How to win at recruitment

How can HR departments find the best staff? We look at the many options, ranging from tracking on the latest social media platforms to hiring consultants and posting on job boards. And as for that old staple, the press ad: disregard it at your peril.


Millions of unemployed people yet no one suitable to fill that oh-so important role? It’s a paradox familiar to many HR and recruitment professionals. Unemployment in the UK remains stubbornly high, but there is still a mismatch between the skills and experience employers want and those in the labour market. According to the 2012 CIPD Resourcing and Talent Planning report, 82% of all organisations had difficulty filling one or more roles last year. 

Add to that the pressure of the economic climate in terms of recruitment costs, speed and quality of hire, and it is no surprise HR professionals are becoming increasingly focused on finding the most effective methods for attracting and selecting that elusive perfect candidate. Innovation matters too: new research from Futurestep finds 71% of candidates think companies should do more to demonstrate innovation in recruitment, and 55% say they would consider leaving their current role, even if they were happy, if they were approached in an innovative way. 

This all raises questions. Should we be abandoning traditional advertisements in favour of innovation and social media? Is in-house recruiting more effective than outsourcing to recruiters? Look no further: HR magazine has cut through the waffle and hype to present a guide to the most popular and successful recruitment methods. 

1. Social media 

There is little doubt that social media and people’s expanding digital footprints have made it easier to find quality candidates. “This couldn’t be truer in the games industry,” says John Chalkley, talent acquisition specialist at Jagex Games Studio, which employs more than 550 developers and has a specialist in-house recruitment team.

Jagex invests in LinkedIn Recruiter, a state-of-the-art applicant tracking system, a number of social media aggregators and an extensive global events calendar. In 2012, this helped the Cambridge-based firm create a third-party publishing team and recruit development talent for the next technological advance of its online role-playing game Runescape, which has more than 215 million subscribers.

“Each social media channel’s message is tailored to the audience and covers a mixture of everything from game updates, interviews with staff and pictures in and around the studio to key tips on how to get into the games industry, social activities and the food in the staff canteen,” says Chalkley.

The advantages of using LinkedIn as a recruitment channel are clear: accessing a pool of 200 million members, most of whom are not actively job-hunting (known as ‘passive jobseekers’) and are not necessarily visible elsewhere. “Some 80% of our members access LinkedIn for other reasons, such as viewing industry news, but they are still updating their CVs,” says Richard George, LinkedIn’s corporate communications manager for EMEA.

According to LinkedIn, more than 16,000 companies use its Talent Solutions products. This includes ITV, which began working with the professional social network two years ago. Within 12 months, the broadcaster’s average cost-to-hire had been reduced from about £8,500 to £1,200 and the average time-to-hire was down to 45 days, while the quality of the candidates improved, says ITV head of recruitment Catherine Schlieben.

It is not without its critics, however. Some complain LinkedIn is increasingly seeking to sever the routes that allow recruiters free access to candidates. Others have raised questions about accuracy and duplication of information (CVs) on the site. There is also the issue of demographics – LinkedIn tends to appeal to the older, middle to senior manager – while estimates vary as to what percentage of the UK workforce is registered and active on the site.

Hence the attractions of Facebook, which, in an initiative with the US Government last year, launched an app to match its users with available jobs. Facebook provides access to nearly one billion users worldwide, offering scope for employers to engage with a younger demographic through the likes of branded career pages. However, recruiters are advised to tread lightly due to the social nature of the site.

Twitter can also be used to engage high-quality applicants. Earlier this year, Mars tested the channel as a way to attract graduate talent, taking a Mars ‘Tweet Shop’ to nine universities and encourage students to swap Tweets for Mars treats and information on its graduate recruitment programme. A UK first, this initiative was integrated with activity on the Mars Grad UK Facebook page and the dedicated grad Twitter feed.

2. Direct and in-house 

The economic uncertainty is forcing many organisations to slash their costs by bringing in-house the entire recruitment process. With recruitment agencies demanding as much as 25-30% of yearly salary in placement fees, the financial savings can be enormous. Jagex Games Studio, for example, calculates that adopting a more direct recruitment route saved 

£1 million in agency fees in 2012.

Moreover, the in-house route saves HR staff potentially wasting time briefing recruitment agencies only to receive a pile of poorly targeted CVs that fail to meet requirements. 

Pertinently, there are distinct business advantages to organisations owning the recruitment process directly, not least in terms of securing the talent pipeline.

“With the maturing of our business and the building of the our employer brand, we are developing our name for the future so that we become a popular choice in the wider market and word of mouth will begin to work for us,’ says Jason Gowlett, head of resourcing at Direct Line Group. The insurance company’s strategy involves a specialist internal recruitment team and a careers site that showcases his organisation’s new business, its people and its values. Direct Line also has an executive resourcing team to target the best leaders.

The key to successful direct recruitment is by taking a tailored, proactive approach to building relationships. For example, many larger organisations align individual recruitment team members to particular functional areas.

“This means that often we can source talent better than a recruitment agency,” says Mike Bickford, head of resourcing at Network Rail. In 2012, his organisation received more than 30,000 applications for 1,000 individual roles as the result of its campaign to hire staff for its new national centre in Milton Keynes.

Bickford also highlights the advantages of leveraging the employer brand through consumer channels. “We’re lucky in that rail travellers tend to be internet savvy – buying tickets and checking train timetables online – so we can attract collateral traffic,” he says.

However, the main requisites are a strong employer brand alongside a robust and timely application process that treats candidates as customers. Shockingly, figures from the Prince’s Trust published last August show that one in three 16- to 30-year-olds received no response to any of their job applications made over the previous year.

One of the most valuable sources of direct recruitment is among an organisation’s own staff. “Employees are the best ambassadors for the employer brand because they are a trusted source of information,” says Emma Mirrington, head of talent for Mars Chocolate UK. Her organisation relaunched its employee referral programme last year and, as a result, now secures about 20% of its external hires through this.

3. Job boards

With the rise of social media and mobile technologies, it is tempting to presume job boards are passé. Not so, according to global digital recruitment group Evenbase, whose flagship brands include Jobsite, Oilcareers, Jobrapido and Broadbean. Its latest Quarterly Recruitment Review shows the number of jobseekers citing job boards as their most considered search method rose by 5% to more than 83% in the final quarter of 2012. Admittedly, this finding is tempered by a larger (10%) leap in consideration of company websites by candidates, while the report shows job board consideration levels among employers as slightly down to just over 50%.

Yet job boards can reach a global candidate pool of all ages, while minimising costs and time-to-hire rates. In addition, many of the larger job boards, such as, own more than one site, while job aggregators or search engines, including Simply Hired and Indeed, consolidate job postings from different sources, further widening the candidate pool.

One of the keys to success is to write and place an ad that entices the right audience. More rewarding is making the most of the added extras on offer. These include the hosted forums where jobseekers pose questions, giving recruiters an opportunity to provide feedback and build relationships beyond online.

Likewise, employers can take advantage of video upload features, while daily CV-by-email and CV database search services are becoming ever more popular. Online job board CV-Library grew its database by a million, to six million CVs, over the eight months to April 2013. In that month, the job board also reported increased application rates per job in all sectors year on year, with the legal sector rising by 325%, closely followed by hospitality and catering, with hikes of 220% and 208% respectively.

The downside of tapping into such databases is that a generic CV posted for multiple positions does not always guarantee a quality candidate match, let alone provide access to those who use job boards simply for browsing purposes. Moreover, while creative keyword and qualification searches can deliver an advantage, it would be safe to assume that the competition also has access to this candidate pool.

However, Lee Biggins, MD of CV-Library, says employers should not be deterred. “One of the frustrating things we find about holding a large database is that recruiters often won’t search back further than three months,” he says. “Yet they will spend hours on social media sites contacting passive candidates just because their social profile is frequently used.”

4. Recruitment consultants and talent-sourcing specialists 

The advantages of using recruitment consultants are well documented, as are many of the gripes. But, despite indications that some organisations (up to one-third, according to the Resourcing and Talent Planning report) have reduced their reliance on this channel due to economic pressures, others have consolidated their recruitment partners and become more selective.

“This is a good thing, as it means stronger relationships, whereby HR people can get more value,” says Barney Ely, director at Hays Human Resources, which works with the CIPD on its resourcing surveys.

He highlights the potential tug of war that can exist internally between the HR function and line management when dealing with an external agency. “HR people also need to decide whether they want a CV sourcing or a consultancy service,” he adds.

If it is the latter, HR professionals need to ask tough questions. These include quizzing consultants on their knowledge and expertise, vetting procedures, and quality of advice on candidates’ personality and cultural fit.

Beyond the recruitment consultant, you’ll find a new breed of headhunter: the talent-sourcing specialist. Performing the front-end work of headhunters, they can help organisations build career-long relationships with key individuals, delivering a sustainable pipeline of talent to meet current and future needs. Often combining online sourcing methods with telephone-based research, this can be an efficient way for employers to pre-qualify individuals and gain a perspective on the wider market. “It condenses the recruitment process, while the employer also owns all the data and contact with individuals from day one,” says Bickford at Network Rail. 

5. Mobile

A common mistake is to regard mobile as just another route to market. As a result, many recruiters are losing potential hires by not having a mobile-friendly website and application process.

According to recruitment conferences and events organiser Web Based Recruitment, eight phones in 10 sold in the UK are now smartphones, one in five job searches are from a mobile device, and 70% of jobseekers want to apply using a mobile device.

Moreover, many job boards report about 30% of their traffic comes from mobile devices (this is expected to rise to 50% next year) while their peak traffic times are between 6am and 9am – in other words, while people are on the move. Although the job board sites themselves may be mobile-compatible, if the corporate careers site is not it is found that candidates simply disappear.

6. Newspaper and trade publication advertising

Contrary to popular opinion, newspaper and trade publication recruitment advertising is not dead. According to digital recruitment specialist Evenbase, in the final quarter of 2012 newspaper ads alone were used more than job boards for recruitment. “A sign that old habits die hard,” says Mike Wall, managing director of Evenbase’s job boards division.

Advantages include access to highly specific audiences. Meanwhile, local newspapers remain hugely popular as a relatively cheap option, with the bonus that many share ownership with job boards.

There is also the perception among candidates that an organisation that invests in newspaper or trade publication job advertising takes the role on offer seriously. So, although this form of advertising may cost as much as allocating the task to a recruitment agency, it could reap even bigger rewards as a brand-building exercise.