Meet Olivia O'Toole, Consultant, Architecture

  • 10th May 2021

Olivia O’Toole (centre of image) has a lot to be proud of. Landing her dream job remotely during the middle of a pandemic. Moving to a new city and into her own apartment, solo, right as lockdown two kicked in. Building new relationships with some of the most respected architects and practices in the UK. And she only graduated in June. 

But the Halifax native, who studied Geography at Newcastle University is a character used to giving it her all. Here she talks about why she chose a career in recruitment at Coleman James and why other graduates should consider the move. 

You’re a Geography graduate. Why did you choose a career in Recruitment?

Coleman James in particular is a specialist recruiter to the Built Environment and Rail sectors, so there were some natural synergies with my geography background. After I graduated I wanted to find a job that would challenge me, allow me to work closely with others, and help people. It’s the helping people part that drives me and in this job, you get to match clients and candidates in roles that can change the course of their lives. It’s satisfying to see someone land their dream job and just be over the moon about it. 

What were your initial impressions of the industry? 

Recruitment is traditionally known as an aggressive sales industry but as soon as I met the team at Coleman James I knew they were different. Like me, they’re all about people - their team, their clients and their candidates. They’re about long-term partnerships, not making a quick buck on a candidate who won’t last the course. They were looking for someone to grow the Architecture desk, working closely with their MD, Andrew Mackay and Director, Rachel Young. 

Andy, Rachel and the whole team have decades of experience, and they have invested their time and knowledge in me since I started. There’s been no pressure to make ‘sales’, they’re extremely nurturing. I’ve been introduced to their contacts, they’ve helped me grow my knowledge of the architecture sector and developed my soft skills around client servicing and relationship building. They’ve afforded me the time to learn and let me grow into the sector and the role. And all this while we’ve been in lockdown!  

What do you enjoy about working at Coleman James?

The team is full of industry professionals with deep sector knowledge, so I get to learn from experts every day. At the same time, I have autonomy - I’m not micro-managed as I hear happens at some of the larger recruitment agencies. I am trusted to use my initiative and develop my skill-set, with support. 

The team culture is also super-fun. There’s a great team dynamic and in lockdown, my favourite part of the week was our Friday Teams Wrap-Up meeting where we’d all share our weekly successes - whatever they were. We’d share a remote drink, take a quiz and catch up. It’s great now we’re back in the office and I can get to know my colleagues in person - and our wrap ups are in the beer garden!   

What have been the highlights of your new job so far? 

Headhunting passive talent for arguably one of the largest and most prestigious architecture practices in the North is a big highlight. You have to think about the skill set of your candidate against not only the job role but their cultural fit with the organisation. It’s a balancing act that involves emotional intelligence and when you get it right, it’s a great feeling. 

I also enjoy fostering these new relationships within the industry - there is so much exciting work happening in the architecture sector in the North at the moment and I believe that is only going to continue as lockdown eases. 

What skills do you need for a graduate job in recruitment?

You have to be tenacious. It’s quite a fast-paced industry with lots happening every day and you have to spot and seize opportunities quickly, so a commercial outlook helps - although you do develop this over time. 

My research and questioning skills are really important. I use them to understand as much as I can about my clients and their needs, as well as the culture of their business so that I can match them with their ideal candidate. 

And once the ball is rolling you have to be very organised to manage the process of organising CVs, interviews, offers and negotiations and then onboarding them smoothly so everyone is happy with the outcome. It’s a challenging job but hugely rewarding.