HIRING TALENT IN A COMPETITIVE ‘CANDIDATE’ MARKET: SPEED IS OF THE ESSENCE

by Feb 11, 2022Recruiters0 comments

In my 27 years of business and 5 years in recruiting in the insight and analytics world I have never seen a market like the one we are currently experiencing. It seems to be an imperfect storm for hiring talent – with too few candidates and too many roles. Anecdotal evidence from other recruiters and hiring managers is that this imperfect storm is not unique to the insight and analytics market. A client of mine the other day described it as a ‘recruitment battle’.

I have seen how this impacts all the stakeholders in the hiring process. Hiring managers are under pressure to fill roles, in house HR and Talent Acquisition professionals are stretched and under pressure, external recruitment partners are inundated with roles to fill and are operating beyond capacity. It’s also important to not forget the candidates who are getting targeted from all sides and being bombarded with job specifications from all angles!

Things will inevitably ease; I expect the summer will give us some well needed breathing space. This pace has been relentless since…since, for me, a deceptively quiet January 2021 (calm and storm springs to mind)!

WHAT HAS CAUSED THIS MISMATCH OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND?

This global pandemic has a lot to answer for. Early in the pandemic (2 whole years ago!) a lot of businesses put their recruitment plans on hold. HR efforts were rightly centred on supporting the existing staff in the new remote ways of working, helping with business survival (redundancy and furlough) and an increased focus on the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees. There were some wonderful stories of how businesses have supported their teams in such times of adversity.  

The UK’s vaccination programme, along with softening of restrictions, gave a much-needed boost to economic activity and companies started to recruit again. Some businesses were aware of the resource stretch they had in lockdown (particularly if some staff were furloughed, coupled with no additional headcount) and the negative impact it had on the workload of the staff that remained. This has resulted in a backfill of roles that were initially frozen, replenishment of roles vacated due to natural (and un-natural) attrition, as well as additional headcount for the year ahead.

Candidates have also had a bit of a rollercoaster time as well. Furlough has been positive and negative in equal measure – some have enjoyed the opportunity for time-out, some have felt increasingly disconnected from their current employer. The pandemic has created so much uncertainty in peoples work and personal lives. Early in the pandemic I got a sense of many candidates understandably ‘battening down the hatches’ and not considering a move at such a risky time. Many candidates put their careers on hold during the pandemic – other candidates got forced onto the job market due to unexpected redundancy. Changing roles has a certain element of risk associated with it and every candidate is different in terms of where they are on that risk continuum.

My more recent searches have thrown up a disproportionate number of ‘potential’ candidates that have changed roles in the last 6 to 12 months. I believe these are the cohort of candidates who felt they had put their career on temporary hold since the pandemic but are no longer prepared to let it dictate their career progression. It is always worth a conversation with such candidates, but for those who have successfully settled in their new roles, they are not considering another change quite so soon. 

I think that most businesses experienced relatively low staff attrition in the early stages of the pandemic (for reasons explained above), but in the latter stages this attrition rose to be way beyond normal ‘pre-covid’ levels. Inevitably there are candidates who are nervous about the continued uncertainty caused by the pandemic. These are unlikely to move until we are further along the path of certainty.

IS YOUR RECRUITMENT PROCESS EFFICIENT?

Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare is the first thing that springs to mind when looking at what the recruitment process isn’t. In recruitment slow and steady doesn’t usually win the race. It is a fine tightrope we walk when leading clients and candidates through the recruitment stages. The courtship, the process of ‘selling’ the role to the candidate. and that initial evaluation of whether the candidate is interested, cannot be rushed. As a recruiter I have to be very aware of the candidate’s pace and where they are in the continuum between ‘currently happy where they are’ through to being desperate to move (the exception is when there is a deadline or other good candidates already at a later stage). This is understandable – moving roles is a big decision and not one that most people do on a whim, it’s usually done with lots of thought and careful consideration. Being overly hasty as a recruiter can be a sure-fire way of putting candidates off – it’s human nature to deflect big decisions if we feel under unnecessary time pressure.

Hiring talent: A person sat at a desk writing on a clipboard opposite an interviewer.
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

The main point here is to think about the overall end-to-end first interview to offer letter process. The shorter that is, the more engaged the candidate is likely to be (it’s nice to feel wanted), the likelihood of maintaining momentum and the less likely you are to be gazumped. In a market where there are too few candidates and too many roles it can certainly be the early bird who catches the worm!

For example, one of our more recent engagements had the fleet of foot to compress the whole process into a week. It did help that they were comfortable with conducting the whole interview process remotely via video conferencing. I advised my client on the need for speed due to the candidate considering a number of options and me being more than impressed with them on our first chat.  It helped that video interviewing allowed me to easily coordinate diaries for interviewee and interviewers – it’s a lot easier to compress timelines when you don’t have to consider physical location.

 This is a timeline of the role (apologies for sounding a little like an old Craig David song):

  • Monday – spoke to the candidate
  • Tuesday – sent their CV to the client
  • Wednesday – 1st interview
  • Thursday – 2nd Interview (decision to offer had been made)
  • Friday – final interview (meet the MD), verbal offer made and accepted, offer letter sent to candidate for review over the weekend.
  • Saturday and Sunday – Candidate reviewed and signed the documentation.

Now I appreciate that many organisations are saddled with process and aren’t always able to act so nimbly, but hopefully it emphasises the point that if you move quickly (or at least quicker than your competition) then you stand a far greater chance of getting your hire. As a recruiter, there is nothing I hate more than informing my client after 2 weeks of chasing on feedback on a specific CV that the candidate has accepted another role and has subsequently withdrawn their interest. 

My advice is to really think about how many interviews are necessary and how many people are involved in the interview process.  Decision by committee typically takes longer as there are more opinions to consider. It is also worth anticipating where those most likely blockages or delays may be and trying to find ways of unblocking. In the case above there were two formal interviews involving a total of 3 people and then the final ‘interview’ was an informal chat with the MD.

Once you are ready to make an offer it is advisable to get all the necessary signoff paperwork done in advance (I appreciate that this isn’t always possible depending on final signoff process). In my old role at CACI I loved nothing more than phoning the successful candidate before they got on the tube after their final interview to verbally offer them the role. 

HIRING TALENT: BE CLEAR ON WHAT YOU WANT

A graphic of scales with 'nice to have' on the lighter side, and 'deal breakers' on the heavier side
Deal-breakers should carry more weight in job descriptions.

I have looked at thousands of job specifications in my career and most are designed to list all the possible responsibilities, skills and experience required. Whilst I am an advocate of ensuring that candidates are fully aware of what the role might entail, the biggest challenge would be gleaning from those recruiting what the key skills, experiences and qualities really are. What are the real deal breakers, what are the nice to haves? With the deal breakers, is there an opportunity for the 95% candidate to gain those extra skills or experience on the job? Scrutinising what is important is valuable to ensure you have clear criteria with which to evaluate candidates. It is also worth noting that candidates often scan job specifications to see if they match up – the more things they don’t match up to, the less likely they are to apply. There will be situations where the ideal hire doesn’t even apply as they don’t feel they tick all the boxes, when in reality they do tick all the deal breaker boxes.

It is important to never compromise on your key requirements for the sake of getting headcount in – making a bad hire can be more damaging and time consuming than not making a hire at all. It’s a balance, when roles are advertised for a long time it can be damaging to the public perception of the business/team (why can’t they seem to hire?) and ongoing gaps in resource may also cause negativity within your existing team (when is our workload going to ease?).  If you are clear on what you are after and the key evaluation criteria for a new hire then this will improve your speed of decision. You may need to re-evaluate this criteria if the recruitment period is significantly extended and you don’t have clear evidence of progress. Are you looking for a unicorn that doesn’t actually exist?

THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX?

Special times sometimes call for special measures in hiring talent. I appreciate that each recruitment situation is different, but in conclusion I would like to share a few tactics that could help alleviate the blockage, depending on circumstance:

  • Quality Not Quantity Red Tiger Talent have always focused on delivering quality candidates over quantity. We hate it on those rare occasions when candidates we put forward don’t get to first interview. Clients understandably want a nice quorum of candidates for comparison and backup but in the current market you may have to settle for less. Remember it only takes one candidate to potentially fill a role!
  • Salary Range It will be interesting to see what the key findings are in this years’ Salary Survey but after a suspected stagnation in wage inflation in early lockdown (shame general inflation isn’t stagnating!) the signs are that salary expectations are increasing. Which makes sense as its standard economic theory of supply and demand. It may be hard to flex budgets but it may be the thing needed to get the candidate on board.
  • Years’ Experience Often, roles will require candidates with x years’ experience, but if you have a candidate that shows the aptitude and desire to ‘grow’ into the role why don’t you consider someone more junior? There are also potential candidates who are entering the ‘twilight’ of their career who may be interested in a more junior role to see them through to retirement. Ignore these candidates at your peril – they could be the most loyal, productive hires. Plus it will help with diversity of thinking.
  • How Flexible Is Your ‘Flexible’ Working Policy? The reality is that the pandemic has created a seismic shift in what employees deem flexible.  There is also a real variation (usually dependent on life-stage) as to what that flexibility means. If a candidates prefers to only come into the office 2 days a week, will that truly be detrimental to the their ability to do their job?
  • Contracting As A Stop Gap This has certainly happened in the last few months as clients of ours are continuing their permanent hire activities alongside using contractors as a stop gap. This alleviates the short term resource gap and who knows, some of those contactors may be interested in a migration to permanent.
  • Using Specialist Recruiters I had to end on a shameless plug. Time and time again with some clients we are called to help after they have had a period of time trying to fill the role directly with little success. This time can be anything from a couple of weeks to 6 months. The in-house hiring talent acquisition specialists who embrace using external consultants such as Red Tiger Talent for specialist roles tend to drastically reduce the amount of time spent interviewing and time to hire.

If you are interested in speaking to me about any of the themes outlined above, feel free to contact me at steve@redtigerconsulting.co.uk

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Published by Steve Halsall

Steve is the founder of Red Tiger Consulting. He has worked in Location Planning for over 20 years – both on the consultancy side and client side. His passion is building successful teams that evolve their capability (skills, software and data) to meet the ever changing requirements of analysis. In his spare time he is mainly kept busy with his two children, falling in and out of love with Liverpool FC and at some point he wants to re-start his golfing ‘career’.

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