Ben Hutt: How to hire top talent in a tight market

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With UK unemployment hitting a seven year low recently, it’s fair to say that employees may now feel more comfortable exploring different job options. This will likely leave lots of UK employers scratching their heads wondering how to attract (and subsequently keep) scarce talent without breaking the bank.

I would like to share a few thoughts on this topic based on my experiences building and growing an online recruitment marketplace, as well as hiring teams and running businesses over the course of my career.

Part 1: Before you begin

  • Create a strategic plan: As a business leader, you need to take a moment and think about what you need from potential hires, not just now, but 12 and 24 months ahead. This involves skills and development, but also responsibility and accountability. Start any recruitment process with a real and honest internal view of your medium term needs and goals for the hire and turn these into a meaningful role and career path for any potential candidates.

Part 2: The hiring process

  • Show candidates you care: Every step of the hiring process should make candidates feel special and valued. It doesn’t matter how wonderful you think your company is, chances are, unless you’re Apple or Google, the candidate doesn’t have the same “hero” view of your brand. Great candidates need to feel special. You can do little things like making sure the environment is prepped for the interview and having the interviewer make sure the candidate feels comfortable by offering coffee or water. Be sure to take a moment to review the candidate’s resume before you step in to speak with him or her. These small acts go a long way in the candidate’s mind.

  • Be honest about company culture: Once you dive into the interview process, be transparent and honest about the purpose and values of your business. What does your company mean to its customers and how does its culture and management reflect this? Sites such as JobAdvisor and Glassdoor are becoming more important and relevant as people turn to independent and objective peers for recommendations and reviews over and above other sources. It’s important that your company website has a good crack at explaining people and culture too, but staff or others’ views of what the company is like will become more important over time. The risk of not being transparent about what life’s really like at work is that you set artificial expectations which are not met, then the candidate will leave (usually within 90 days), and you’re back to square one facing another arduous recruitment process.

  • Make recruitment a priority: Give recruitment the attention and urgency it deserves instead of treating it as a painful nuisance. It’s now possible to leverage recent innovations to find and hire great talent quickly and easily, but it requires the attention and priority of the right people in the organisation from the start.

  • Move quickly in certain circumstances: Candidate care and urgency in the hiring process is particularly important when dealing with candidates who have come through referral or agency channels. They will have been sold the role and screened, either by an agency or a friend. If the employer is not perceived as moving quickly and willingly towards a decision, the candidate will feel unloved and lose trust in the opportunity. In tight markets, like the current one in the UK, most candidates are passive and not actively seeking new roles, so this is especially important, particularly in talent short sectors such as mobile, web, data science, etc.

  • Back yourselves and take responsibility for hiring: Gimmicks like six month guarantees and four step recruitment processes show a lack of clarity around how decisions are made and an inability to take responsibility for hiring decisions. Focus, be clear about what’s important, work out how to assess cultural fit, then empower the team the candidate will be working with to participate to in the hiring process.

Part 3: Onboarding

  • Onboard with success: When you’ve made your hiring decision, move quickly to offer and contract, then provide an awesome onboarding and preboarding experience. Send the candidate a pack with great info about the business and “homework” so they arrive on day 1 prepped, knowing who’s who and what’s what. Give them some branded gifts so they can immediately feel proud of their decision and this will carry you through the valley of death where candidates get counter-offered by their existing employer.

  • Prepare for arrival: Make the candidates first few days professional but fun. Ensure their desk, systems access, equipment, etc. is all ready before they arrive. Be prepared with a run sheet for week 1. Provide context to what they’re going to do and how it sets them up for success.

  • Follow up to ensure a smooth transition: Checking regularly with your new employee, both formally and informally. Be sensitive to the acclimatisation process, and provide opportunities for small but visible wins early. This will help the employee feel good about themselves but also help the team realise some value early.

By strategically thinking about each aspect of the hiring process from planning to recruiting to onboarding, you can ensure that you are not only getting a candidate who is the best possible fit for your organization, but you are giving the employee an accurate view into what it is like to be a part of your team so he or she won’t feel disillusioned after the first few months. The key to keeping an employee during this period of economic freedom is making sure he or she feels valued and has opportunities to grow professionally, which are generally more important than big paychecks offered by competitors.

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  1. Investing in talent acquisition can be far more sensible through headhunters than trying to do it yourself, afterall we are professionals in this field. Its not always the cost of hire but the cost of a bad or mismatched hire to the company over time.

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