Skills guarantee nothing, says James Reed

Picture:  Craig Hibbert         29-7-13 James Reed, Chairman of Reed.

James Reed became Chief Executive of Reed, the recruitment specialists, in 1997 and Chairman in 2004 after his father, Sir Alec Reed started the company back in 1960. Our HR reporter, Sergio Russo spoke to him about recruitment in general and the skills gap in particular.

You recently wrote a book on job hunting and self-development with Paul Stoltz, called ‘Put your mindset to work’. Why did you write it?

What motivated us to write the book was a combination of things. The primary reason was helping people being more successful in the job market. The input came some years ago, when we were working on a project which involved unemployed people. We realised that helping them develop their mindset had a transformational impact on both their lives and on the way they perceived themselves. The second reason was my intuition that employers prefer mindset ahead of skills when hiring people. This insight was developed after 20 years of experience running a recruitment business and backed up by extensive research which is documented in the book.

A recent report from UK Commission Employment and Skills finds that one in five jobs suffer from a skills shortage. Your book, on the other hand, mentions that ‘skills guarantee nothing’ and that ‘mindset trumps skills’. What do you mean by this?

I believe that if you get the mindset right first, skills will follow. Our research has shown that if employers had to choose between two candidates, the first with the right mindset but not adequate skills, and the second with the right set of skills but lacking in mindset, 97% of them would prefer the first candidate. A person with a strong mindset will be able to pick up skills during his career progression, whereas, according to the employers we surveyed, too many candidates (especially young ones) lacked in strong mindset qualities, even if they were equipped with the right skills. As quoted in the book, perhaps the only skills really needed is the skills to acquire new skills.

Another reason why mindset is ahead of skills is that skills can become obsolete very quickly. In a society where technological changes are frequent and new types of jobs have recently emerged, the skills that are in demand today might not be in demand in the next five years.

Most employers probably tend to look for practical problem solving skills. So mindset qualities, such as trustworthiness, loyalty, reliability, etc, might be harder for jobseekers to demonstrate in an application or interview. So how can recruiters bring these qualities out of an applicant?

A problem with some interviews, especially the competency based ones, is that they can be very formulaic, and in these cases it can be difficult for candidates to express their mindset qualities. Hence I believe it is important that interviewers ask the appropriate set of questions that make these qualities emerge. I can advise both recruiters and applicants using the ‘3G Panorama’ assessment which is presented in the book and available online. This instrument, though it might not be a determining factor when choosing a candidate, can be used by applicants to present additional information about themselves.

Social media has revolutionised the recruitment process, and your book recommends the use of quality networking. What are your key social media tips that recruiters can use?

Along with our website Reed.co.uk, which includes abundance of resources and job ads, I can advise recruiters to use LinkedIn as a candidate database. Applicants can as well benefit from having well-presented profile on LinkedIn with recommendations and endorsements to increase their visibility. Further strategies on how to become more connected and build your own network are described in the book and involve the use of social media, even though they are not only limited to that.

The CIPD recently issued some guidelines stating that it was okay for recruiters to view an applicant’s LinkedIn profile but that it was not okay to view their Facebook page. Do you agree with this?

I don’t necessarily agree with the CIPD report. From a recruiter’s perspective, I believe it is important to find as much as possible about an applicant that could potentially work for their organisations and could be put in a position of responsibility. Most Facebook profiles, in addition, tend to be set private; if they are not, candidates should be aware of what they are sharing and be prepared that other people might have a look at them.

Your book endorses a more personalised version of the résumé, the CMe. What are the advantages on the traditional CV, and why should people start using it?

The CMe, like the 3G Panorama assessment, is an instrument that aims to present those mindset qualities that employers tend to seek. Applicants can use it to introduce their profiles in a format that is easily accessible to the employer. Recruiters, on the other hand, can use CMe as a tool that can provide more details about the candidate they are interviewing and possibly facilitate their decision process.

Recent data seem to show that recruitment and particularly graduate recruitment will be increasing this year. Do you see any evidence of this?

Our 2014 Job Index shows a significant growth in the number of jobs, with the highest increase since 2009. Though our report does not include detailed figures for graduates, there is positive news from those sectors which tend to attract graduates or which offer graduate schemes. This is the case, for instance, of industries such as IT, telecommunication, education, construction, office administration, strategy and consultancy, which are all growing fast.

What are the next big challenges ahead for recruiters?

I can see three big challenges. The first one is youth employment. Getting young people into work is a pressing problem that cannot be postponed any longer. In this regard, our book aims to equip young people becoming aware of what to prepare when accessing the labour market. Although recent progress can be observed, there is still much that needs to be done. The second challenge is talent shortage. As our economy starts to grow again, the demand for talents, especially in areas such as engineering and IT, will increase. Recruiters are hence required to find and develop the right people in these strategic sectors. I see it as a challenge, but also an opportunity.

Lastly, the third challenge for recruiters is to further develop the ability to use new technologies to increase the efficiency of the job market. It is frustrating to see that opportunities are lost because jobseekers and recruiters are not connected enough. UK has a well-developed network of agencies with a long expertise, and we need to make sure that people with the right profile are offered the right opportunities.

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  1. I spent the early years of my working life in the Canadian Army. When I left and began my thirty year business career in human resources, my new colleagues would sometimes ask how we motivated people to do dangerous things. Well, we began by recruiting people who, at that time in their lives, wanted to do dangerous things.

    To bring this into a business context, consider the story of how the ING brand was established in Canada, as told in The Orange Code. Co-author Bruce Philp argues that the best organizations are the ones that treat their brands as constitutions. Working with this constitutional model, the brand becomes both a way to judge fit and a self-reinforcing meme that ensures consistent, values-driven behaviour. Mr. Philp goes on to say “…Competence is table stakes for any employable candidate…Demand competence but look for character. Who are these people? What drives them? What are they looking for?”

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