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How to Win The War for Talent

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“Candidate driven market, skills shortage and war for talent” are currently extremely popular phrases within the recruitment sector.  Businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to find, and then secure, their perfect candidates for key roles.  This ultimately impacts on the bottom-line and can seriously impede the growth and development of an organisation. 

We all know the old adage “a company is only as good as the people in it”, so if all the best people are working for your competitors you could be in trouble.  While this may all sound terribly depressing, the good news is that you can be masters of your own destiny and can make the necessary changes to make sure you reign victorious! 

The reluctance of many employers to approach their recruitment process from the perspective of the candidate is one of the greatest barriers to engaging the best people that we experience on an almost daily basis.  The “prove that you’re worthy to work for us” or “why should we hire YOU” approach just does not cut it in the modern labour market.  Unemployment is relatively low, people know they will be better valued somewhere, new opportunities are easier to find, and smart headhunters are approaching them with impossibly perfect, dream career moves.  Quite frankly, you do not stand a chance unless you change your mind-set to “why on earth would you want to work for us?”  Which leads to further questions that you need to first answer and then act upon to create the sort of company that people genuinely want to be a part of:


Is our package competitive?  You may be surprised to hear that you don’t always have to pay absolute top dollar to secure the best people.  Companies that offer the right culture, challenges, development opportunities, and ethics often pay on par with the market but add value in other ways.  This could be performance related incentives or a strong sense of corporate social responsibility that enables employees to give something back to society.  However, you do have to be in the right ball-park.  Offering less than the current market rate will only result in a suitable hire if you significantly lower your expectations of the role and person specification. 

Is the working environment attractive to good candidates?
This is not just about the physical place of work although ensuring that people are equipped to do their job well, in an environment that is conducive, is very important.  For example, expecting a National Sales Manager to notch up thousands of miles per week, often working from their vehicle, in a SMART car is just ridiculous.  Is the working environment clean, fit for purpose and safe?  We don’t all work out of shiny new offices but even an engineering production line can be clean and well organised rather than cluttered and littered with aged oil and debris.  Is your signage, premises and equipment well maintained?   People aren’t always fussed about having the latest version of everything* but they do expect you to demonstrate some pride and care for your business (and the people in it). 


*Unless you operate in a high tech or design-led industry where not having the very latest release of some unfathomable software can result in weeping, hand-wringing, and laments of “how can I work in these conditions”.


What is your company culture?  The best candidates in any sector, and those that generate the most value and worth within an organisation, tend to be those that can innovate, use their initiative and get things done.  These individuals work well with autonomy and are motivated, in part, by feeling that their efforts are recognised, appreciated, and that they play their part in the continued success of the company.  Do you welcome, value, and act upon ideas from newcomers and within your business or do you dictate what, how and why everything is done in a particular fashion (often because “we’ve always done it this way”).  Is your response to new ideas “let’s give it a try” or “that won’t work, we tried something like it years ago”?  Do you provide a regular forum for sharing ideas and make it easy for people to make suggestions?  Do you celebrate successes that have resulted from the ideas of others?  Quite often a simple mention in the company newsletter, an email, a certificate, or a simple thank you, are all it takes to remind people that they are valued.  These things can often go much farther than a bonus payment.   Remember to keep things in proportion though.  If somebody saves you a million in production costs, or brings a million in new revenue in, then a dog-eared certificate may meet with some, not undeserved, derision and cause ill-feeling.


Do you provide good opportunities for training and development?  While smaller companies do not always have the levels of hierarchy that provide a clearly defined career ladder to climb they have the flexibility to allow an individual to grow a role into something that better suits them as they develop.  For example, a small company takes on their first dedicated sales person to help expand the business.  While a sales team of one doesn’t justify a Sales Manager role the incentive to grow sales, with a view to creating your own team to eventually manage, is a great motivator for those that have aspirations to move into a managerial role of some description as part of their career development plans.


Are you a friendly bunch who offer a welcoming and supportive team to join? Or are you so friendly and well established as a team that people find it difficult to break into the clique?  What is your induction and on-boarding process and does it help with integrating people and making them feel a part of the team from the earliest days?   Are you there to pull together towards a common goal or are you just focussed on individual performance because that will ensure results if everybody just concentrates on their own bits? 

What are your values and ethics?  The latest recession was largely blamed on corporate greed and the banking fraternity and the worldwide implications and impact on most people has resulted in more and more people asking of themselves “is this the way to do business” and “do I want to be a part of this”?  We interview candidates across a wide range of sectors on a daily basis and the ethics, values and business practices of employers are coming under more scrutiny from candidates.  

People want to be able to feel proud about what they do – or at the very least, not ashamed of it!  This can be a huge area of concern and it is something that has to become ingrained in the company culture and not just be soundbites to satisfy the latest trends.  This will range from how staff are treated on a daily basis through to corporate social responsibility (CSR) such as charitable work within the community, environmental considerations, using local suppliers to support the local economy etc.  Work / life balance can also play a big part in this.  The recruitment industry is a good example where Consultants are expected to work full-time as running a temporary or permanent desk doesn’t allow for part-time hours.  Well, we employed some part-time Consultants because they were the right people for our business and they do just fine!


How’s your reputation?  Even companies that do not have a large, recognised brand will have a reputation.  As business owners and managers we tend to be concerned about our reputation in our marketplace with customers as this is what brings in the sales and retains our clients.  This is important to candidates too.  People want to be a part of providing a product or service that is good value, good quality, and fit for purpose.  However, it is easy to forget that we also get a reputation as employers.  This is formed by how we treat current and past employees and in the way we recruit new ones.


For example, a previous client of ours enjoys a pretty good reputation within their market.  They are a first tier automotive supplier and can count most of the major marques among their client portfolio.  The automotive industry (particularly clients such as JLR, BMW, Toyota) are demanding and exacting in their requirements so you have to be good at what you do to secure and retain their custom.  They have a fairly good reputation as an employer with their current staff.  Most appreciate that, while they do not pay particularly well compared to the market, there is a certain level of care and respect that isn’t always present in bigger businesses.  However, they are starting to get a bad reputation with recruiters and potential candidates because of their recruitment process and uncompetitive packages.  Over the next 6 – 18 months this will markedly effect their ability to recruit the highly sought after skill sets and experience they need within their business to achieve the growth targets they have.


How “candidate friendly” is your recruitment process?  There is a fine line between making candidates jump through hoops to prove their desire and commitment to joining you and making it convenient for them to attend interviews.  A good general rule of thumb is to be accommodating at first interview and then expect the candidate to do likewise for the second stage.  By the time a candidate has got through to the second round interview they have a good idea of whether they want your job and they know they have a good chance of getting it.  This will make somebody much more likely to rearrange the important client meeting, or take their final day’s annual leave entitlement to attend a second interview.  Would it really hurt you to conduct first interviews after hours if it meant securing the best candidate?

Remember that your recruitment process is often the first, and only, experience that a candidate will have of your company.  The phrase “perception is reality, whether it is true or not” is really relevant here.  If a candidate experiences a recruitment process that is slow, unprofessional, inflexible, and all about what you can get from them, they will assume that this is how your business is run.  

This is where we return to our previous client and a few examples of what NOT to do during your recruitment process:

  • Don’t revoke an offer because you’ve decided that another post is now a priority to fill or that the FD didn’t have the authority to offer.  Get your house in order first – somebody has potentially left a job to take up your post! 
  • Do not offer the same candidate 3 months later at a salary level £5K less than you previously offered them.  It makes you look cheap and it devalues the individual.
  • Know what you need before starting the process – pulling a job after first interviews because “now we’ve filled one post we realise we don’t need a manager” makes you look disorganised and incapable of planning for the future.
  • Don’t leave it days or weeks before making an offer to the right candidate.  The good ones are not in the market long – offer quickly or lose them.  Simple!
  • Don’t offer less than they are currently earning!
  • Look internally BEFORE going out to market.  If you have an internal candidate you would be best served promoting them and back-filling their role.  Going out to market and then offering the job to an internal candidate leaves a lot of ill-feeling about wasted time and also makes you look a bit stupid for not noticing them before!
  • Don’t hang around waiting to see a second candidate as a “benchmark” when the first one can do the job – particularly if you are operating in the engineering field where skills are in short supply.  Make that offer NOW!
  • Don’t be indecisive.  If you’re pretty sure they’re right for you then offer them.  You have a probation period for if you got it wrong!


THE JOB OFFER!  So, once we’ve done everything in our power to make sure that our role and our company are an attractive proposition for the candidate we need to make the offer to secure them.  There will always be counter-offers and losses in a candidate driven market so we need to make sure that we reduce our chances of being the one that loses out.  Here are few things that will help:


Efficient recruitment process.  Make sure that your recruitment process runs quickly and smoothly.  Make room in your diary so that you can first and second interview with little delay.  Once you have identified the one you want MAKE THEM AN OFFER!  I use a 48 hour rule for feedback and offers – don’t leave people hanging about.  They will assume that you’re not that interested and it leaves a window of opportunity for other parties to pitch great vacancies to them.


The Offer itself.  Make sure that the package is an attractive one or is at least competitive within your market.  Clarify any additional incentives, bonuses, and exactly when salary reviews will be conducted.  If you have an exceptional candidate (and the budget to do it) offer more than the role was advertised at upfront.  You get a lot more out of people by showing faith in them at the outset than you do by promising the goods once they’ve delivered.  This may seem counter-intuitive but it works.


Make your candidate feel wanted!  Ensure that you demonstrate how much you’re looking forward to getting your candidate on-board.  Show that you value them and are confident that they will make a positive impact on the company.  Don’t make them feel as if you’re doing them a favour!  But do make them feel lucky to be joining the team.  Keep in touch throughout the notice period they serve.  Perhaps clue them in to upcoming events and projects or just drop a quick line to ensure everything is OK.  Don’t stalk them though!


If you’ve read this and thought to yourself “I don’t know where to start” or “I just don’t have the time” then give us a call at Recruit Recruit on 01902 763006 and we can handle the recruitment process for you and can provide free advice and guidance on how to get the other stuff done!