Specialized niches help recruiters stand out in a crowded field

Aneela Zaib, CEO of EmergiTel, found success by focusing on difficult technical hires in IT and telecom

Emergitel CEO Aneela Zaib

Emergitel CEO Aneela Zaib. (Portrait by Nikki Ormerod)

A CEO like Aneela Zaib isn’t really supposed to admit her company might have a problem finding staff: She runs a recruitment firm, after all. Surely she should be able to attract great candidates if she’s promising to find star employees for her clients.

But as surprising as it may sound, hiring has been Zaib’s biggest challenge at EmergiTel, her Richmond Hill, Ont., company, which specializes in recruiting workers in the IT and telecom sectors. “It’s very hard to find people with the right combination of skills,” she says. Those with deep technical expertise and experience sometimes lack the soft skills necessary to meet and recruit job candidates—and many are more interested in a technical career anyway. But non-technical recruiters lack the expertise to evaluate whether, say, a Java developer might be suitable for a particular client’s needs.

The problem was the same for EmergiTel’s own sales team, which needed to be able to not only pitch the company’s services effectively but also dig into the technical specifics, right down to which programming languages the client uses.

“Our philosophy has been to never give up,” says Zaib, who founded EmergiTel in 2007 and earned a spot (No. 117) on the PROFIT 500, the annual ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies for a second consecutive year in 2015. So she rolled up her sleeves and solved her own problem—by developing an extensive customized training program to help equip generalists with the knowledge they need to work in a sales or technical recruitment position at EmergiTel. With a system in place to equip new employees with the technical knowledge they’d need on the job, she could expand her own search for employees and hire from a larger pool of people with strong analytical and communications skills.

The content of the four-week program includes a summary of current IT technologies, an overview of the most-needed technical jobs, answers to common client and applicant questions, and a discussion of where to find top-quality candidates.

“Our sales team [and recruiters] are successful because they are able to speak the same language as our clients,” says Zaib, who’s well-positioned to know. She worked as a project manager in the IT industry before founding EmergiTel. She started the company after noticing the need for a platform to connect IT- and telecom-focused job seekers with employers. At the time, most recruitment firms weren’t specialized and used the same people to serve a wide variety of industries. “I had a vision to provide a service for IT,” Zaib says. She now has 230 employees—and a company that stands out in the crowded recruitment field, thanks to its specialized niche.

A native of Pakistan (she came to Canada in 1998 as a student at the University of Toronto), Zaib also knows that gaps sometimes exist between immigrant job seekers and Canadian employers. Though they may possess the practical skills necessary to work here, many immigrants are unable to land jobs because they lack Canadian experience or, in some cases, the connections or language skills to convince employers they have what it takes, especially in technical fields. So Zaib makes sure EmergiTel recruiters meet with job candidates to assess their strengths, weaknesses and job readiness, and pays outside experts to assess candidates’ technical expertise.

“Immigrants have a lot to offer,” Zaib says. “What’s missing sometimes is confidence, and somebody to give them customized attention and help them present themselves in the best possible way.”