Meet the Team: An Interview with Millar Cameron’s Head of Research Victoria Bowden
We sat down with our Head of Research, Victoria Bowden, to discuss her career path, and to get a whistle stop tour of her 5 years with the company.
1. What’s your current role at Millar Cameron?
I’m currently our Head of Research where I oversee all our delivery work across the organisation. I work closely with our delivery consultants to ensure they have all the tools available to complete our searches, identifying the top talent and ensuring candidates have a great experience working with us.
I am also heavily involved in delivery and primarily support our clients within international development and agribusiness. In my time at Millar Cameron, I’ve had a great experience working with clients in these two sectors, along with the clients in the power and infrastructure, aquaculture and education sectors.
2. Why executive search? What led you to a career in this space?
I graduated from the University of Cambridge without a clear idea of what I wanted to do. My degree is in Human, Social and Political Sciences and I’ve always had an interest in people and understanding cultural differences. Whilst job hunting post-University I was approached for a role within recruitment, which wasn’t something I had previously considered.
I met with the team at Millar Cameron and was immediately interested in what the company did so took the plunge into the recruitment world! Joining as a Researcher with very minimal understanding of recruitment, our geographies and our sectors, has been a massive learning curve. Our geographies present unique challenges and I love being able to solve a problem.
Executive search is a fantastic way to understand society. The nature of our work means that I’m constantly learning about new sectors, new organisations, and new geographies. The best way to understand an industry, geography, or organisation, is to speak to people day in and day out – you learn the challenges, the opportunities, and the developments.
I’m a firm believer that you can learn a lot from desk-based research but the opportunity to speak to real people about their experience, their thoughts, and their feelings – nothing beats that when it comes to research. A career where I get to combine deep research with meeting new people, both candidates and clients, and creating longstanding relationships - I honestly couldn’t think of a role that combines my personal interest more!
ABOUT MILLAR CAMERON
3. What made you choose Millar Cameron?
The unique focus of Millar Cameron was interesting to me, but it was primarily the team that made me choose the company - you could sense the enthusiasm and passion from them from the first meeting. When starting out a career and not really knowing what I was looking for it made sense to join a company where people genuinely seemed to enjoy what they do.
Throughout my time here this has been a true running thread – the team enjoy what they do and are passionate about the markets they work in. We encounter many challenges in our jobs, partly due to the nature of recruitment, and partly due to the space we work in. I firmly believe that to overcome these challenges you need to have a team you can count on, who you trust, and in turn who trust you.
4. How would you describe Millar Cameron and the work you do?
We are a professional search firm dedicated to the Global South. We primarily partner with companies and organisations to identify the right people for their hiring needs, however beyond this offer services such as talent mapping and salary benchmarking.
5. Millar Cameron is unique in their passion for and focus on roles in sub-Saharan Africa and emerging markets. Do you have a tie to these countries?
In all honestly at the time of joining the company – no, I had no ties. However, having spent almost 5 years working almost solely across Africa it is now extremely close to my heart. You can’t spend every day talking to people across the continent, working with organisations tirelessly striving to improve life across the continent, and not develop a keen interest in and affinity for the continent!
Having a team based in Nairobi and being able to visit them frequently, along with our clients and candidates based there, has been a true privilege and has only enabled the commitment I feel to Africa to grow. My friends often joke that I know more about Africa (geographies, politics, businesses) than I do Europe – and they’re not wrong! I am incredibly passionate about the future of Africa – according to UNICEF by 2030 a fifth of the world’s population will be from Africa, and by 2050 a third of all the world’s children will be African. Focusing, and being able to contribute to this growing continent is not only incredibly rewarding but also simply makes sense when you look at its future on the global stage.
6. Recruiting for senior management, director and C-suite positions requires a unique skill set. How do you prepare your candidates for the recruitment process at this level?
My strategy here is to share as much information as possible – the more informed candidates can be on the company, the opportunity and the interview process, the better. We take candidates through at least 2 stages of interviews with us before they are formally presented to the client – this is for both our benefit and the candidates.
On our side, it enables us to ensure the position is a good fit for the candidate and they meet the requirements. On the candidate’s side, it gives them time to consider the position and do their own research on the company (and location if necessary).
We ask our clients to outline their interview process so candidates know what to expect, and how many interviews there will be. When preparing candidates for interview we talk them through who they will be meeting with, the areas the client has highlighted as being key, and thus the parts of their background to draw upon.
In addition, if clients have indicated any areas for concern we ensure candidates are prepared to address them. Ultimately the candidates who have got to this stage have impressed us through 2 stages of Millar Cameron interviews, so I often make sure they know to just be themselves!
A piece of advice I give without fail is that as much as the typical format is ‘company interviews candidate’ candidates should also treat it as ‘candidate interviews company’ – is it a company they could see themselves working for? Could they work with the team they meet? Whilst I pride myself on giving a comprehensive overview of the company, the team, and the position, nothing can compare to meeting them yourselves, and I like to ensure candidates know this and make the most of it.
A nuance of our markets is that we employ global searches, and thus for a lot of candidates the roles they are in conversation with us for involve relocation. Therefore the majority of interviews are virtual, and ensuring candidates are comfortable with this and have the set-up required is also important.
ABOUT THE SECTOR
7. Is there any single placement of which you are most proud? Or feel has had the greatest impact on the communities you are so passionate about?
Whilst I have enjoyed working with clients across our sectors, the work I’m most proud of is that within the international development space – our clients are having an incredibly positive impact and it’s amazing to play a part in that, helping them find the right talent to grow, expand, and further their reach and impact.
I wrote a piece last year about our partnership with FSC Indigenous Foundation (an organisation focused on securing indigenous people’s rights). When we started working with them there was just their Managing Director, and now there is a fully-fledged team across multiple continents who we have placed almost a quarter of!
More recently I have had the opportunity to work with Last Mile Health, an organisation that supports and invests in community health workers to strengthen health systems across Africa. In recruiting their new Chief Technical Officer I spoke to some incredible people in the community and public health space across the world; the impact each one of those people was making, along with Last Mile Health as an organisation, is something you can’t help but be brought in to and be passionate about.
8. What do you see as the biggest recruitment opportunity and conversely challenge, currently playing out over the next 12 months?
I think recruitment as a whole has both an incredible opportunity and a challenge with the rising presence of AI. The introduction of the likes of ChatGPT has introduced a new way of gathering information which for us is incredibly useful, the better understanding we have of a company and industry, the better we can support them.
However, what we now face as recruiters is a world where our knowledge base can be seen to be replicated in an internet interface. You can type into ChatGPT ‘who are the top CFOs in Tanzania?’ and get answers. Surely this is easier than hiring an external recruiter? A conversation we have had a lot internally is how we position ourselves in this evolving world.
The opportunity I believe this provides us is to demonstrate the partnerships we provide – I’m a firm believer that we cannot be replaced by software or a new tech tool. Companies build tech to screen CVs at application, multiple job application sites exist, and despite this, the recruitment industry has boomed. What we provide is relationships – we understand your company, your needs, and we put in place strategies to not only identify talent, but engage talent.
In addition to this, we work closely with candidates, a service that cannot be replaced by an online offering. We can assess team and culture fit, career motivations and aspirations, and ensure that the hiring process is smooth and results in the best outcome for all. I’m truly excited that this AI evolution will allow us to focus more on this ‘people’ aspect, building relationships and partnerships, whilst enabling us to deepen our knowledge base.