Talent Acquisition

What Can a Recruiter Learn From Breaking Bad?

At first glance, the story of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher’s transformation into a crystal-meth-producing criminal genius seems to have little application in the world of recruitment.

Frankly, most of our clients have little interest in advanced chemistry, the criminal underworld or the business model of meth distribution — although many will probably be massive fans of the show itself, which makes for enjoyable potential debate during those post-work drinks.

But as with most things in life, a little scrape under the blue-powder-coated surface of Breaking Bad shows that it’s possible to find some useful lessons from our favourite TV show, with life imitating art in a number of surprising ways:

Never stop learning:

If Mr White had spent his high-school chemistry lessons staring out of the windows (as many of us no doubt did), he would never had gained the knowledge he eventually needed to become a first-class crystal meth producer — a process requiring hugely complex and dangerous chemical procedures. But knowing how to make the best product, meant his product would sell! Keep learning.

Solve problems – by thinking creatively:

Mr White’s initial problem was to find money to pay for his treatment and to keep his loved ones cared for after he was gone. He came up with an incredibly creative solution by analysing the facts and items at his disposal.

If you can find creative solutions for your clients’ and candidates’ problems or issues, they will view you much more as a trusted advisor rather than just another recruiter.

Additional examples of his creative problem solving include a higher level of throughput and better distribution channels, which lead him to find a distributor, and then lead him to find a more professional distributor. Which leads me on to my next point…

Work with professionals:

Walter found working with his first distributor, Tuco, far too risky and stressful. So he set out to find a more professional distribution set up.

If you are working with unprofessional clients, or candidates, they will make you look unprofessional by association, so make sure you focus on high quality people and relationships – this will reduce the risk of anything going wrong, or situations falling apart by people in your process who are ‘rogue elements’.

In short, remove as much risk as possible from your service.

Find your area of speciality:

Equally, by becoming a meth producer supreme, Mr White and, over time, his partner Jesse carved out a highly profitable niche for themselves in a high-value growth market. This lesson definitely translates for recruiters.

By becoming a specialist in a niche or high-growth area, a recruiter can position himself or herself perfectly for a successful career trajectory. The trick is to become extremely competent and well regarded in that particular discipline so that people automatically go to you by default, allowing you to build up your business profitably and sustainably.

READ MORE: How To Recruit for Niche Positions

Build a better mousetrap:

All great business minds know that if you offer a superior product with a clearly defined advantage, the world will come calling in droves. Whether you are peddling illegal crystal meth (and we hope that the average recruiter isn’t doing this) or looking to win new clients in your recruitment field, make sure you can define your product and sell it accordingly and that you offer something that sets you apart from your competition. It might be a feature of your service offer, or it might be an outstanding service or a particular area of knowledge or expertise in an emerging field.

Define it, market it and own it.

Keep your business transport in good order:

Remember the episode in which Mr White and Jesse almost die in the desert, trapped in their broken-down RV?

Such situations are fortunately rare for the average UK recruiter, but the underlying principle still remains – keep your business transport clean, smart and in good working order. Don’t bring your company car to breaking point. Treat it and everything else around you with respect. The world will treat you with respect back. Plus, if people see you driving a beaten up, dirty vehicle, hey will assume you are sloppy in all your habits, not the impression you want to make.

Something not working? Reinvent yourself!

Mild-mannered Walter White bore little resemblance to the terrifying Heisenberg who later emerged. And, essentially, this persona was created with a pork-pie hat and a mean beard.

These two attributes might translate poorly into a recruitment scenario, but there’s no doubt that a smart and professional visual identity will take you far. Dress smartly, always look well presented and cultivate a sense of style.

Extend your personal brand across everything that you do, from your clean and attractive business card to your professional mobile-phone greeting and that all-important first handshake.

Finish what you start:

A crucial lesson of Breaking Bad is that Walt never leaves loose ends untied. This running theme meant that the show was consistently good, and the finale exceptional. Jesse also learns this attribute increasingly over time. Their ability to deliver means that they get the job done and never leave their customer, or their violent, psychopathic and slave-driving distributor, Gus, short.

Whether or not your recruitment boss shares similar characteristics to Gus, commit to being the person who always delivers for your clients, your colleagues and your wider stakeholders.

Follow your path:

Walter White learned how to pursue ‘his bliss’. His decisions were increasingly questionable on a moral scale, but the transformation of his character from weak and unhappy ‘nobody’ to someone with power, decisiveness and bold approach was truly fascinating to behold. The executives of AMC followed a similarly bold path when commissioning this ground-breaking show, and the gamble paid off, with many believing it to be one of the finest dramas ever aired. Bear this in mind as you progress your career, and stay true to your dreams. Unless, of course, they involve making crystal meth or becoming the cop brother-in-law of the man already making it.

Your family:

Even when Walt truly loses the way, he keeps his family central. In a sense, Jesse becomes part of his extended family, proving that people don’t need to be related to us to have a central role in our lives. As recruiters we need something more than money to work for. Whether that is family, friends, colleagues or community or all of these, have a bigger purpose and be accountable to more people than just yourself and your bank balance. Your life will be richer for it.

Author: Alison Mulligan is Senior Account Manager at Maximus IT with 16 years experience in recruitment.

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