Recruitment: Choosing Deeds Over Words

By now, surely, conventional recruitment should be dead, and employers coming to terms with and embracing living in a brave new world.

But big business has this big cruise liner way of muscling onwards, persisting in all the outdated behaviours, and drowning out alternative recruitment because they can muster the loudest of voices.

But why is recruitment today so tainted yet so successful?

My latest visitation to this question comes after a conversation with a hugely talented and highly intelligent colleague. After a very chequered career at school, she had begun to understand that her passion to contribute and her drive to succeed had actually scared managers seeking to recruit staff.

And one recruiter, only one, had the courage and vision to understand that for her to apply to unenlightened employers of this sort would be a huge waste of time, both theirs and hers.

In my own experience, she had already outperformed just to find one recruiter who still had some semblance of humanity left, and was still willing to try and help.

This is as opposed to the very many I have come across over a decade or so who often brazenly regard the applicant as a number, mere cannon fodder to help them put food on their own plate. Don’t understand the candidate? Move on, you have targets to meet.

This collegiate conversation I had struck a huge chord with me, compelling me to write and explore the situation further.

Trading on Lies

Today, still, conventional recruitment has too often swallowed its own rhetoric, and is built on a lie. And too often, relies on presentation and perception over real talent, attitude and substance.

How often do we hear recruiters say “You need to tailor your CV for the job you are applying for”.

But by how much? Five or ten percent? Fifty percent? One hundred percent?

And what does that mean for an employer faced with an applicant? The automatic assumption that a candidate is lying, we just need to find out where?

We must all realise one person cannot really grow the amount they need to fill a role in the space of writing a letter. Doesn’t the real journey needed take years of perseverance, heartache, many a tear, and an un-erasable audit trail.

Isn't it worth seeing a truer picture? There are gaps here, almost bound to be, how do we propose to fill them, and how will the candidate grow beyond the role?

Is the one little lie on a CV, the one where truth has been stretched to fit the tick box employer mentality, is that the one that in years to come will lead to a disaster of some sort? And heaven help us if this person works in the health sector in a critical role.

So recruitment has grown up over the years valuing those who present well on a CV, and not necessarily those who can actually achieve once in role, often despite suffering a lack of resources and being faced with many challenges.

In the UK, added to this, the risk aversion component and “say yes” positive reporting affliction has meant a pro-lie and tick box automaton approach, and a dumb refusal to look at riskier wild card candidates.

How can employers not have the nous to realise their attitudes are a significant part of the problem in being able to recruit and retain talent?

What Can Employers Do?

Some years back, I read a book written by a senior director in a well known UK employment agency. It highlighted three factors that employees needed to show the right kinds of attitude to employers.

While this did seem helpful, and indeed hopeful, I also realised the book said next to nothing about the other side of the deal, about what employers needed to do to show the right kind of attitude to employees.

With one exception, Anita Roddick, the former head of Body Shop. Employees today still rave about the company, where Ms Roddick’s legacy of commitment to her employees lives on pretty much intact.

Essentially, employers have for the most part been too impressed with their own status and ability to employ. “We matter more than you do” is the message that too often comes across in interview.

But, for an employer with the right attitude, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Things have changed around employers, and they really truly don’t have to be this way, providing they are prepared to put the effort into changing themselves.

What might this look like?

New Age Employers

Our individual actions and achievements are now much more visible through social media.

Employers who take the trouble can see our connectivity and business groupings on Facebook, can see our interests and contributions on Twitter, can see our personal networks on LinkedIn.

Our body of knowledge is now so much more visible, as are our attitudes to others, our willingness to collaborate and support, and our ability to communicate.

These are all key attributes in team members in business.

Also emerging are the means for employees and applicants to understand how ethical employers are, and how empathic towards staff. Also how sustainable and accountable a business is, and how well leaders are leading.

Another factor in a rapidly evolving world of technology and business practice is that of skill redundancy. Employers need to realise they don’t need people with a particular skill set, they need people who are good at learning, adapting, growing. They need people who instinctively get both Bloom’s Knowledge Taxonomy and the related Kolb learning cycle.

Stop specifying employee skill sets, focus instead on the business challenge that needs solving.

Also interesting and valuable are the emerging London job fairs, where applicants get to mingle with employers on a non-specific more random basis, and hiring can often result.

Another point to consider is working on a supplier basis instead of employees. Suppliers are often more savvy, more business aware, and can bring a wider range of skills to bear when problem solving.

Finally, in the UK, employment law seeks to “protect” applicants by forbidding agencies from charging applicants for their services.

But in acting, the hiring process works quite successfully with actors rewarding agents for winning successful roles.

It may now be time for employers to understand that to have a real picture of the candidate, much more choice needs to be in the hands of the talented applicant, and that maybe they need to shape up and be better employers.

Employer Prescription

So, in bullet point format, and no particular order, what does the doctor recommend employers seeking to recruit in the 21st century should do?

  1. Do publish more vacancies online
  2. Shift focus from CVs to social media to really understand candidates
  3. Avoid 100% tick box mentality, embed “gap risk management” in hiring
  4. Focus on business issues, not skill specs and “favourite” solutions
  5. Be willing to entertain “random” agencies who properly represent talent
  6. Embrace team and collaborative attitudes in candidates, avoid “me first”
  7. Go the distance to prove how worthy an employer you are
  8. Run away from recruiters who ask directly or covertly for “CV massage”
  9. Consider looking at wild card candidates who need to grow into roles
  10. Understand the differences between attitude, presentation and lieing
  11. Train existing employees to have more personal empathy
  12. Be generally more open about business challenges and plans
  13. Consider business supplier networks, might be more cost effective
  14. Be clear what is core and what is “seasonal”, employ on that basis

The really interesting point here is that all employers could take all these points on board.

But too few have that many, and a few are genuinely ignorant and have none at all.

We are entering the age of talent appreciation and visibility. Isn’t it about time employers realised they need to up their game and leave complacent and counter-productive 20th century practices behind?

Thanks for listening.

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