Sitting at the tennis behind a man using the Tinder dating app, recruitment industry executive Sharon Davies had a brainwave.
“I am totally creating something like that for recruitment,” she told herself.
“He sat all through this tennis match just picking all these girls, who were obviously all connecting with him, and going ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘no’, and I thought: imagine if you could just have jobs sent to your phone like that where you could go ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes’ – and, anyone you swiped ‘yes’ to, it sends your profile to that company to view straight away.”
Spying over someone’s shoulder was all that Davies, 35, needed to get a fresh idea for her suite of technology-based recruitment businesses.
Davies has always had an eye for an opportunity. As a 20-year-old freshly returned from an OE in 2000, she walked into a recruitment agency hoping to sign up for temp work.
Instead, she was sat down with a phone and the newspaper and told to create a new “desk” to cater to the advertising industry.
Her very first phone call hit the jackpot: Davies placed a new receptionist into an advertising agency.
On the other end of that call was Paul Ballantyne, whom she would go on to work with – at Big Splash, an advertising agency focused on designing, writing and placing recruitment ads – and then marry.
Big Splash kicked off in New Zealand in 2002 and within a few years Davies packed herself off to Melbourne to grow the business.
What she thought would be a straightforward expansion was a tough lesson in how unforgiving the Australian market could be.
“The biggest mistake I made was believing that it would be exactly the same, that Aussies were the same as Kiwis, and they really aren’t.
“One of the things that we had to learn very quickly was that we were an Australian company – we weren’t a New Zealand company trying to take on Australia, because they never would have dealt with us if that was the case.”
It meant going in boots and all with an Australian business number, tax number, bank account and a commitment to the market that continues to this day, with Davies splitting her time between homes in Australia and New Zealand.
Boom times for job seekers in the mid-2000s came to a grinding halt with the credit crunch in 2008, but the founders of Big Splash were already on to the next business idea. As job seekers flooded the market, there was an opportunity for technology-based tools to help companies sift through candidates, offering cost-effective alternatives to a recruitment agency.
Development began in 2007 and by 2009 Talent Propeller launched, providing client diversification for the business.
In 2011 things came crashing down when husband and business partner Paul died of melanoma, six months after Davies’ mother died of a brain tumour.
Looking back, Davies says it was devastating, but she did what she could to keep going, particularly for staff who were relying on the business to pay their salaries.
“You decide and choose how things will impact you, so I could have decided to sit in bed all day and feel sorry for myself but I chose a path of celebrating, particularly my husband, celebrating the fact that we’d had such an amazing relationship and that we had had a love that most people spend their entire life looking for.”
It never crossed her mind to walk away from the business.
Instead, the past five years have been focused on further development of the e-recruitment tools to help people whittle down candidate lists.
The firm’s 25 staff place 2000 ads a month for 950 clients. Most of the companies she assists are looking for sales, admin, call centre, retail and lower-level accounting staff.
The tools created by Talent Propeller help recruiters look beyond the CV to the aptitude, attitudes and personality fit of the candidate.
Davies “crash-tested” the system herself when recruiting for a sales role, coming up with a shortlist with a far better match by looking beyond the lack of specific prior experience.
“They either worked in retail or they had no experience at all and we hired them and they’re absolute gems.” This new business of aptitude-testing and shortlisting is growing at 450 per cent a quarter.
She sees real opportunities for companies to streamline their recruitment using technology, particularly multinationals recruiting in overseas markets for the likes of call centres, but wanting to retain some control over the process.
And she’s always on the lookout for new ideas to trial.
Davies says the process is very organic – anything that looks like it has merit she’ll test and prototype before bringing in a colleague who will work alongside her to get it off the ground.
Right now she’s swiping right on her new recruitment app idea.