17/06/09

How to find good candidates for a certain role and how to persuade them to take the job?

Most companies believe that people are their most important asset. It follows then that recruiting the best people in the first place must be fundamental to a company’s success and value. And yet, recruitment is one of those things that we often launch in to rather than thinking through.

The first thing most of us tend to do is to create a Job Description, often by knocking the dust off (i.e. adding to) an old one. Unfortunately, this has already reduced your chances of finding the best candidate for what you need.

The first question to ask is:

“Do you really need a new person?”

This question is deceptively simple. Firstly, it requires a calculation of what the marginal benefit (profitability) of a new person could and should be. In order to do this, we need to look at the existing team / operation as a whole and question how it all fits together. For larger units, it might be unrealistic to think this through with every piece of recruitment, but in today’s service driven economy, most teams are relatively small and if it has been more than six months since last doing so, then it is worth doing again.

This piece of thinking often highlights the fact that recruitment is only really needed because other areas of the team are underperforming. It can also highlight the inefficiencies in the way in which work flows through the team which might not be playing to each individual’s strengths.

Secondly, this question highlights the difference between a new role and a new person. If you are to bring in a new person, does it make sense to bring them straight in to this role, or is it more sensible to bring someone in elsewhere and move people around to maximum effect?

If the conclusion is that a new person is needed, then the second question should be:

“What do you want to achieve with this new person?”

This should be answered in a very simple, big picture, way, e.g. an additional £75k Gross Profit, or perhaps, completing Month End on time every month. Once you have a clear idea of the Outcome Goal for this Individual you can then start to think about how this can be done. Not in terms of the Process Tasks which might help achieve the Outcome Goal, but in terms of our third next question:

“What kind of person will make this Outcome Goal happen?”

What Talents do they need to possess? What sort of personality? What will drive them to make sure this Outcome Goal is met? There is little in the way of objective language to describe these things, so this is difficult, but it is the essence of successful recruiting.

Do they need to be an “Arranger”, who thrives on juggling a hundred things and creating order out of chaos? Or does the prime motivator need to be “Focus”; someone who ignores ninety things on the list to concentrate on that which really adds value? These are two very different people, but both may have the same background, skills and experience to date. One will thrive in your role and one will be crushed or frustrated by it.

To answer this fully, you need to be able to answer the next two questions:

“What are the challenges of achieving the Outcome Goal?”, and “What do we as an organisation really offer a person?”

Both of these questions will allow you to visualise the person you need. The latter is a particularly hard question to answer. Almost every employer thinks that their company is a good place to work, that it’s a busy environment and that they are genuinely different to their competition. You need to go deeper than this. Can you offer the opportunity to work with some of the best minds in the business? Do you really give people autonomy to take their own decisions? Are you really completely flexible when it comes to working hours as long as the results are there? A long hard look in the mirror won’t be pleasant for all of us, but it is one of the best things you can do to impact positively on the long term success of your organisation.

Incidentally, if you are struggling to describe “Talents”; (the things that people do and love to do instinctively and thus excel at seemingly with ease) then I would recommend The Clifton StrengthsFinder and the Marcus Buckingham series of books based on Gallup research (“first, break all the rules”, “now, Discover your Strengths” etc)

Once you have defined the Personality, Talents and the Motivators to describe the person you are looking for, then you can start to recruit. Personally I would avoid preparing a Job Description all together, but this goes against the grain for some, and may be a requirement for larger companies (especially where Job Evaluation is required to set the Salary.)

The next question you should ask is:

“I can picture the person I am looking for, so where can I find them?”

This will help you choose your recruitment channels. This is a topic in its own right, but rather than employing several agencies, advertising on line, using social media and national/local advertising, it is cost effective to go straight to where the right people will be. Bear in mind that if someone sees your advert in several different places, you will look desperate rather than an employer of choice, and from this stage onwards, everything should be geared towards being the employer of choice.

Having chosen the right channels, you need to ask yourself:

“What will attract the right people to apply?”

Rightly or wrongly, your candidates will be attracted by the intelligence with which you first approach them. This first impression will stick. If you are advertising, then sell to their motivators. You should know what they are! If you are employing Recruitment Consultants make sure the individual who will be working on your behalf is impressive in their own right and knows exactly what you want and what you can offer. This will save you time screening out the inappropriate candidates, but more importantly, it will greatly improve your chances of attracting the best candidate for you.

If you do employ a specialist consultant, look at things from their point of view. Which role are they going to work hardest to promote. The one where they have been given all the tools to do the job and know they can represent you exclusively, or the one where they only have a Job Description to go on and are one of five agencies? Consultants thrive on relationships and repeat business and will work their socks off to preserve your trust if they deserve it and you give it to them.

So, you’ve sown the seeds and the recruitment ball is now rolling. What other questions do you need to ask yourself to find the right candidate? The next question to ask is:

“What will the recruitment process be?”

This seems a mundane question, but a lack of clarity here is probably the single biggest cause of losing the best candidates. Agree in advance the timescales for each process and stick to them! Decide how you will interview and select your candidates specific to what you are looking for. Remember that this is a two way process, you want to select the best possible candidate for you, but you are also trying to ensure that they want to join you! Tailoring the process is important, and we will look at that below, but the key point here is communication. Nothing turns the best candidates away like radio silence. Keep them informed and make them feel wanted.

So, on to the detail. Your selection process will include interviewing. There is a lot written about competency based interview and behavioural interviewing. Most of which, I would ignore. You will want to give every candidate the best chance of showing you who they are and what he or she can do. Treating them fairly, does not however mean each interview needs to be identical. Asking them pre-set questions only gives the impression of equal treatment, and breaks down the entire conversational flow of an interview which is a must if you are to find out anything meaningful about them. Remember you want to find out who they really are, not how well they can perform at interview!

Marking each individual against a competency based scorecard is also a bad idea. Firstly, you don’t want people who are competent, you want people to excel. Secondly, their skills are less important to you than their talent and personality (which defy objective scoring) and thirdly it’s a lazy way of avoiding decisions and only creates the illusion of equality.

If you have done your homework to date, then you know the Talents, Personality and Motivators that you are looking for. You need to tailor your interview to make sure you understand each applicant in these terms. Start with a simple format. For example, quick introduction, run through the candidates CV in chronological order, explore the most recent few years in detail, summarise and allow for questions.

When you are interviewing, be yourself. Make it as conversational as possible so that it is as real as possible. This might take a bit of preparation (you should always have read their CV thoroughly beforehand) and you should be prepared to follow the conversation where it naturally flows. You should always take a couple of recent work examples and explore them in as much detail as you can squeeze out of the conversation. You want to know exactly what this person did (personally) and what the impact was on the business. If it’s a topic you don’t know fully, even better. How well are they explaining it to you? Are they holding your interest? Does their body language tell you that they are really enthusiastic about what they are saying?

Interviewing is an exceptionally difficult skill. You have to direct the conversation, ask questions relevant both to the flow of the conversation and what you need to know, you need to observe the interviewee’s body language, engage their interest and their eye contact, listen to what they are saying and listen to your own analysis of what is being said, all in real time! I would always recommend you have two people if possible. One to front the interview and one, primarily to observe and take notes. And if possible, consider asking a professional interviewer to work with you. We all tend to think we are good judges of character, but we all filter the world in different ways, and whether you realise it or not, you will naturally favour certain personality types, which may or may not be a good thing for your team.

Assessment Centres can be an invaluable tool for comparing candidates to each other over a prolonged period of time, throughout a range of different circumstances. They can also drive candidates away in droves. If you wish to go down this route for the first time, I would think long and hard about how this should be done and I would ask for professional assistance. Remember when doing this, that the candidates need to come away from the assessment process feeling that they have really been able to show you what they can do, that they have met a pool of candidates worthy of out-shining and that they are keener than ever to work for you.

If you are employing tests, then once again, make sure they are directly relevant. A number of organisations insist on numeracy tests where this is simply not applicable and they lose top candidates in the process.

Finally, before you complete the final interview or assessment stage, be clear whether your preferred candidate is keen to join you and if so, on what basis. Roles at a certain level expect an element of negotiation after the offer, but if you can avoid this, then do so. The chances are that either the company will start off with the feeling that the individual really needs to justify the extra cash, or that the individual will start day one feeling undervalued. Neither makes for the most positive working environment.

On this point, be careful advertising Salary ranges. You, as an employer will be thinking that only a star would justify the top end of the bracket and the individual will probably be assuming that, as the successful candidate they can expect top dollar.

What else can I do to make sure the best candidate accepts and starts?

Once the offer is accepted many companies switch off the charm at this point. The Offer letter takes weeks to arrive and the carefully constructed stream of communication stops dead in its tracks. Not that you want to be on the phone every two minutes, but let them know when references have been successfully taken. (Always take verbal references) and it is helpful to arrange for them to meet the team beforehand if possible. Discuss the induction process (on-boarding) with them and get any reading material to them in advance if possible.

As far as timescales allow, make sure everything is ready for them day one (passwords, entry cards, business cards, phone etc.)

Finally, never assume that they will definitely start. Make sure you have a Plan B to fall back on to avoid going right the way back to the start of the process again.

What can I learn from this of future value?

You may have successfully recruited one employee, but you will have rejected many others. This is generally done with a minimum of thought and effort, but every one of those rejected candidates could be a star employee of the future or could become one of your key clients. Respond to every application politely, even if it’s a standard letter. Give as full feedback as you possibly can for everyone you interview. Let them know what you liked about them and what you would like to see them work on in order to be considered as a future employee. There is a river of talent out there, and every time you recruit you are able to promote your employer brand if you do it well.

Once they are settled in, ask the successful applicant for feedback. How did you come across as a potential employer? How excited did they feel about the role? How easy was it to apply, or how impressive did they think the Recruitment Consultant was?

Summary

To find and then attract the best candidates for you can be hard work, but it does not have to be complicated. The difference between bad recruitment and good is a canyon; from constantly re-recruiting, back filling roles and struggling with un-motivated, unsuitable staff to focussing on business and profitability, only recruiting through the necessity of expansion.

It requires clear thinking and a coherent process such as the ten questions we have posed throughout the chapter:

• Do we really need a new person?
• What do we want to achieve with this new person?
• What kind of person will make this Outcome Goal happen?
• What are the challenges of achieving the Outcome Goal?
• What do we as an organisation really offer a person?
• I can picture the person I am looking for, so where can I find them?
• What will attract the right people to apply?
• What will the recruitment process be?
• What else can I do to make sure the best candidate accepts and starts?
• What can I learn from this of future value?

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