche that practice makes perfect but that really is the case. Setting time aside to continuously improve your vocabulary and skills is important.
Any anecdotes regarding communication you have been through in your private or professional life?
Over the years there have been many anecdotes that come to mind but one that relates to the importance of clear communication takes me back to when I was in my first recruitment job. I had a very good candidate that I had arranged an interview for with a particular client. I discussed the role, company, etc with him and everything was fine until he called me on the morning of the interview and told me that he could not find the office. It turned out that I had sent him to the town of ‘Warrington’ instead of ‘Wallington’, easily misunderstood on the telephone as they sound very familiar, but one is in the north of England and the other in the south of England, a few hundred kms away from each other. It had taking him around 4 hrs to travel to from his home location to the wrong address. In the end it turned out OK but ever since I have been very careful to maintain a clear communication.
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