When recruiting gets tough

I’ve mentioned before that I started my career in a recession and how the process of getting my first job was utterly soul destroying. To this day, I still have the rejection letters that I received from the hundreds of companies that bothered to reply as a reminder of how it feel to be on the receiving end. The letters are almost uniform in their nature, with banalities mentioning the number of candidates, the fit to the role, but with little specificity or anything of any help.

A quick scan through Linkedin will show you that many are in that current position. And with headlines in the news about the thousands of applicants for roles it can all feel bleak and difficult for candidates. At the same time, hard pressed resourcing teams are finding themselves faced with increasing numbers of applicants and in many cases, simply do not have the time or resources to handle the new volumes in their existing processes.

It is a tricky mix. But one that those of us in the industry need to work through.

We need to automate but not depersonalise – automation can be a big help, many organisations will have a system of some sort for recruitment. But at the same time, we need to understand the impact that a cold automated email has on the morale of those seeking work. The wording that may have been acceptable six months ago, may seem clumsy and uncaring now.

We need to balance the effort of the applicant with that of the resourcer – there is a temptation to introduce a whole load of exercises or tests to reduce the number of applicants. That’s fine, but if you’re going to ask an applicant to spend an hour of their time to do these, you better provide them with something more than a simple email. The more you’re asking candidates to put in, the more you need to give back.

We need to be open to all – I’ve seen a lot of well meaning people say that they are going to prioritise those who have been made redundant. Others copying and pasting statements about being willing to help “anyone they’ve worked with in the past”. Whilst I understand the sentiment behind these, they’re both discriminatory and unfair. We cannot know the background of all our candidates, so we need to treat them all the same.

We need to ask for what we need – The qualifications shambles that has taken place over the last few weeks should act as a blunt reminder that qualifications are not a good means of selection. Nor is asking for prior experience beyond the needs of the role. Now more than ever, we need to specify only those things that we need, it may increase the number of applicants, but it is also more likely to get you the best hire.

We need to be humble and care – Every applicant is a person, a human being, with a unique story. They’re not a candidate number or a CV. Our focus on candidate experience should increase during this time, even if our approach to it needs to change. We may not be able to handle things in exactly the same way as before, but we should care about candidates equally, if not even more.

It’s more than bums on seats

I’ve always enjoyed resourcing. Well, with the exception of interviewing which I to this day find the most terribly dull activity to spend a whole day on – one or two is my limit. Which makes it more surprising to me when few leaders seem to spend as much time on it as I think they should.

When I was studying HR back in the days of steam engines and the printing press, recruitment was seen as a bit of a transactional process. Our efforts were mostly focused on the how and not the why. Bizarrely, much of the recruitment chatter at conferences these days still focusses on the same, with technology platforms taking the place of strategic discussions.

If we believe that people are a defining competitive advantage for organisations, if we believe that having talented, committed, passionate people in the right jobs is critical, then we have to spend more time focussing on recruitment and resourcing than simply talking about the latest platform to help improve speed/reduce headcount/take out cost. Because ultimately, our job isn’t about any of those things.

Hiring good people should be hard, whether internally or externally. It should make us think, we should put time, effort and investment into it. Our obsession to make it easy absolutely misses the point of why we are doing it. An employee that is paid £25,000 probably has an annual cost to the business closer to double that when you take on costs, occupancy and other factors, if they stay for five years, that’s £250,000. How many other decisions like that would you enter into with such little due diligence?

That’s before I get into the cultural factors, issues of inclusivity,  future needs, team dynamics etc.

If, as leaders, we believe that human capability is one of our key responsibilities, then we need to take resourcing a lot more seriously than we do. And those that work in HR and recruiting teams need to get much better at explaining why. This isn’t a process that can be outsourced or systemised in the relentless pursuit of cost savings, it is a strategic imperative that needs to be understood.

Shooting yourself in the foot, the recruiter way

The term, “war for talent” is both divisive and massively open to interpretation. But I can tell you that, if there is one, a lot of recruiters are busy taking aim and shooting themselves in both feet.

Over the ten years I’ve been blogging, I’ve come back to this topic again and again, yet little seems to change. Now that could be a reflection of my lack of influence, or the inherent failings in the recruitment industry.

Most of us have started our working lives doing part time, temporary employment – maybe whilst at school, college or university. It’s our first experience of the world of work and the first experience of recruitment. When I was a teenager that might have been with an independent shop, pub or restaurant but with the changing face of the high street it’s increasingly likely that a young person now will experience this with a chain.

A chain that will hopefully have this young person not just as an employee, but as a consumer. Yet my observation of their collective recruitment practices is one of woeful inadequacies and systemic failure.

Let’s be clear, recruitment is not the same as bidding for an item on eBay, it is a deeply personal transaction. Rejection in recruitment is rejection of a human being, not a bid. It simply isn’t good enough to have an automated acknowledgement and then radio silence. It isn’t good enough to have a line saying, “unless you’ve heard from us within 14 days, assume you’ve been unsuccessful”. And to even think it is, suggests a deeply flawed understanding of the consumer/candidate interface.

Let’s flip it on it’s head. Can you imagine receiving an automated response from a candidate saying, “Thank you for your job offer, if you haven’t heard from me In two weeks assume I’ve rejected the offer.”? What would you make of them? Arrogant?

See where I’m going with this?

That’s before we unpick the detailed connection between the treatment of candidates and their relationship with your brand. You can talk all you like about candidate experience, but unless you define the experience you want to give and transform your processes to deliver it, you might as well be talking about the price of coal.

Recruiters, my ask of you is this. Treat candidates as you’d want a love one to be treated, regardless of their stature and status. Your summer or Christmas temp could one day be your CEO, that is if they haven’t started a new enterprise that will eventually put you and your company out of business.

Recruiting stupidity

Sometimes we get an unexpected lens on the profession. Too often we look from our own position of knowledge and insight and not often enough do we put ourselves in the shoes of a user, whether as an employee or candidate. We talk about “candidate experience” and the role of technology in providing this and  we applaud ourselves on the implementation of systems that improve our speed to hire.

And then we have the chance to look at it from the position of the candidate.

I had this opportunity to do this recently as my daughter applied for Christmas temporary roles with some of the biggest brands on the high street. And I’m here to tell you that your approach well and truly sucks.

Hold in your mind that we are talking about temporary roles here. Maybe four or five weeks. We are talking part time, low paid, customer service roles. We are generally talking about roles that get little training or direction and that are insecure and  disposable.

Which of course is why you need to have an application process that takes on average an hour per role, that includes psychometric testing and situational judgment tests and that results in a standard email telling you that someone will contact you. Which they never do.

Could it be that she just has bad luck? Maybe. But when I talk to her friends they all have experienced the same treatment. And two years ago I had the same experience with my son, resulting in this brilliant message exchange (it was January).

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So of course, your brand just looks a bit stupid and a bit out of touch. When you’re 16, 17, 18 you don’t understand why companies use such laborious and clunky approaches and particularly not as part of an exchange that doesn’t feel fair. You want me to complete all these hoops and hurdles for a minimum wage job with a life expectancy of weeks? No thank you very much.

So yes, it might make life easier for your resourcing teams, but frankly it makes you look stupid. Many years ago I was responsible for recruiting 20,000 Christmas temps for a UK wide high street brand. We put posters up in store asking candidates to speak to the manager inside – ridiculously old school, but funnily, that always seemed to work. And the candidate ALWAYS got to speak to a human being.

Now that’s candidate experience.