· 5 min read · Features

Recruitment: Hire expectations

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With talk of the war for talent very much on the lips of directors and managers again, Simon Howard answers the 10 questions employers frequently ask about how to recruit effectively.

- How should I decide which recruitment method to use?

You need first to ask yourself more questions. For example: is it likelythat the candidate I'm looking for is sitting on an agency's database?Or will they respond to an advertisement? Or perhaps they will donothing about a new job until that call from a head-hunter? One of themost common mistakes made by employers is choosing the supplier beforedeciding on the methodology and only reaching one part of the targetaudience.

Initial conversations with potential suppliers should illicit theiropinions on the degree of difficulty and potential supply of candidates.The one rule of thumb is that the more plentiful the supply, then themore open the recruitment process should be (that is, it should beadvertised in some way). The more specialist and sensitive theassignment, the more closed the process and this is typically whensearch experts come into their own but beware recruitment suppliersover-complicating assignments and search becoming the over-usedsolution.

- What kind of people look online for jobs?

The answer is practically everyone in one way or another because'looking online' constitutes a range of behaviours. We all visitbusiness-related sites where recruitment messages can be targeted ateven the most casual visitor - so don't make the mistake of thinkingthat the web is only for junior vacancies, particularly as sitestargeted at senior professionals are now enjoying success.

Studies have also found that many people will scan the sites ofemployers they would want to work for, and on a more committed levelthere are millions of candidates who now trust jobsites sufficiently toleave their details online, thus enabling employers to search thisdata.

And then there are the interim, freelance and temp markets. Increasinglythe web is becoming one of the best clearing houses for contractsoffered and sought.

- Which are the best websites?

The best jobs website should be your own. No matter what size of companyyours may be, professionally presenting both your vacancies and yourselfas an employer will soon become the absolute norm. What's more, with theintroduction of the 'dot jobs' suffix it will become one of the mostimportant sources of candidates.

Beyond that there are thousands of commercial websites each touting foryour internet pound. For highly specific and specialist roles, nichesites can be extremely effective. When using the larger ones you need tothink carefully about how candidates will find your job, and take carethat you use the search parameters effectively. The golden rule is thatsize isn't everything - some sites claim thousands of jobs but that isonly because every recruitment consultant under the sun will have postedevery job they can think of there - lengthy jobs listings do notautomatically make a good jobsite.

- How do I find the best graduates?

First question: do you need the 'best' graduates, or the 'mostappropriate'? About 99% of the time it's the latter, but in a marketwhere over 40% of young people are now graduates it is easy to getsucked into 'the best graduate' vocabulary as a way of sorting the wheatfrom the chaff. It's also worth remembering that the 'best graduates'start on 40,000 plus, so if you're not in that league, all themore reason to think again.

If your intention is to employ graduates in accelerated developmentroles with training and salary to match, then you need to consideron-campus recruitment activities - but always remember that only 35% offinal-year undergraduates actively look for a job. If your roles are fordirect entry into actual jobs, then running a co-ordinated campaign onan 'as required' basis will catch both recent graduates as well as thosefrom previous years now ready to start their careers.

- How do I handle the sensitive issue of salary?

Every job carries with it a salary range and every one of us comes witha price on our head. Study after study tells us that when we're lookingfor a job we want to know job title, salary and location. So always makesure that all communications carry an indication of salary to savewasting everyone's time - and if it's an issue that needs carefulcommunication internally, then face up to it rather than dilute therecruitment process.

Candidates will always be looking to achieve the top end of theirexpectations. However, it is worth remembering that if you are dealingthrough a recruitment consultant, it is in their direct interest to talkup candidates' salary expectations - because their fees increase in linewith that (they'll hate me for saying that). And if someone says moneyalone is their reason for not joining, they're not telling thetruth.

- What is an employer brand in real life?

As someone who was in at the 'birth' of the employer brand, it would bewrong to dismiss it as a passing fad. However, for too many people thephrase is used as shorthand for the look and feel of recruitmentcommunications, which is rather like judging a present by its wrapping.Substitute the word 'brand' with 'reputation' and that gives you an ideaof the breadth of what we're talking about.

An employer's reputation is about behaviour - behaviour with itscandidates and behaviour with its employees - and behaviour buildsreputation. For candidates this has always been important, but now theyhave access to more and more information about employers. Just look athow much data is now available on the web through sites likewww.vault.com. So don't try and fool candidates with lofty platitudes,and if you're serious about employer branding, invest in it, just asyour marketing colleagues do.

- How can I be more strategic?

Sitting at boardroom tables, marketing directors will proudly presentthe results of spending all their departments' budget as an investmentin their consumers; by contrast, HR directors will all too often trumpetan under-spend in recruitment. Sadly, the recruitment budget is seenusually as an overhead, spent in a distressed manner, plugging gaps asthey arise.

The first step to being more strategic is to treat recruitmentexpenditure as an investment and therefore introduce measurements,especially ROI, which reflect that. Start by measuring the cost ofattrition and unfilled vacancies - a cost that will add up to many timesthe recruitment budget. Too many employees leave before they becomeproductive and nine times out of 10 this is caused by poor recruitmentin the first place. Whatever the size of employer, recruitment iscontinuous, so more planning and less reaction will reap its own rewards- a little less DynoRod and a little more McKinsey.

- How long will it all take?

Rule number one: recruitment always takes longer than you think. Sowhether it is a single assignment or a campaign for multiple vacancies,start by creating a timetable - in reverse. Begin with the desired startdate and build backwards through notice periods, scheduled interviewsand so forth. Recruitment companies of all hues complain that employersrush assignments and don't leave enough time for proper briefing andplanning. Time upfront is always well spent, and as you will want therecruits to be with you for years, a few extra days invested at thebeginning of the programme has to be worthwhile. It's also important toschedule time into line managers' diaries and get them to commit to it.One of the most consistent reasons for slippage and causes for candidatecomplaint is being messed around with interview dates and times.

- How should we handle unsuccessful candidates?

Okay, I'll admit it - this is a question employers rarely ask but shoulddo much more often. In 11 years of writing the Sunday Times Jobfilecolumn, the one consistent theme of the mailbag has been the appallingmanner in which candidates are treated by employers and recruitmentcompanies alike.

Recruitment is all about the management of disappointment, as over 95%of applicants and the majority of interviewees never get the job. Hencehow they are treated will have a significant effect on yourorganisation's reputation, especially as we will all tell 10 times morepeople of a bad experience than we will of a good one.

The simple maxim is to treat candidates as you would expect to betreated yourself, and make sure that you have mechanisms in place tomeasure the performance of HR and line in the recruitment process.

- Gosh that's expensive, how can I cut costs?

I don't have a bad heart, but if I did, I doubt if I'd tout around untilI found the cheapest heart surgeon. At the core of all modern businessesare the people within them, and to treat them and their recruitment as acommodity which is bought solely on price is shortsighted. Having saidthat, there are some recruitment companies that don't represent valuefor money.

The first step to cutting costs is to identify where and how recruitmentand attrition costs are incurred. In the UK the overwhelming majority ofrecruitment expenditure is through agencies, with employers paying on aper candidate basis. However, some shrewd employers are beginning tobuild their own talent pools of candidates, rather than solely relyingon those from third parties. To cut costs effectively, an employer needsa resourcing strategy and a recruitment plan to support it.

- Simon Howard is chairman of Work Group and writes the Jobfile columnin the Sunday Times.