Insight into.. the man behind the brand – Sean McCleary

Can you tell us more about your background and your journey with Insight?

My professional background has all been in recruitment, for over 15 years I’ve worked in Tech & Engineering. Prior to setting up Insight I worked as a Partner for a FTSE listed recruitment company running one of the UK brands, which was very different from where Insight started out- in a far from glamorous office in Stockport. My journey at Insight started at the very beginning, getting back on the ‘tools’ building a new market from the ground up. I remember having to get in extra early to secure the only tea spoons in our shared kitchen (one of which we kept as a reminder of where we started off), but I constantly reminded myself of the 5-year plan I had devised – to have a super office in Manchester with 100 highly successful recruiters and be the recruitment partner of choice with some of the best companies in the UK.

Now we’re just over 18 months into that plan and the Insight family has grown to 19 strong, across 2 main brands and based in Manchester city centre. I’m proud to say we are partnering with some really exciting businesses and our growth has exceeded even my expectations. I’ve also managed to make sure there enough tea spoons across the office for everyone to have their own, so for me that’s real progress and the plan is well and truly on track.


What is your vision for Insight?

The key thing for me when setting up Insight was that the customer had to be at the centre of everything we do. I also felt for long term success we needed our focus to be on people rather than ‘placements’ and this had to be true both internally and in our dealings with clients and candidates.

I must have been to meet close to 1,000 customers in my recruitment career, so reflecting on these experiences I felt there was an opportunity for a boutique agency that can offer the same professional level of service and quality of delivery as the best larger, well established agencies but with a personalised, flexible approach where relationship is the main driver. I’m a firm believer in partnerships and for that reason I’m also happy to admit that at Insight we don’t want to work with just anybody – we aren’t big enough for a start, but the companies we do partner with and the specialist candidates that we represent are ones we know we can genuinely add value.

Internally, my vision for Insight is to be known as the best recruitment company to work for and whilst that may sound like a lofty expectation, the fact we have 100% retention, having never lost anybody from the team tells me we are doing something right.

How is Insight different?

I would say our values and our people are something that genuinely set us aside. Building the business from the ground up I could focus on creating the right culture and bringing only the best people into the team who add to that culture.  Everyone in the business knows that working for Insight means you must be driven, you need to care about people and you must act with integrity in everything you do – that is ingrained in the core of our business and is non-negotiable as far as we’re concerned. Our final value is being innovative and we constantly strive to evolve our offering and service, both by bringing in people who aren’t afraid to challenge the norm but also giving everyone the best resources to do the job.

One of the big differences that our customers comment on is the level of experience of the people they are dealing and ultimately the understanding and confidence in delivery that comes with that. I’m really lucky that a lot of exceptionally talented people that I’ve worked with over the years have wanted to join me in the Insight journey and this has meant we have a core team of Senior/Principle consultants who make up the biggest percentage of our business and take our average level of experience across the office to over 5 years in recruitment. I still see Insight as a start-up as we have only been going 18 months, but its these people who help set the standards and high expectations and ultimately enable us to offer industry leading service to our customers.

Lastly, we genuinely believe in getting involved and giving back to the community. This is reflected in our involvement in the tech community for example, we host our own industry events (with the last one having close to 100 attendees) or getting involved in the various meet ups/workshops within the specific markets we cover. This also extends to our local community in Manchester, we work closely with our nominated charity Mustard Tree, who are focused on combatting poverty & homelessness and as well as supporting financially through fundraising we help with CV writing and mock interviews. For me this a reflection of our commitment to our core value of caring for people.

What does success mean to you?

Those people who know me will know I love a good quote and whilst they are usually limited to your standard sportsmen, motivational speakers or even the odd movie quote, one slightly more profound quote that does sum up my approach to success is “The best way to cross the river is by feeling the stones”. For me being successful over a long period of time is about adapting to failure, learning, developing, and using those experience to shape your success in the future.

Personally, I have always been driven by progression and personal development, which in my earlier days meant I would measure success through progression of my career, earnings/lifestyle and how I compared myself against my peers. Whilst these things are still obviously important, my barometer of success is now more focused on the development and progression of the people who work for me now and Insight as a brand.  Another quote I use a lot when I’m talking to my people is “Be the best possible version of yourself” and when it comes to measuring our people’s success we look at personal bests, their development and progress against their own expectations.

On a personal level If I can look back in 5 years’ time and have built a brand/family at Insight that has enabled everyone involved to achieve their goals but also meant I can provide a good lifestyle for my own family, then I will happy.

What’s the best advice you have for anyone trying to make it in recruitment?

If you’re just starting out I would always advise that selecting somewhere with the right training and development is key, and I’m not just talking about a one size fits all, classroom based training program or graduate scheme. For me a blended approach to learning is key, but it’s also equally important to surround yourself with successful and ambitious people who you can learn from. Thankfully I had that experience starting out and that’s something I think is a fundamental part of Insight’s success. I always worry when I speak to people who make the decision about where they start their career based on extra pounds on their basic salary or the promise of ‘flexibility’ – that will come down the line with but success starts with doing things the right way.

The other thing I would say is play to your strengths, recruitment challenges you to do so many tasks that require numerous different skills. The more you can tailor your approach to allow you to focus on the things you are good at, the better results and also more enjoyment you will get out of the job. I’ve never really subscribed to the management approach of just focusing on ‘opportunities for improvement’ – don’t get me wrong there is some parts of the job that need to done no matter what, but I try and enable my people to operate in the space they are best at as much as possible.


Tell us about yourself on a personal level- when you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

Music is a big part of my life, in my younger days I was a relatively successful DJ and promoter. I was fortunate enough to be able to juggle my day job in recruitment with holding a residency, making music, plus promoting my own monthly party – Disco Electronica at Sankeys in Manchester. Gigs at places like Pacha & Space in Ibiza were pretty special, plus playing at festivals & clubs for the likes of God’s Kitchen and Ministry of sound all helped reinforce my love for music and develop a sociable personality. These days this is limited to me trying to take over the office sound-system with my playlists, or our office holiday trips which always seem to end up with us going to Ibiza!

Lastly one of the big drivers behind all this is my family and friends. I have 2 children, Charlie who is nearly 5 and Lottie who is 2, and a loving but slightly bonkers wife Kate. Any spare time I do have is spent with these guys making memories!