Recruiters reinvent rules
In the current job climate, employers sell themselves to applicants and hope someone will like them, writes Denise Cullen
YOU’VE heard of speed dating, but what about speed interviewing? Based on the popular singles events which help suitors connect with several romantic prospects in a short time frame, speed interviews are just one of several strategies being hauled into commission by employers desperate to find and keep the best candidates.
Launched at National Careers and Employment Expos across the country this year, speed interviews involve chats lasting as little as two or three minutes, before recruiters and candidates are moved along by the sound of a bell.
As with speed dating, participants who sense they share a certain compatible chemistry can subsequently proceed by mutual arrangement to full-length ‘‘ first dates’ — or, in this case, job interviews.
Such conversational sprints won’t cure Australia’s staffing problems, but they do offer a fresher and friendlier approach to finding the right people for the right roles, says Julie Mills, chief executive of Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA). ‘‘ It provides a more fun, engaging way to build relationships with future clients and candidates,’’ she says.
After all, given today’s record employment levels and acute labour shortages, wooing new recruits requires a whole new set of techniques. Gone are scenes of potential hires left sweating it out in an impersonal reception area, waiting to be interrogated by a handful of panel members who make it clear they wield all the power.
‘‘ Lipsticking the pig’’, where employers dress up a dud job to make it appear more exciting than it really is, is also on the wane, given dissatisfied employees’ predilection to simply walk rather than stay.
Keeping candidates happy is the name of the game. In the wake of a job interview, it’s now far more likely the candidates, not the employers, will be the ones to say, ‘‘ We’re just not that into you’’, as they snap up alternative offers.
For both recruiters and employers, attracting and capturing talent in a competitive marketplace thus requires far more creativity and commitment than ever before.
‘‘ Like all companies in the mining industry, we’re vying for a limited number of experienced and skilled engineers,’’ explains Jason Stirbinskis, general manager of Mineral Engineering Technical Services (METS) in Western Australia.
‘‘ We had to come up with a new way (to stand out),’’ he adds.
Tossing out formal job descriptions and letting candidates write their own is how METS has ensured its grab for high-calibre candidates isn’t lost amid the prominent ads of much larger mining houses. ‘‘ This is a sellers’ market, so rather than tell the applicant what we can offer, we ask them what they want to sell,’’ says Stirbinskis.
Rather than advertise a given role and job description, METS provides a job title and the rest of the advertisement is a make-your-own smorgasbord of attributes from which candidates build their ideal job.
‘‘ Would you employ a great metallurgist if they insisted on not working Wednesdays? Of course you would,’’ Stirbinskis says. ‘‘ What if a strong process engineer said they must have international travel? Would you turn them away or would you find some way of getting them overseas for awhile, even if it didn’t generate revenue? What if a mechanical engineer said they wanted to learn marketing? Would you give them one day a week with the marketing team, or reject their application?
‘‘ We stay within a few guidelines so the company will continue to be successful, but everything else is completely open for exploration. METS does not pretend to understand the plethora of motivators that may interest an applicant. Rather than guess, we simply ask the
‘ question, ‘ What does your next job look like?’ Then we see if we can create it inside METS.’’
Giving people freedom to customise their careers, with more of what they want and less of what they don’t, is a hallmark of the current employment market, says Grahame Doyle, a regional director at specialist recruiter Hays.
For instance, in the resources industry flexible fly-in, fly-out policies are no longer a bonus, but a must. ‘‘ It was quite a rigid framework before,’’ he explains. ‘‘ It was a view of, ‘ If you wish to work for us this is our fly in and out policy’. Now employees get a lot more choice.’’
This freewheeling attitude spills over into countless other areas. Doyle says employees now have far greater flexibility to opt to work from home, to travel, to take additional annual leave, or to receive educational assistance so they can upgrade their qualifications.
Generous maternity leave provisions are another increasingly important tool used to both attract and retain staff, says Tristan Forrester, a senior consultant with Beaton Consulting.
‘‘ This is a key issue for the professions, particularly in law where there are more women than men at every level except partner,’’ he says.
Some law firms cope with annual staff attrition rates of 35 to 40 per cent while the cost of replacing a single lawyer with four years’ experience is estimated at $150,000 in loss of productivity and replacement costs.
Yet Beaton Consulting research, based on a recent study of 1000 law firm employees, shows that the most effective way to attract talent — ahead of even money and career progression opportunities — is through the use of a firm’s strong reputation.
‘‘ Ensuring that partners in professional service firms act in ways that attract and retain good people, by giving them learning opportunities, discussing their careers and talking to them about the firm’s direction, is still the holy grail for many firms,’’ says Forrester.
This, combined with the fact that interviews are now as much about selling the job as assessing the candidate, many firms are handpicking and then training anyone likely to meet a candidate in an interview.
‘‘ The focus is on conveying the firm’s brand in the interview, in both word and deed, and on telling great stories that demonstrate the brand,’’ he says. ‘‘ One firm had a 50 per cent increase in acceptances after training all staff involved in the recruitment process.’’
He notes the skills shortage is pushing up spotter’s fees for successful lateral hires.
‘‘ A fee of $5000 is quite common — though anecdotally, some firms are offering between $10,000 and $20,000 for the right candidate and firms are also running referral drives, or ‘ blitzes’, in which the fee goes even higher,’’ he explains.
Even a candidate turning down a job offer is not a signal to shred their file.
‘‘ If a candidate says ‘ no’, they actually begin on a new journey where the firm tries to stay in touch and slowly convinces them to say ‘ yes’,’’ Forrester says. ‘‘ Firms are creating alumnis of ex-candidates and ‘ candidate tracking’ programs, then periodically sending out postcards or letters to stay in touch.’’
Speed interview: A more fun, engaging way to build relationships with future clients and candidates,’ says Julie Mills