13 March 2023

From Apprentice to Defence Recruiter Extraordinaire: The Success of Lewis Dunn

Career Advice Company News

From Apprentice to Defence Recruiter Extraordinaire: The Success of Lewis Dunn

Starting as a Junior Account Consultant in March 2018, Lewis completed his apprenticeship with ARM and has gone from strength to strength, becoming a Senior Account Consultant in November last year.

So, jumping right in… What was your role when you first started at ARM?

I started as a Junior Account Consultant but did my Apprenticeship about six months in. I stayed in that role for quite a while before I moved on to account management.

My apprenticeship was three years because of Covid, so I completed it later than I wanted to, in 2021. It wasn’t too bad, because it’s a lot of ‘on the job’ learning.

What led you to recruitment?

When I left school I went straight into customer-facing roles but then tried more of a manual job for a year. I didn’t like that though because of the cold! I wanted to go back to a customer-facing role and I had a few friends that worked in recruitment, so I started having conversations (because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do!) and after a year in recruitment, that’s when it clicked that “this is the career I want to stay in”.

You’re part of the Defence team, have you always been?

I started in Defence recruitment and then I worked in Facilities Management for about six months before coming back to Defence- From White Collar Engineering to more ‘hands-on’ engineering!

Is it useful to have a specialism in one sector, or is it worth varying?

Something ARM do really well is the structure of the teams in each sector. Although I work in Defence, we also have a team who specialise in Energy, one in Automotive and others that cross over. It’s all about communication, if you worked in every sector your network would be too broad. It would be really hard to do your job well, which is why it’s important to have a specialist area you want to focus on.

At the same time, it’s useful having a knowledge of how all the sectors work because sometimes your candidates will work in other sectors too, not just the one you specialise in.

So you really understand the candidates, clients and you know what ‘good’ looks like in your sector?

Yeah that’s it, the fundamentals of the job is drawing from the client what their ideal candidate looks like and matching that with the ideal job for the candidate too.

What is the end goal for you? Do you want your boss’ job?

To be fair for me, as much as management is a natural step in progression, I quite enjoy recruitment for what it is. I enjoy helping a client find a candidate and helping a candidate find the right job- so maybe the end goal is to continue what I do but at a bit of a more senior level.

You mentioned before that this is your first (and hopefully only!) recruitment role, how did you get to where you are now?

For me it was the guidance from the people around me. The best way to learn is calling people and making mistakes, you have to slip up and make your own mistakes to find your way.

Obviously that’s a difficult way to learn but when you have the people around you as support, it’s better.

No recruiter has the same way of recruiting as another one. There’s processes and things we all do but you have to find your own way of working.

What was the first 12 months like for you? Some people say it’s ‘make or break’…

Yeah, the first twelve months is the period you figure out how you’re going to do it. The only way to develop is to have the more experienced recruiters around you teaching and guiding you how to do things. We’re quite fortunate here, at ARM that we have a manager, senior consultants and juniors or apprentices- there’s a real multitude of experience.

There’s always someone to relate to, which is nice.

What are the tools to succeed in recruitment?

At ARM we’re set up in a way that when you start you’re not ‘chucked in at the deep end’. Saying that though, the only way you figure it out is by being on the phone, and shadowing others. I spent the first week with other recruitment consultants to understand the approach and the questions to ask…

We also have an onsite recruitment trainer who is experienced in recruitment and management, for a two week in-depth training course so that alone sets you up in good stead.

Some people haven’t had a great start in recruitment at other agencies, the first six to twelve months is so important and sometimes people get thrown in at the deep end with no training, which can really put you off.

That’s interesting! There are a lot of people who come into this career don’t stand the test of time, why do you think that is?

I think a lot of people come into recruitment and see the high-flying successes- you CAN make really fast money, but fundamentally you have to be realistic.

The advantage to recruitment is (like myself) you don’t need a lot to start; You can be fresh out of school or university and you’ll be learning at the same pace as anyone else who does that job. If you are realistic with your expectations and realise you get out what you put in, you’ll gain a lot more.

The slip ups and mistakes will help you be a better recruitment consultant, so be resilient and patient.

What has been your biggest challenge?

If I’m totally honest, Covid. It was a tough time for everyone, it brought uncertainty and the recruitment industry was really quiet. Remote working was hard, it was one of my biggest struggles – the office ‘sales’ floor gave me energy and being at home with my family was an adjustment. It was a whole new job within a matter of weeks, there were a lot of people out of work and desperate for a job, but it was hard for us to find them.

There was a real lack of control, we weren’t able to support as much as we were able to before.

That sounds difficult! The term ‘sales floor’ is an interesting one, do you see recruitment as a sales job?

Recruitment is always described as sales, but if I’m honest I don’t see it as a sales job, you’re not convincing someone to make a purchase. In recruitment, it’s more like ‘match making’- You speak to a client who comes to us for support, and we do our best to give that service, as the experts. We are the ones who provide the answers to things like salaries, notice periods, clearances and all these different things.

It can definitely be perceived as sales, as recruiters can ‘cold call’ and we’re in a similar environment to sales. More often than not, when we are picking up the phone to a candidate, they’re happy you called as they wouldn’t know about the career opportunities available to them if you hadn’t.

Sometimes we find that the passive candidates (ones that you spoke to a year or so ago who haven’t applied for a job) are the happiest to answer your call, they’re surprised to hear about potential earnings, or they’re looking to leave a company they’re not happy at. A lot of the time people don’t realise their market value until you tell them!

What’s the nicest reward you’ve received from ARM?

Being promoted, getting the recognition for the hard work I’ve put in! The year I was promoted, I had six weeks out, as my son was born. In recruitment you have to constantly be speaking to candidates, keeping the pipeline warm and filling jobs, and I didn’t have that for a long period, so I came back at a disadvantage (obviously for a good reason!) and I had to catch up. I worked really hard to do that, and managed to get promoted in nine months, it was recognised pretty quickly!

Every time there’s a success, the C-suite are quick to shake your hand and tell you you’ve done well, it’s little things like that.

So, feeling valued in your job?

Definitely, even the things like getting your first placement, it’s so important a consultant feels valued for that, because it gives them confidence.

The flexibility and work-life balance is another perk too! As a new dad, it’s even more important now. I had my son’s twelve month check up recently and I’m really pleased I’ve never had to miss one appointment, and that’s because of the managers and directors here at ARM. I wouldn’t be able to do things like that and taking extended leave when he was born, that’s what really matters. Having the ability to work from home when you need to, to support your family, not just financially is a massive thing.

I agree, I always appreciate the culture of acceptance here, there’s no judgement!

That’s it, there’s no pressure- regardless of what you do… If you need to leave earlier, you have the option to log in later in the evening (if you want to). You’re not being monitored 24/7, you have the autonomy to make decisions for yourself.

Fundamentally our job is to find candidates for clients and find good jobs for candidates and if you’re doing that and working your contractual hours, if something did come up last minute you could go and be trusted to pick up where you left off.

Money is also important, especially at the moment. But what else does ARM offer that you value?

I’ve always known ARM for what they are, the people who run the business started in the same roles we started in as consultants, so having the ability to approach senior leaders for a five minute chat doesn’t feel daunting.

The family feel of the business, we’re much more than a team of recruitment consultants. You can talk to anyone, we are one team delivering one goal. There’s a lot of touch points in candidates getting a job, there’s around a hundred and fifty people who contribute to the whole process (Marketing, Compliance, Accounts, IT and Systems), we’re all on the same page.

As well as recruiting, you also mentor… What can you tell me about that?

You learn a lot as a mentor you learn different ways to manage your own workload and obviously support someone else. Earlier I mentioned support for new starters, and as a mentor you’re a main part of that support network.  

Your first offer is a good feeling, but helping someone else achieve that and that feeling is just as rewarding – because you’ve taught them. Whilst you don’t take credit for their success it’s great to feel a part of that. Not pressuring them but helping them find their own way.  I recommend it!

Have you ever had a mentor?

Yes I did. When I first started in recruitment, really cool guy, really experienced in the industry he knew the market inside and out and had a great reputation amongst the engineers of all levels and for me that was learning the right way to do the job.

Having your first mentor is key – that’s the person you look up to and try to replicate. If I hadn’t had him, my career probably wouldn’t have worked out as well as it has. It’s a rollercoaster in recruitment – your mentor can help pick you back up and go again – it’s easy to get into a rut.  

For those just starting their recruitment career, what would you tell them?

Be patient. It’s very easy to think you’re going to get quick success – anyone you speak to who’s been successful in recruitment  will tell you the same thing it won’t happen overnight.

If you put the minimum in, you’ll get the minimum out. Whereas if you work hard, but not only hard but smart – and the way you can do is to replicate successful people. And don’t be afraid to ask questions – don’t be worried to ask silly questions… the most successful people had to do the same at some point. Have patience, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and do your best.  

What does the career path look like at ARM compared to other agencies?

It starts from day one. People come in at all different levels – no experience, you’ll be offered to do the apprenticeship scheme at level 3 – it’s an externally outsourced but accompanied with that you’ll have a two week crash course – with experienced consultants teaching you.

You’re taught how to ‘run your desk’. In addition to that two week course – you’re given 1:1 support and asked to explore areas where you need further support. Your manager has your back with further guidance. This is at every level – even for managers coming in.  

There is a stigma and cut-throat mentality in the industry where someone is not putting the numbers or hitting the KPI’s they are left behind but ARM it’s very different – we sit down and go through these performance issues to understand where the support is required.   

The South Coast has a pretty notorious recruitment-company-hopping reputation… Why has your head not been turned by other agencies?

For me it is the trust and autonomy that ARM gives you. It’s very easy to be attracted by a 4 day working week or a nice pay rise – short term that is great.

I think the trust and autonomy that ARM gives you as a business in order to run your own desk and not be micro managed constantly – if you’re running your desk and it’s profitable you’re given a sense of freedom and that’s not commonly come across.

I think people need to work in the environment to understand how good it is. Since day one, five years ago it’s never changed. That’s just the culture we’ve adopted – we trust them and they trust us as business.  

Thank you, Lewis! We loved chatting to you.

Thank you for having me!

Share Article

Get in Touch

We'd love to hear from you!

Contact us

Keep up with us.

Sign up for all the latest updates, career and recruitment advice with our ARM newsletter. All you need to do is put your details in below, and leave the rest to us!