Wendy Geus
Auckland Chamber of Commerce

Recruiting Talent

This article ran in b-Innovative Magazine Aug 2007 with contributions from Alan Williscroft of Glasshouse and other leaders in the recruitment sector.

At a time when Chamber surveys reveal 40%-50% of employers can't find skilled staff, knowing how to source the right candidates and carry out an effective recruitment process has become an important competitive advantage.

Before you do anything, says Alan Williscroft of Glasshouse Talent™, 'first review why the position exists', and once the role is justified, draw up a clearly defined comprehensive position description containing tasks, skills, and attributes required. Provide information about the background of the company and use that as a sales tool to show to potential candidates. 'The biggest complaint by candidates is lack of response after submitting their application, so don't forget to get back to them all quickly with a timeframe.'

Kathy Hughes, of Hughes Consulting, advises when constructing a job profile to make a list of the top five to eight things a person must do to be successful in the job. These are performance objectives which will help in writing appropriate interview questions and determining whether a person is qualified to perform the essential functions. 'Get S.M.A.R.T: Be Specific, Measurable, Action-orientated, Results-focused and Time-based.'

Once you set up the major objectives for each job, you'll also want to touch on some supporting objectives such as management or organisational issues, improvements you'd like to see implemented, technical issues or team and people issues.

List all the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform the job, and divide them into requirements and preferences. The requirements must serve as the primary criteria for selecting/rejecting candidates. 'Don't be too strict with these or they may prevent you from considering qualified candidates.'

Penny Smith, Employment Manager for the Auckland Chamber of Commerce advises: 'Don't oversell a job. Otherwise you are just wasting time getting poorly matched applicants. Clearly and succinctly explain the major tasks, skills and attributes required. Be honest about what it entails. You may get fewer CVs but they will be a better match.'

Williscroft uses employment websites to source candidates, which are cost-effective and quick; 'you can get a response 10 minutes after posting the ad.' Newspapers are now the more expensive option, but he uses regional newspapers and industry publications where appropriate. He also recommends networking among friends, family, suppliers and customers.

Smith suggests caution is needed when hiring someone you know through word-of-mouth, which is common in the New Zealand job market, as it doesn't necessarily mean they will be better at the job.

If you do consider a referral, make sure they go through the same procedure as the other candidates.

'We need to get out of the traditional mindset, which can exclude other talented people out there, including the large pool of skilled migrants seeking work. The Chamber's New Kiwis programme, which has placed over 2000 migrants in employment since its inception, has a large number of highly skilled people registered on its website (www.newkiwis.co.nz) who are ready for work. We are constantly getting very positive feedback from employers who have New Kiwis on their staff.'

To find talent during a skills shortage requires a change of attitude, says Smith. 'Employers need to consider the wealth of talent from abroad. A new website NZRecruitme.co.nz, run by the Chamber, will enable potential migrants to New Zealand to post their CVs and employers to register their job vacancies.

'And don't forget, for help with any aspect of the recruitment process, visit the 'b-Fit' section of the Chamber website which contains helpful advice for employers on job descriptions, employment contracts, and salary guidelines', says Smith.

Reading resumes can be time consuming so it is best to know what to look for. It should give you a concise work history with details on significant achievements. The work experience section should itemise previous jobs and provide clues on the applicant's abilities and knowledge. Hughes advises to read this bit carefully. 'No matter how well the resume is written, close examination may uncover gaps and inconsistencies.' Resumes that only detail the year of employment make her immediately suspicious. Look at how many jobs there are. This pattern of employment can reflect possible behaviours.

Previous behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour. 'If you have a candidate who moves jobs frequently, do you want to be their next pitstop?'

Once you have decided on the potential candidates, after scrutiny of their CVs, the next stage of the process, the interviews, is crucial if you are to find the right person for the job.

Williscroft incorporates a blend of preference interviewing and behavioural-specific interviewing. Preference interviewing can be done over the phone; then invite only those whose views match yours, for a behavioural-specific, structured interview. 'No one likes something that is too easy to get, challenge the candidates so they feel properly evaluated. They will respect you for that, and it makes your company more attractive.'

Vicki Kelly from Drake Executive agrees it is important to conduct a professional interview and ensure that people feel respected and have been treated fairly. From a candidate's perspective an interview is an opportunity to observe how a company treats people. 'This provides an impression, whether they are successful or not, that lingers long after the interview is over.'

Hughes emphasises: 'Interviews are open to the ''halo effect'' - when the decision is made within the first few minutes of the interview with the rest of the time used to justify the original decision.

Stereotyping can also be a problem, as can creating a forum where the negative aspects can carry undue weight.' This is why it is crucial there is a structured interview containing the same questions for each applicant, to ensure objectivity.

Design and structure the interview to demonstrate the applicant's ability to communicate, learn about the person and their experience levels, determine their 'fit' with a team and workplace, to help you decide between equally qualified candidates. Allow for candidates' questions which may reveal more information to help you make a decision.

Hughes advises when recruiting for a senior management role, ensure your competency-based interview pulls out the people skills most needed for the job. Keep your questions open-ended, e.g. 'Can you give me an example of a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer, what you did, and what you learned from it?' This will give you the breadth of information you require. Kelly says it is important that a good cross-section of questions is asked at interview time. 'Probing questions are fine, but behavioural questions are vital.' They help determine how the candidate may react or behave in future situations.

Psychometric testing is common for many companies these days, and Williscroft says they have their place. IQ testing will provide an insight into a candidate's numerical, verbal and comprehension skills. Using a personality profile can give a good indicator of whether a person will prosper in a specific environment. Kelly believes more and more companies are discovering the value of personality profiles compiled from psychometric testing - not only as a tool for ascertaining fit with the company but to decide what type of management approach to use.

It is important to note that such testing must be viewed in conjunction with other information and not given undue emphasis. Also, Smith says, it is wise to test candidates on their computer competency or other essential skills required for the role. 'Never take anything for granted which is written on a CV.'

Reference checking of both past company performance and, if called for, tertiary qualifications must be done. Ensure the referees' credentials can be confirmed by the company they work for and use a standardised verbal reference template to target questionable areas.

As employees in small businesses are more transparent, and can have an immediate and profound effect on the company, it is important to get the best person for the job. Kelly advises contracting can be the cost-effective answer in uncertain economic times. This mitigates the risk of hiring the wrong candidate, which is especially important for small and medium-sized businesses, and can be both a flexible and an affordable option.

Recruitment is always a difficult process as it involves 'reading' people and predicting what their future behaviour might be. That is why recruiters like Williscroft advise using a professional. If not, he says: 'There is plenty of help out there, and if you don't take short cuts when recruiting your next staff member; you may find a star performer.'

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This article has a practical checklist of ten ways to maximise your recruitment results. Aimed at small and medium businesses.

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