Ita McNeil-Jones of Sitka Recruitment
Ita McNeil-Jones, founder and director of Sitka Recruitment, charts her career so far from graduating university and travelling the globe to setting up her own successful recruitment agency right here in Wales...
What is it the company does?
We match aspiring leaders and managers to Welsh businesses who need new talent. We are an independent recruitment business specialising in HR, finance, marketing and business development roles in Wales.
We use a search and selection model for most of the roles we deal with, similar to that of an executive search and selection firm but more thorough.
By this we mean we blend headhunting with main stream recruitment techniques, which enables us to find the right candidates for our clients.
With over 30 years’ experience working both as business managers and recruiters, we know how important a trusted recruitment partner can be in saving businesses time and money and helping them thrive.
What does your role involve?
I oversee the business along with Karen Birch. As well as running recruitment campaigns, I am heavily involved in marketing and business development.
I spend a lot of time infiltrating the market and headhunting high calibre candidates for clients, largely through the network I’ve built up over 25 years but also through avenues such as LinkedIn and job boards.
I spend a significant amount of time with clients, understanding their business culture and specific requirements, and attending networking events such as those run by Cardiff Business Club and IoD.
The role is varied and broad, so it never gets dull.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I studied business and finance at Bournemouth University; having being brought up in Northern Ireland, I was keen to experience a different part of the UK.
I moved to Cardiff in 1992 and went back to university to complete a marketing degree. I then took a year out to ‘see the world’, travelling to Asia and Australia, and did a bit of soul searching!
My recruitment career started with Hays Specialist Recruitment where I worked for 11 years, progressing to the role of business director within just six years.
My focus was on delivering high quality services to both clients and candidates; I have always specialised in appointing managers and directors to key roles.
I left Hays in 2011 following the birth of my second child and worked as corporate events manager for the Welsh charity Tenovus Cancer Care, before becoming business development manager for Cardiff and Vale College where I helped develop the commercial function.
It was in this role that I identified a need for a Wales-based recruitment agency that could provide qualified and compatible candidates to employers in Wales.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone who acts with integrity at all times and who is transparent in all they do. This question comes up a lot doesn’t it? I believe there isn’t one correct answer to this question, although being open and honest with your staff and customers is the only way to run a business in my eyes.
As a business leader, you need to understand the end goal but be willing to adapt your strategy along the way. The best leaders I know have made mistakes, learnt from them, and used their experience in a positive way to better themselves and their business.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
On a personal level, managing my time. Recruitment agencies don’t always have the best reputation, so our challenge is to prove there are agencies like Sitka committed to providing candidates and clients with a responsive and positive recruitment experience.
We believe good recruitment is about partnership; there’s got to be trust and transparency on both sides.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I have an amazing business partner who really is my rock; she empathises with my woes and always puts a positive spin on challenges.
I enjoy yoga and practice at home when I can as well as running. Personal wellbeing is vital to us. As we grow, our team will benefit from a flexible employer who places strong emphasis on their welfare.
Oh, and I would be lost without my Spotify account!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I dreamt of being an actress - much to my parents’ dismay. I had an audition with the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin and loved watching old movies like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Calamity Jane’ and ‘White Christmas’. But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be and I opted for a career in the business world– which still has its theatrical moments!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I have a real bug bear for people ignoring emails. I strongly believe you should treat others as you’d like to be treated, so I do my utmost to reply to all emails - even if it’s to say ‘thanks, but no thanks!’
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Our dreams are ambitious but realistic. Karen and I plan to remain close to the business and keep recruiting. We see ourselves staying in the recruitment arena for at least the next 15-20 years and are keen to grow the business. We would like to take on a few staff over the next five years, people who believe in our values and what Sitka stands for; recruitment with integrity, commitment and excellence at its core.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
We set up our own business in our 40s, so I’d say you’re never too old. Having worked in many different environments, I would grab every opportunity that lands your way; I’ve learnt so much more from bad managers and my own mistakes than I ever learnt from what went right! I have recently become a mentor with Chwarae Teg to help young aspiring leaders reach their goals and ambitions, and we are talking to the University of South Wales about helping their students understand the challenges they’re likely to face when looking for jobs and helping them become work ready.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
You know I can’t say there is one particular thing, but then I started my business later than the average entrepreneur! Career wise, I wish I’d had a mentor who would have encouraged me to believe in myself more.