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How Kinross recruitment boss found success stopping ‘CV churn’

Nik Plevan spotted a gap in the recruitment market and worked on software to help firms find their best fit.

eTalent Owner Nik Plevan . Image: Steve Brown / DC Thomson
eTalent Owner Nik Plevan . Image: Steve Brown / DC Thomson

For 15 years, Nik Plevan has been helping companies across Scotland find the right employees by reducing “CV churn” using AI software.

The Kinross-based business owner set-up eTalent Ltd after noticing a gap in the market, following a successful career in acquisitions and joint ventures.

He explains the highs of operating his own business, the lows of having to work with uninterested partners, and explains why a car from 1924 is his dream ride.

How and why did you start in business?

In 2009, I spotted an opportunity to develop a recruitment software system that uses AI tools to focus on assessing personality and behaviour suitability for a job as part of the process – which helps reduce costs of churn through hiring people who don’t fit the job or company culture – but doesn’t charge for the assessments on a per-head basis, while retaining accuracy and rigour.

What did you do before that gave you the skills and confidence to start the business?

I worked for a number of large companies in roles from business development to acquisitions and joint ventures, until starting my own business in 1999 supplying personality and behaviour assessments as the distributor for two US assessment publishers.

The business model was, and largely still is, based on cost-per-assessment, which is lucrative for suppliers but expensive for customers, especially in recruitment where volumes can often be very large.

Nik hard at work in his Milnathort office. Image:  Steve Brown / DCT Media

Because of the cost and the way assessments are administered, they’re usually seen as a second or third-tier screening tool, which means often the best candidates can be overlooked because they’re rejected at an earlier stage.

I saw an opportunity for a software tool where every applicant is assessed on personality and behaviour within a simple online process, and all on a simple flat-fee, unlimited use, pricing model.

How did you get to where you are today?

Persistence, persistence, focusing on how to solve the customer’s problems, hard work, resilience and persistence. Did I mention persistence?

Who helped you?

A large number of people who have come and gone, but only one who remains with me – my software developer without whose help I couldn’t have succeeded. FSB has also been helpful in giving me access to resources and publicising my major milestones.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

If you’re sure you’re on the right path never, ever give up.

What is your biggest mistake?

Getting business partners into the business I didn’t really need who added very little, if anything, and then cost me money to disengage with.

That was a result of working on my own and believing I needed someone to bounce ideas off and offer an alternative perspective, but over time I became much more confident in my own abilities.

I now have an excellent Action Coach business coach, Rupert Hine. Working with him was an excellent decision.

What is your greatest achievement?

Getting this business to where it is today from a completely standing start, largely without external finance or debt.

The last two years have seen the business enjoy significant growth – profit almost quadrupled on a near-doubling of revenue – and I’m expecting continued growth this year, particularly for fully-managed services because many SME business owners are too busy to do recruitment themselves.

Nik at work. Image: Steve Brown / DC Thomson

My system cuts out wasted time screening scores of CVs of applicants and reduces the number of unproductive interviews. That time saved are even more valuable to business owners now.

All they need to do is log in and the dashboard for the job has automatically ranked the applicants on personality suitability as well as hard skills, experience, qualifications and the like.

They can then decide who to interview from the top-ranked applicants without looking at a single CV.

How are you managing rapidly rising costs?

That’s an answer too long to give here, but mainly through efficiencies.

How could the governments help you trade overseas more?

I’m not sure government could help because the limiting factor is finding the right people to represent the business in each country. Because recruitment markets vary so much, it’s quite hard to find the best people.

What do you still hope to achieve?

I’m determined to expand the business into Europe on a country-by-country distributorship basis. We already have distributors in Ireland, Cyprus and Kenya.

What do you do to relax?

I listen to audio books, usually while walking in the Perthshire hills with my dog, and watch drama/crime series on TV as well as rugby and F1.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?

I’m reading They Ask You Answer by Marcus Sheridan.

What do you waste your money on?

Electronic gizmos I don’t need.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

Have a cup of Earl Grey tea and get my brain working by solving a Sudoku puzzle in The Courier.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I drive a BMW 5 Series Touring.

I’m happy with that and don’t really want anything else, although I’d love to own a 1924 Vauxhall 30-98 Wensum Tourer.

Lovely, if a little impractical!