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Ketan Dattani of Buckingham Futures On How To Hire The Right Person

An Interview With Ben Ari

Do your due diligence. Once you’ve decided on your shortlist and you’re happy with your successful candidate, it’s time to verify that they are who they say they are. Take time to check their professional credentials such as qualifications, references, and professional licenses.

When a company is looking to grow, the choice of who to hire can sometimes be an almost existential question. The right hire can dramatically grow a company, while the wrong hire can be very harmful to morale and growth. How can you know you are hiring the right person? What are the red flags that should warn you away from hiring someone? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders who can share insights and stories from their experiences about “How To Hire The Right Person”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ketan Dattani.

Ketan Dattani is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur. He holds 25 years of recruitment experience and has a high profile within the sector. He is widely documented as an expert on Employment Law, Employee rights and for providing Careers Advice.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Of course. Going right back to the beginning, I am the eldest of two siblings from a first-generation East African Asian immigrant family. I was born in Leicester in the early 1970s after my parents were forcefully expelled from their birthplace of Uganda by a military dictatorship.

My early memories are of growing up in a small house with lots of uncles and aunts and tons of cousins. With the loss of much of Leicester’s industry during the mid-1970s my parents moved to London to seek employment, which is where I grew up.

In London, our economic situation wasn’t the best. Sadly, there were few prospects in Thatcher’s London. She had declared that there was no such thing as society and no one understood that more than Council Estate residents. We were bearing the brunt of a broken country.

Amidst this, I was raised with a strong sense of values — respect, hard work, integrity, humility, and a duty to help those less fortunate than me.

You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?

From a young age, I developed an avid interest in the Environment. As I got older, I comprehended that Environmental matters were of little significance in 80s London.

Having failed in the school system it was my avid interest in Environmental issues that led me back to education and to my academic choices of undertaking a degree in Environmental Biology and a Master’s degree in Environmental Planning and Management.

To make ends meet while I studied I had a weekend retail job, and often took on overtime depending on my availability. I always knew my timetable in advance so I would book weekends off before exams or before certain assignments.

I was lucky to find employment as a trainee medical microbiologist very quickly after completing my first degree. However, it only took a few weeks for me to realise that working in a laboratory full-time was nothing like I’d imagined. Rather than applying the analytical skills, I had learned at university, I was asked to undertake very basic, mundane, and repetitive tasks.

In 1997 I return to full-time education to complete my Master’s degree. After graduation, I struggled to find a role within the Environmental sector and so began my career in recruitment.

I set up Buckingham Futures, a specialist Consultancy supplying Environmental Health personnel across the Private and Public sectors on a nationwide basis as I identified an opportunity to aid Environmental Health professionals to fill the gap in the employment sector caused by significant challenges to the global economy caused population growth, increasing demand for natural resources, soaring costs of energy and escalating impacts of climate change.

I started Buckingham Futures for personal and professional fulfilment. I love to accomplish goals and feel as if I am contributing to something important, an overarching vision for what I can create, and am motivated by change, challenge, and diverse problems to solve. I was very motivated by the idea of creating something from the ground up.

My philosophy is one whereby Environmental factors are drivers of my business success. This means that we always go the extra mile to understand the business objectives and operating environments of our clients.

What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?

After 25 years in recruitment, I have led many impactful initiatives that I am proud of. Currently, something that particularly proud of is our partnership with The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health with the launching of the Directory of Student Training Opportunities — a listing of training opportunities to help Environmental Health students complete their Environmental Health Practitioner Portfolio.

The available opportunities are offered by local authorities, private sector businesses and charities and are grouped geographically and align with the five areas of the Portfolio: Environmental Protection, Food Safety, Housing and communities, Health And Safety, and Public Health, to allow students to fill any gaps in their learning experience.

There is value in it for everyone, and a genuine win-win for students, employers and the future of the Environmental Health profession.

How about a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away?

Back in 2013 when I launched Buckingham Futures, I found myself constantly trying to adapt to receive validation. It was draining and counter-productive since very few people knew me — the real Ketan — which is a prerequisite to liking me.

I’ve learnt that the higher you rise, the more attention you’ll receive, both positive and negative and that a willingness to be disliked certainly helps you deal with the added scrutiny.

I have also learnt that the most imperative quality clients look for is authenticity. It is not easy, as being authentic is as much about revealing your flaws as playing to your strengths. It is often tempting to put up a front of total competence rather than risk looking vulnerable. However, authenticity is a key ingredient in running a successful business and leading a great team.

As the business has grown, I remember to always remain authentic and to never lose that openness and willingness to connect with people.

How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?

I have done both (accepting and offering mentorship). However, it took me 2 years to realise how valuable a mentor was to help guide me through my entrepreneurial journey, from not making hasty business decisions to fostering valuable partnerships.

I have had 4 mentors since 2015 and have learned a large number of valuable lessons from every one of them.

Since 2008 I have been involved in the mentorship of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those at risk of offending.

Mentoring helps young people develop their character, raise aspirations, improve their academic attainment, and help them achieve their potential.

Mentoring is more than just the transfer of advice, knowledge, and insights. As well as the personal satisfaction of sharing skills and experience, being involved in mentoring also provides exposure to fresh perspectives, ideas, and approaches and an opportunity to reflect on my own goals and practices.

Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?

I don’t know that I have ever specifically tried to emulate an individual leader, but my 25 years in recruitment have provided me with a wealth of experience to draw from as I lead my teams. Over the years, I have developed my leadership style to revolve around four central ideas:

  1. Put people first. Putting your people first does not mean that your business results, customers, clients or stakeholders will suffer. It means the exact opposite. In my experience, when you put people first, the results will follow.
  2. Innovate. This is the ability to inspire productive action in yourself and others during times of uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk. It is a necessary competency for businesses that hope to develop truly innovative services.
  3. Be data-driven. By leveraging careful business tracking, you can understand short and long-term goals, and identify any red flags, and strategies for success.
  4. Communicate. Good communication is a core leadership function and a key characteristic of a good leader. Leaders must be able to think with clarity, express ideas, and share information with a multitude of audiences. They must also handle the rapid flow of information within the business and among customers, partners, vendors, and other stakeholders and influencers.

Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s change paths a little bit. The pandemic forced many companies to adapt. Implementing remote onboarding and professional development — in addition to maintaining culture-challenged organizations. Can you share with us the challenges you have faced, with remote onboarding and hiring? How have your internal processes evolved as a result?

The COVID-19 pandemic required the Buckingham Futures team to swiftly transition to working from home in March 2020. Before that, I had no experience in managing a remote team.

Expectedly, when transitioning to working remotely, there was an adjustment period. Managing a remote team can be somewhat challenging, especially when you want to do ‘business as usual’ and have your employees work in a way that makes them feel like everyone is working toward the same goals.

I have found that hybrid work gives employees more autonomy in choosing how they spend their time, and in my experience, people surpass what is expected of them when they are given trust and the freedom of accountability.

From a leadership perspective, it’s crucial to be emotionally aware that worldwide events are happening in our employees’ lives and on a global scale that affects us all.

It is therefore critical to ensure a sense of belonging. If employees start to feel disconnected, the isolation will crush their morale and productivity.

With the Great Resignation/Reconsideration in full swing, many job seekers are reevaluating their priorities in selecting a role and an employer. How do you think this will influence companies’ approaches to hiring, talent management, and continuous learning?

Employers need to be on the same page with employees by reconceptualising what it means to be part of their organisation.

How? Based on my experience, I believe taking the following 5 measures can have the greatest impact:

  1. Have a solid onboarding process. The first couple of weeks in a job are essential to helping that person settle into the role and feel at home within the organisation. And, onboarding can have a big impact on retention. Your onboarding process should provide a deep dive into your new employee’s position, as well as the company culture and how they can thrive within it.
  2. Support employee wellbeing. Supporting your employees’ well-being means ensuring their mental, physical and financial health is essential if you want to retain your top talent.
  3. Provide opportunities to grow. All too often, organisations fail to provide employees with training that will help to grow their skill set and help them advance their careers. Assembling a winning team isn’t just about sourcing the right talent; instead, it’s about doing everything possible to keep your team motivated and on track –something that the right training can help to facilitate. Allowing workers to advance their professional development is a surefire way to foster company loyalty.

4. Empower employees. No one likes to be micromanaged. So look for opportunities to entrust your team with more responsibilities. Trusting your team enough to give them more responsibilities will help them to feel more connected to your company.

5. Offer advancement opportunities. Instead of sourcing outside talent, promote your existing team to climb the career ladder in your company.

Super, thank you for sharing all of that. Next, let’s turn to the main focus of our discussion about hiring the right person. As you know, hiring can be very time-consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill? Please share an example for each idea.

With the increasing competition for recruiting top performers, as well as their potential impact on business performance, it is becoming more important for businesses to identify high-potential employees.

The techniques that I use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job I want to fill are:

  1. Build an effective employer brand. Your employer branding strategy dictates how candidates perceive your company, what they experience during the hiring process, and if hired, what happens to ensure they remain with your company. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that candidates understand your value proposition as an employer. In other words, they should clearly understand what your company can promise them in return for their commitment.
  2. Ask the right questions. You likely already know what you’re looking for in a candidate — a positive attitude, adaptability, good attention to detail, strong communication skills, etc. — but you can’t always discern those things from a Cv or even a general interview. A more reliable way to assess these qualities is by examining a candidate’s past behaviour through a behavioural interview. Ultimately, behavioural interviewing gives you more context and nuance about each candidate and ratings allow you to conduct more insightful interviews. The more specific you can get with candidates’ real-life experiences, the more accurately you can determine whether they have the necessary skills to help your organisation move forward.
  3. Allow them to ask questions. This allows you to assess their level of interest in the role, how much they know about your organisation as well as their particular areas of interest.
  4. Put their skills to the test. Introducing a skills-based, practical element to your recruitment process can help candidates demonstrate their ability first-hand. Suggestions for this could be an exam, a mini-project, a practical task or a demonstration.
  5. Do your due diligence. Once you’ve decided on your shortlist and you’re happy with your successful candidate, it’s time to verify that they are who they say they are. Take time to check their professional credentials such as qualifications, references, and professional licenses.

In contrast, what are a few red flags that should warn you away from hiring someone?

There are five interview red flags that I look out for that help me spot bad hires. It’s not a foolproof system, but it can act as a safeguard against major hiring blunders.

  1. Arriving late to the interview. Sometimes a candidate will be late for an interview, and things happen. However, your candidate should let you know if they’re going to be late. A simple heads-up is better than nothing. My usual grace period is about 5 minutes.
  2. Unprofessional appearance. If the candidate does not care about the image they project, what kind of representation will they be for your organisation?
  3. Talking unprofessionally about current/past employers. If your interviewee starts saying negative things about a current or employer, this is a big red flag for me. It is very indicative that this person may one day say bad things about my business.
    Moreover, they could be blaming a lack of performance or achievement in a role on their past or current employer. It shows that they are not taking ownership of why they are looking for a role or are unhappy in their current role.
    However, I don’t mistake honesty as someone being negative. For example, if an interviewee is upfront about the company’s culture not being a fit for them, it shows they are self-aware. In this situation, make sure you probe and ask what it is that they are looking for to ensure your organisation will be a good fit for them.
  4. Disinterest in the role. At the bare minimum, candidates should have read a few company blog posts and spent time researching the role in detail. It should be immediately apparent how passionate candidates are about the role and how much they want to be a part of your team. You can identify how much research people have done by simply asking a few questions about the company, recent projects, or plans for the future.
  5. Not preparing good questions. A lack of questions suggests a lack of interest. It makes you wonder how much the interviewee wants the job. The best candidates will ask questions because they’re genuinely interested in learning more about the role. They also don’t flit from one question to the next like they’re ticking boxes on a checklist. They should be curious and ask follow-up questions to make sure they understand the answers you’re giving them.

Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.

I would be delighted to inspire and support any movement that would aim to mobilize everyone to join the global effort to save mother earth and to make our planet a better place for us and generations to come.

Everyone can do their bit by conserving water, driving less and walking more, consuming less energy, buying recycled products, eating locally grown vegetables, creating less waste and planting more trees.

This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!

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