Welcome to our brand new “staff corner”, where we will be introducing you to the Burns Sheehan team.
It’s a very exciting time here at Burns Sheehan as we are currently experiencing a period of immense growth in the team and are always looking for great people to join us. If you are looking for a new opportunity to join a fast growing recruitment team, then please get in touch.
We have a particularly interesting Staff Corner for you this time as we’re interviewing the one and only Sean Burns, Co-founder and Managing Director of Burns Sheehan!
Sean and Jon (known here as "Baz") founded Burns Sheehan 11 years ago. In some ways the two seem like chalk and cheese, and yet they are so compatible as Co-Founders and couldn't be better at steering the business in the right direction.
From the first day I met Sean I was really bought into his his attitude towards recruitment and vision for Burns Sheehan. I knew he'd be a brilliant boss, but I didn't know much about the 'real' Sean Burns. I decided it was time to sit down with him and find out!
So, Sean, how did you and Baz come to set up Burns Sheehan?
Ooh yes! So we were both in a similar situation in the sense that Baz had a previous career as a chartered surveyor and I was a school teacher and a professional rugby player. I’d finished rugby and was looking to do something different to teaching, and when I spoke to a few of my friends and they told me that I should have a chat with Baz as he’d changed careers to work in recruitment a few years ago. It turned out that Baz and I had lots of mutual friends even though we hadn’t met before.
So Baz and I met up for a coffee and got along, so he suggested that I work for him. I liked him and took him up on the offer. We worked together for a couple of years and then decided to set up our own company.
Why did you want to set up your own company?
The company that we worked for previously was brilliant, as was our boss there. He was a former rugby player and and ex-rugby mate of Baz’, and really fun and engaging. But Baz and I felt we were bringing in a lot of the business, a lot of the clients and a lot of the money, so we thought why not do it on our own?
We were also frustrated by how recruitment was perceived. At the time - in the early 2000s - recruitment really different to how it is now. It was very transactional. The interweb had just come out so all the focus was on online job boards, and there wasn’t any personality in it anymore. So we wanted to create a recruitment business that had a very different philosophy and approach, with service and relationships at the very heart of it. We wanted to do it in the right way.
So, you’d heard of Baz through mutual friends and met for a coffee. What was your first impression of him?
You get what you see with Baz. He’s very honest, very engaging and has that likeability factor. There’s no nonsense about him, and having the same attitude towards recruitment and a number of mutual friends meant that we got along really quickly.
What’s the best thing about running Burns Sheehan?
Well, this might make me come across as a bit of a control freak, but I like that the successes and failures of the business come down to what we do. I enjoy setting the direction of Burns Sheehan and see the direct results of decisions that we make – from the people we hire, the values we set and the day-to-day choices we make. I get a real buzz from our successes, from seeing the types of people we’ve employed and how the business has evolved. I’m very proud of how Burns Sheehan has grown. Not everything works out the way we have wanted it to and sometimes things bottle out completely and that can be frustrating, but at least Baz and I have the control and aren’t forced to do things we don’t want to do. I’m probably completely unemployable now!
What’s the worst thing about running a business?
There’s no doubt that there are pressures. It can be stressful when things don’t go the right way. I’d say I’m a very positive person but I’m also natural worrier, so even when things are going well I catch myself catastrophizing things and lying awake at night. I don’t mind so much but I think my wife does sometimes!
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing tech recruitment businesses today?
The most obvious challenge is that there is a lack of talent in the tech world. Demand far outweighs supply. The economy is growing and technology is at the heart of that growth, and probably through a lack of investment in education over the last 20 years we are really suffering now. There simply aren’t enough skilled technologists out there to meet the needs of employers. I know kids are learning to code in school now, but we’ll only see the benefits from that in around 15 years. So in the meantime it’s a highly competitive market. This means as a recruitment business we have to work really hard to find and engage with the right people so we have access to people our competition can’t reach.
The other challenge is the pace of change. Technology is advancing so quickly. We have a completely different landscape now compared to 5 years ago. What’s it going to be like in 5 years? Who knows. So it’s crucial to stay abreast of technology change and move forward with those changes. You have to be agile and nimble as a business to stay on the front foot and adapt to emerging cutting-edge technologies.
What has been your biggest highlight since founding Burns Sheehan?
There are a lot of different milestones that we’ve crossed. One highlight that springs to mind was how we recovered from the impact of the 2008 recession. One of clients – an Icelandic Bank- went under. We lost a huge amount of money when they went bust and the pace of recovery in which we came out of that time was quite incredible. Within three months we managed to turn things around, and there were only 15 of us at the time. The beauty of it was that technology was one of the driving forces that got us out of that tough time, and inspired us to focus entirely on technology recruitment.
What is your philosophy towards work?
My view is that if you’re going to take the time to do something, you might as well do it well. So if you’re going to do something, invest in it and do it to the best of your ability. If you can adopt that philosophy you’ll make mistakes sometimes, but if you put that effort into it you’ll go in the right direction. The second part is: enjoy it. You spend a lot of time at work and if it’s always a drag and you’re unhappy then you won’t get out what you’re putting into it. It’s important to have a good balance of working hard and having fun at the same time.
Can you tell us something that nobody else knows about you?
I was a child actor when I was a kid and did a few TV programmes. I was in a BBC series called Play for Today which was quite an arty type of programme. The most extreme episode was called “A Brush with Mr. Porter on the Road to El Dorado” in which a man explodes from eating too much (Laughs). I played the cheeky little kid who was just part of the set up. I wasn’t very good at acting though so that’s why I’m now in recruitment!
Who would play you in a film and why?
Well, I don’t think my life is interesting enough to be made into a film, but hypothetically I’d love for it to be Brad Pitt… or Al Pacino. Seeing I’m such a strange character I think he’d do a good job.
What do you like to do when you're not at work?
I have a large family with four kids – two boys and two girls – so most of my time is taken up looking after them and chasing them around. I’m lucky that I have such talented kids so I can watch them doing all sorts of stuff. Apart from that I love to do anything to do with sport, really: going to watch rubgby or football, playing golf, going to the gym. So it’s family and a bit of sport!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I loved sport as a kid, especially rugby and football, so I always wanted to do something related to sport. I was fortunate enough to become a professional rugby player and then I became a sports teacher, so I was able to enjoy that earlier on.
If you were speaking to a student or a recent grad who was thinking about getting into recruitment, what would you say to them?
I’d tell them to think long and hard about why they want to get into recruitment and what their motivations are. I’m a big believer in recruitment as a career, and I want recruitment to become a recognized profession rather than something people can dip in and out of to make some money in the short term. A lot of people just fall into recruitment - and that’s partly because there are more jobs in recruitment than other areas - but I hate it when people say they want to get into recruitment just to earn money, or earn money quickly. Yes, that is a really great benefit of recruitment, but it shouldn’t be the only motivation. Recruitment has a number of benefits – it’s very meritocratic, you can earn a lot of money, you can become widly successful at a young age – but they should pursue recruitment because they are passionate about this industry. For us, recruitment is a long term game so we need people who see recruitment as a career, not just a stop-gap before doing something else.
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