If there is one person who can make lemonade without lemons, it’s Nikky Lyle. We’re her biggest fans for so many reasons, too. At the beginning of lockdown, we at Chapter could have also pushed the furlough eject button when it came to our plans to relaunch our brand online and through social media. However, Nikky, an independent creative recruiter, inspired us to push ourselves to continue doing amazing things despite the odds during the pandemic. Her bold moves had a domino-effect in building our confidence to hire two new team members during uncertain times, let alone do it remotely. She is challenging recruitment during a difficult time for job opportunities and delivering high-value content to an incredible community she’s built. We had to find out more about her story, from the very beginning to this unexpected chapter.
What was the deciding factor when you left the traditional recruitment agency to work as an independent creative recruiter?
I always had the ambition to set up my own recruitment agency one day, when I left one of my old companies to work for a competitor, my old bosses knew this about me and approached me with the offer to back me to set up my own recruitment company. Which I did that for 14 months. In that time I turned over a profit and paid back all investment. But with investment comes a golden handshake and a portion of the business given over in return for the backing. At the time I was mentoring all these amazing creative women who were saying things to me like “I’ve been promoted to a Director, but I can’t advance any further because the board is controlled by men.” I realised the board of my own company was also pretty much controlled by men, being my two male investors. I had such a big clear picture of where I want to be and grow as a business and if anything their involvement was stifling that vision, so I made the decision to step down from that company, leaving them with all the profit and the entire business and brand, with the risk of starting all over again.
How did you get started?
I moved back to Kent in my mum’s spare room. I’ve worked 7 jobs in total to save up money to put into my business. I worked as a sales manager at a local gym, a waitress, a receptionist at a B&B, Just Eats courier on a pushbike, I worked behind a bar and in a nightclub and as a carer for adults with disabilities who live independently. I saved up every single penny and put it into my new business bank account.
What was your objective?
To completely bounce back and get my new company in the shape my business was before I left it. To change the industry for good, to recruit with conscience.
How do you stand out compared to your competition in a crowded market?
For me, it’s never been about crowbarring someone into a company to make a quick fee. It’s about finding creatives homes where they can flourish and helping companies become more successful by putting top talent in them. There’s nothing more valuable to a company than a good hire and nothing more damaging than a bad hire. This is in everything I do. My entire brand is built around this manifesto on my website.
What were your biggest challenges in the beginning?
Trying to survive and stay motivated and building everything from the ground up, Every single penny that went into the business was earned from working several minimum wage jobs, the pay is lousy so it takes ages.. Coming from a working-class family there was never going to be anything to fall back on, so I’ve had to learn to fall forward. My mum also worries about the uncertainty that having a business can bring and was constantly trying to convince me to quit and get a steady job as a carer, like my sisters.
Also working from a village, which is a bus ride away from the train station and then an hour on the train made me feel very disconnected. I have a members bar that I worked from a few days a week in Shoreditch, but the commute there and back every day would be 4-5 hours in total a day, which is quite a lot.
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When the virus hit, you shared on LinkedIn, that you could have pressed what you call the ‘furlough eject button’. That post, along with many others, was well received. What stopped you from pausing your career and how did you pivot during the pandemic as a creative recruiter?
I live for purpose rather than just profit. My mantra is that money is a byproduct of doing a job you love incredibly well, my heart’s just in it. When my competitors realised they might not make money, they pressed the furlough ejector button and I stayed in the market because I didn’t feel like I could just abandon everyone, especially at a time of uncertainty, I felt I was at an advantage because my ear is to the ground constantly and I wanted to share that knowledge with everyone in the market that I could.
I decided to bring the camera into those discussions with my clients and Industry Leaders was born, which has opened so many amazing doors for me!
I knew I wasn’t going to get any jobs, there wasn’t any and if anything clients were furloughing rather than hiring, knowing they would then need to make people redundant whilst the government reduced their furlough contribution.
Calling up and doing business development wasn’t appropriate, I didn’t want to stress my clients out at a time when they were already feeling the strain with an unnecessary “sales call.” It just felt a bit insensitive and tacky.
So I decided instead to just create content, to become a magnet, to put positive informative information out there and draw any jobs and opportunities that might be out there towards me, and it actually worked!
What was that like for you on a personal level?
Tough. I was working as a care worker throughout the first 2 months of lockdown. A lot of people don’t know this, but at the time I took on 3 incredible freelancers to help me with the content, I was running several Industry Leaders talks a week, setting up Post Quarantine and recording videos for ladies Wine and Design I was working 80-100+ hours as a care worker and training for the Berlin Marathon. Looking back, I have absolutely no idea how I managed it! I genuinely didn’t have a single minute to myself, everything was work, then sleep, then work again and repeat for months.
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You’ve done so well at building a likeable and trustworthy brand with a highly engaged community online. What’s the secret sauce?
I love the industry, I love that I get to work with creatives, I love the potential creativity has to save the world, but I also see the industry for its flaws and where it can be improved and I’m very passionate about getting behind that to create some real industry change. It’s genuine and I think people realise that about me, which is why I’ve built up such a great community, especially over lockdown.
What have been your biggest learnings so far as a creative recruiter?
The value of a good hire, the cost of a bad one.
What does recruitment mean to you?
I genuinely think recruitment done right has the potential to change the world. Partnered with Advertising, which takes culture, packages it up and sells it back to its self, so there is HUGE potential for influence there. If you think about it, we spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at work. We spend more time at work than with family and friends, it’s a huge part of our lives. Closing the gender pay gap is important, a man shouldn’t be paid more than a woman for doing the exact same job, when they have the same skills. I’m behind diverse hiring in teams, creative work is incredibly dull if it’s being created by the same voices and perceptions time and time again, without influence from anyone from different backgrounds and cultures.
How do you see the recruitment industry changing?
More flexible working, more employer trust in people being able to do their jobs from home, More diverse hiring, especially off the back of the Black Lives Matter movement.
What’s next for you? Do you have any goals for the next 5 years?
Wow, lots. Where to begin… In the immediate future, I’m launching CV and portfolio templates. Then in September, I’m working on something to help agencies in their pledge for more diverse hires, that’s tied into something else pretty big. I’m also officially launching the Good Gang in January 2021, which is all about companies which have been created for the greater good and the planet, I’m in the process of writing a course for that too.
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What interests do you have in your downtime – if you have any?
I like to make sure I can be as well rounded as an individual as possible, I find this helps me with my work and being a better recruiter, I’m constantly trying to explore things that take me out of my own echo chamber. I love watching films, especially foreign films, I love how the narrative storytelling of cinema can transport me into a different world and culture and perspective or experience.
I really enjoy going for long bike rides, sometimes for hours if I can, somewhere scenic and beautiful. When I lived in Folkestone before lockdown I used to cycle over to France for the weekend to explore a new culture.
Catching up with friends over dinner or drinks and talking about anything other than work, just being Nikky for a bit rather than Nikky Lyle Creative Recruiter all of the time.
If I could tell you one thing? (what advice would you tell your younger self!)
I’m dyslexic and I kept being put in special needs classes at school because of it, the other kids would be studying for difficult exams and I would be written off as not even worth trying to teach that stuff to, that hurt because it made me feel I wasn’t worth the investment and I was such a hard-working kid who wanted to succeed. I remember being put in rooms making paper airplanes or playing with a ruler with a Teaching Assistant whilst the other kids were learning algebra. But my parents got me to learn the violin and it was actually the discipline of learning an instrument and learning that the art of persistence and practice meant that I could excel, which I think is a fundamental part of who I am today. When I was at University I took a dyslexia test and my IQ results came back as high, but I’m just very dyslexic, my dyslexia means I see the world in a different way and I’ve learnt how to life hack.
I’d just say to my younger self, “You’re not dumb, you’re just wired differently and you might wish more than anything to fit in because you’re young, but when you get older you’ll realise being different is the most interesting thing about you and when you’re older you’ll make that your superpower.”
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