In this interview, Olivier Top reflects on his successes – and his challenges – from his 20-year career in the recruitment industry.

In the two decades that Olivier Top, senior partner with Page Executive, has worked with PageGroup, he has witnessed firsthand all the changes that the industry has seen. His career started with the booming dot-com market of the late 90s, saw the crisis years after the internet bubble burst, and, together with the company, came out stronger to face the challenges that followed the financial crisis of 2008.  

What are the lessons that you learnt from the crisis in business you have faced?

Olivier Top: The important lesson to take away from any crisis is that you need to invest in long-term relationships with clients and candidates. It is the only way forward in a fast-paced environment like the recruitment industry.

Why did you decide to work in the recruitment industry?

OT: I never thought of working in recruitment, before they offered me a job with Michael Page.  Originally I had applied for a position in marketing. I did not hear about the job but the consultant asked me if I wanted to join Michael Page as recruitment consultant for their new Sales & Marketing division.

What attracted you to the job?

OT: The content of it and the convincing arguments used by Nicolas Buisson about the growth of Page in France. The fact that I got to work with clients and job seekers, to advise them on the job market and their career. A few years later, I started to develop our presence in Lille, which was a great experience.

What is the big difference between the recruitment industry back in the day and nowadays?

OT: So much has changed – it is almost incomparable! Something simple as a cell phone has had an enormous impact on our work.  When I started, we only contacted a potential candidate or client from the office phone.

If we wanted to compare candidate profiles we had to print a list including a few lines about their career, then go to the archives and get the physical CV we received by post. It was impossible to see them online! These technological changes have speeded up the recruitment process immeasurably.

At the same time, it became easier for clients to look for candidates online themselves. Platforms like LinkedIn give you a list of potential candidates in a few seconds, so in that sense the role of the recruitment consultant has changed, with the balance shifting more and more from ‘recruiting’ to ‘consulting’.

The benefit of a PageGroup consultant is that they know the market and are actively in contact with talented candidates – often before they are even looking for a new job.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in those 20 years?

OT: The economic crisis in 2001 was definitely one of the biggest challenges we faced as a company during my career. When I started in 1998 the sky was the limit. There was a shortage of good candidates, so it was easy to convince companies to work with us. After the internet bubble burst, the need for candidates plummeted. Companies simply stopped recruiting, which obviously had an immediate effect on our growth numbers.

How did you overcome this challenge?

OT: We invested a lot in our brand reputation. During the crisis we realised that if we wanted to survive as a company in a competitive market, we had to change our approach. That´s why we decided to start investing in long term relationships with both clients and candidates. Nowadays we focus more on quality than quantity; we´ve improved our processes so that we deliver on time and offer the best service on the market, with more personal contact for our clients and candidates.

What did this challenge teach you?

OT: That if you want to make a difference you really need to invest in your relationships with people. It is the only way to keep growing – both as a company and as a person.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

OT: I´m very happy with my position, and looking forward to the challenge of developing the third PageGroup brand in close collaboration with Christophe Rosset, who is leading our vision and mission in Continental Europe. My ambition is to put Page Executive in the top 5 of C-level recruitment agencies. If we do that, we can be very proud.

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