Go back half a decade to the depths of the recession and the headlines made grim reading. ‘Dire warning of 350,000 job losses by mid 2010’ – Daily Mail; ‘Budget will cost 1.3m jobs’ – Guardian; ‘Forecast suggests 600,000 public sector jobs to go’ – BBC. The bad news about jobs seemed endless.
Today the picture is considerably rosier. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation/KPMG Report on Jobs published in November 2015 points both to a growth in permanent placements and an acceleration in temporary billings. Hot on the heels of these findings came government data indicating the UK employment rate had hit a new record high of 73.7%, and average pay had grown 3% in the last year.
One upshot of higher employment levels is that the pendulum has swung more to the jobseeker’s advantage. The battle to attract talent has become fiercer and employers cannot afford to be complacent.
That’s not to say organisations should promote themselves with the desperate zeal of carnival hucksters. But there needs to be strong recognition that the market dynamics have changed, complemented by a greater focus on distilling and expressing the employer brand.
“The key to attracting today’s talent in a candidate-driven market is knowing what makes you stand out from the crowd and the answer often lies within the company and not in the job per se,” says Joanne Till, managing director of Cordant Procurement, specialists in procurement and supply chain recruitment. “Most job specifications will be similar across organisations and the chances are that any talented candidate will have had several interview offers. So to distinguish the business from the rest of the competition, HR professionals should sell the organisation first and the job second.”
Till says employers should take a long hard look at their workplace as this can be a big selling factor. Is it fresh and vibrant? Are there recreational areas that have the edge over outdated, dreary office space?
Cordant produces short videos for clients showcasing the working environment. These, explains Till, enable candidates to “get a good vibe about the company and its culture so they can already see themselves working there before the interview”. Given that one of an employer’s best ‘selling tools’ is its workforce, staff are included in the videos.
It makes good sense to gather written testimonials or blogs to post on the organisation’s website, social media sites or include in marketing collateral. Employees can share why they like working at the company, addressing factors from the physical environment to employment packages and support for learning and development.
Less formal workspaces of the kind normally associated with start-ups are becoming more widespread, and although these may run the risk of veering into the gimmicky, many are driven by very real issues facing staff. For example, the difficulties of commuting in large cities (particularly London) have led some employers to consider staggering start times, providing facilities for cyclists and more remote working options.
It’s important for organisations to go back to fundamentals in terms of attracting and securing top talent. “While at a senior level there are those who relish the chance to turn a failing business around, the majority of good people want to work for good companies,” says Dani Novick, director of Mercury Search and Selection. “They want the kudos and perceived security of being with a firm that is thought of as a major player, innovative or successful. So employers should not miss an opportunity to present themselves as such.
“We have seen businesses that were relatively small in terms of market share become highly desirable employers because of marketing and specifically PR. When asked about them candidates commented ‘those guys are everywhere at the moment; they seem to be doing really well’, predominantly on the back of great PR.”
Zoopla Property Group has taken the decision to bring its recruitment in-house, partly in a bid to better convey the appeal of its culture. “Candidates are personally shown around our open plan office so they get a feel for the way we work and our office environment,” says Zoopla recruitment business partner Manj Ubi. “During the process they will spend time with a senior member of the group to help highlight how accessible and approachable our senior leadership team are.”
Meanwhile in autumn 2015, vehicle hire group Northgate overhauled its recruitment process to include two new stages centred on candidate attraction. At the initial interview, now called the ‘buy-in stage’, the entire focus is on selling the virtues of working for the company. “The discipline we have is that in the first interview the interviewer does not pick up the CV,” says Northgate HR director Marc Bertrand.
Later on, once a preferred candidate has been identified, they are invited to a ‘buy-in day’, spending time in the business with a future boss, peer, or even subordinate. Putting greater focus on the candidate generates goodwill. Many are genuinely surprised and delighted not to be grilled at the first interview, says Bertrand, and consequently view the business in an extremely positive light. Giving them a proper taste of the organisation also increases the likelihood that those appointed will stay.
As the steps Zoopla and Northgate have taken show, it’s no longer possible to treat applicants as if you are doing them a favour. To attract talent employers must make a compelling case for why they should join that extends beyond salary.
“Offering clear career progression, a flexible choice of benefits, and a good working environment are just some ways employers can attract and retain skilled professionals,” says Barney Ely, director at Hays Human Resources. “Emphasising high-profile and interesting project work alongside an attractive work/life balance can also ensure they’re in a better position to compete.”
Bev White, managing director at Penna Career Services, is dismissive of what she labels a one-size-fits-all “sheep dip” approach. In her view, tailoring messaging to different generational needs and expectations is becoming much more important.
Workers from Generations Y and Z have grown up steeped in social media. So pushing out short, interesting bites of information can help grab their attention and encourage people to look beyond an initial advert. Techniques such as gamification may also help with engagement – as well as assisting in identifying the most able and appropriate applicants.
Although there is a growing need to ‘sell’ the virtues of a company, honesty remains paramount. Any mismatch between what is promised and the everyday working reality is asking for trouble. It’s also crucial that employers don’t consider someone’s acceptance of a job offer as the endpoint of the recruitment process.
“The recruitment process has to reach beyond day one in the job, and getting the job,” says White. “There needs to be a journey planned out for the individual. What happens when you join? Make sure people have mentors if that’s appropriate. That they can see where they will get listened to, how they can make a difference in their first weeks and months. Something that shows them it’s beyond just getting an offer letter.”
Employers cannot afford to turn a blind eye to recruitment trends. The CIPD and Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning 2015 survey found that skill shortages are escalating. More than four-fifths of employers believe competition for talent had increased over the past two years, and nearly two-thirds report that the skills needed for jobs in their organisation are changing.
Tellingly, more than three-quarters have experienced some recruitment difficulties. And it’s those businesses unwilling or unable to make a compelling case that will lose out.