Hiring process – getting the basics right
PUBLISHED FEB '18
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Finding the perfect candidate for your firm begins with getting the planning right. We have advised clients on all aspects of the process over the years, but here are some of the key things we would advise you to consider.
Defining the role
Every successful hire starts with the basics - working out precisely what your firm’s requirements are, and what the perfect hire might look like. Begin by defining the role:
- What does your firm hope to achieve with this hire, short term and long term?
- What are the duties?
- Do you need someone who can hit the ground running?
- Or would you be happy to take time to train and develop someone?
- What are the long-term prospects of the role?
Do you want someone who would wish to stay in this position, or do you want someone who can take a step up into another role in time? Now think about what experience and qualifications your new hire would need, and make sure you agree on these internally. We have had candidates perform well at a first interview, only to be told by a different manager that they lack necessary qualifications at the second interview. Iron out disagreements of this kind before you begin the interview process.
We would also suggest you meet with your recruiter at an early stage in the process, as they will be able to help you define the brief, as well as give you market insights and also fresh ideas on alternative profiles that may have worked in the past. Remember more diverse businesses are proven to be more profitable. Research by McKinsey in 2013 found that for every 10 per cent improvement in gender diversity, there would be a 2-4 per cent increase in profits. Companies with high levels of racial and ethnic diversity were even more likely to do better.
Yes, they are absolutely worth doing. Candidates want to know what role they are putting themselves forward for, what the duties will be, and how it might fit in with their own career plans. It will help you narrow down to candidates who are genuinely right for the role, and it will also set exceptions for when your new hire eventually starts – a key part to successfully settling in.
Often a hiring manager will ask us to send cvs of anyone who fits a short one line description for something. However, this approach is doomed to fail. The recruiter doesn’t know what to look for, and candidates are generally turned off by vague descriptions of what may or may not turn out to be a concrete role. Always give as much detail as you can. If you don’t know why you are looking for, how can you expect the candidate to know if you are right for them?
Salaries – being realistic
Setting a budget is key for your own planning, but it is also essential for attracting the right talent. A study by SMART Recruit Online found that ads with salaries get over 30% more applicants, and the career portal Jobsite operates with a similar figure. Candidates don’t tend to react well to the ‘we’ll pay what it takes’ approach. From experience, they know that there is always a ceiling, and they don’t want to waste their time with applications and interviews if the firm can’t meet their salary expectations.
If you really are flexible with salary, you should still set a range, on the understanding that it will be dependant on experience.
This brings us on to realism – do you want the qualifications, the experience, and the track record, but on a small budget? Don’t we all! But, realistically, something will have to give. Start by benchmarking your role against the market – what is the salary range? What salary do the top professionals command? Is this a competitive space at the moment? A good recruiter should be able to give you a steer with this.
If you find the answers don’t match your budget, you will need to go back to your requirements. Could you train and develop a more junior hire, perhaps? Could you offer other benefits that might suit someone looking to scale back? Or perhaps you can financially support someone through taking qualifications, or provide valuable training?
In the last few years we have seen a shift away from retained search, and it seems it is becoming more common to partner with multiple agencies. Indeed, some firms will contact 10+ agencies. However, partnering with a small number of specialist firms is still the best strategy. A good, specialist recruiter can find the best talent, produce a high quality shortlist, and save you considerable time. However, that is more likely to happen when you restrict yourself to 2-3 select agencies.
The more agencies you use, the more you dilute the time each agency will give to the assignment. Instead of being provided with more cvs, you are likely to end up with less, and those you get are likely to be ad responses, rather than passive talent headhunted for you. Why? Working on roles alongside 10 other firms represents a high-risk time investment for a recruiter. If they are one of two or three, on the other hand, their chances of filling the role is higher. Furthermore, they are likely to benefit from a closer relationship with the hiring managers, which almost always results in a better quality service. Recruitment is a consultative service after all, and this depends greatly on the depth of the relationship and the level of trust between recruiter and hiring manager.
The same is true of driving the price down. Negotiating is good, but if you go too far below market rate, chances are service levels will be correspondingly low. The best recruiters will walk away rather than put themselves in that situation.
What do you have to offer?
Often firms forget that they also need to sell themselves to candidates as well. Good candidates will often have several options. If so, what makes you more attractive than your competitors? What does your firm have to offer, what makes you unique? Whether you beat the competition by offering a higher salary, better career prospects, a better work-life balance or work culture, or something else entirely, do consider what you need to do to attract the best candidates. A study in the US has shown that top candidates only remain available for 10 days, which demonstrates how competitive the market can be.
Different firms have different processes, and there is really no right or wrong to this. You may wish candidates to go through an informal chat, followed by a structured role play and test, or perhaps start with an initial screen, then a panel interview with key stakeholders. Often the process needs to be worked around diaries and staff availability, but whatever your strategy, do make sure you think it through. Make candidates aware of what to expect, and the timeline you are working to. With most hires, you should be able to make a decision after a third interview.
The need for speed
When settling on a process, one aspect you need to consider is timelines. As mentioned, good candidates are rarely available for long, and we have often seen a drawn-out process cost our client their preferred candidate. Research conducted by TotalJobs in 2017 found that 46% of employers are actively reducing the length of the their recruitment processes in order to improve their chances of landing the best talent. This would be our advice as well. We have seen an increase in the use of telephone interviews, which is a good way to move hard to arrange interviews forwards.
In terms of overall process, TotalJobs also found that 59% of employers they take less than two weeks between the role being advertised to the first round of interviews, with 92% making an offer in a week or less after the interview process.
Candidate perceptions & safeguarding reputations
One aspect many firms neglect to consider, is the impression they leave with candidates. The people you interview are professionals with a network of their own, and their perceptions of your firm are likely to be shared in the marketplace. It is in your interest, in other words, to leave a good impression, follow up in a timely manner, provide the all-important feedback – even if you reject the candidate – and have a structured and professional process. Here are some things that matter to candidates:
- Give feedback – whether you are rejecting a candidate at cv stage, after a first or a second interview, they will want to know, and without having to chase. Candidates have put time and effort into the process too, and it is polite to acknowledge this with a response. Having your cv sent to a firm, only to hear nothing back leaves a bad taste. So does having to chase the recruiter for feedback after an interview.
- Keep candidates informed of the process. Waiting two weeks before giving interview feedback is fine as long as candidates have been made aware there will be a delay. Tests and role play are also fine, springing it on the candidate at ten minutes’ notice less so. The key is transparency.
- Actively recruiting vs speculative meetings – either are fine, but candidates want to know where their cv is going, what the potential vacancy is and what the prospects are. Again, transparency is key.
- Manage expectations – do not tell a candidate you will be making an offer during the interview, only to reject them via the recruiter a few hours later.
Equally, a candidate who has met your firm five times and gone for drinks with the team will be expecting to be offered the role, barring anything unforeseen. They have put a great deal of time into the process, and will end up feeling that you have wasted their time unnecessarily if you change your mind at this stage.
- Interview flexibility – candidates will need to make themselves available for interviews, but do have some understanding for the constraints. Some people can easily get out during the day, others have desk-bound jobs with set working hours, and others again have diaries managed for them with limited personal input.
Being open minded
For all your planning, it’s still worth approaching the process with an open mind. The perfect candidate doesn’t always come with all the right boxes ticked. And if you are using a good recruiter, listen to their recommendations – they have taken the time to understand your firm, your culture and the role, and will be suggesting candidates for a reason.
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