Recruitment Strategies: Talent Spotting For Your Business


When faced with a range of suitable candidates, how do you go about recruiting the right person for your business? Placing a job ad can bring in hundreds of applicants who apparently have the right qualifications. But having achieved the best exam results doesn’t necessarily make them the best person for the role. So how, in that sea of CVs, can you spot someone who has real potential to shape your business? Here are recruitment strategies that you can use for talent spotting for your business.

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New hires should be made with company strategy and culture front of mind. The perfect candidate will have a balance of hard skills – ie technical proficiency for the job – and soft skills, which are less tangible and measurable, such as leadership. Interviews should be properly structured, with questions based on the job and the candidate’s experience, and should be a two-way process.

“Although qualifications change and evolve, essentially good leadership qualities remain constant,” says Robert Ferry, founder and managing partner at Dublin-based recruitment specialists RFC Executive. “People who were good leaders in the 1920s would still be good leaders today – and there are ways you can successfully find those qualities.”

Take company culture into account

The key, says Ferry, is to hire a good ‘fit’ for your organisation. “Every single hire should be defined by your company strategy and culture,” he says. “Even exceptionally talented people will not succeed if they aren’t the right fit. If you’re in an industry where the pace of constant change means you have to be agile and make quick decisions, you need someone with a background in being able to do that.”

But to appoint someone to fit your culture, you first need to establish what that culture is. “Think of it as a value system,” says Ferry. “For instance, ask yourself: ‘We say we value diversity, but do we, really? How are we demonstrating that?’ Look at the reality of that system and, if it needs to change, work out how to bring that change about.”

A robust examination of your culture is vital to get the best candidates to shape your organisation. “Your culture needs to be driven by society,” adds Ferry. “In years gone by, hierarchy and tradition were good, hard skills [those that can be taught and tested] were king – but were customers seen as that important? Now that’s changed and your culture, and any staff you hire, need to reflect that.”

Recommended reading: Does Business Size Affect Employee Happiness and Culture?

Be clear in the purpose of your recruitment

SMEs looking to hire should also examine exactly what role they want to fill, says Professor Anthony McDonnell from Cork University Business School.

“Organisations looking to recruit often make the mistake of looking on the internet for job descriptions to copy,” he adds. “Instead, they should start by looking at the precise demands of the role in their specific organisation: what that person will do, what experience they will need, who they will need to interact with, what personal attributes they need to gel with their new colleagues – especially if it’s a small team. What are the key tasks and how do you evaluate the skills needed to carry them out? Then write an advert that reflects all these aspects.

“Businesses underestimate the time it takes to recruit properly – better to spend 25% of your time getting your selection right than having to later spend 95% of your time micro-managing a new recruit because you hired the wrong person for the job.”

Soft skills versus hard skills

Seeking out candidates with the necessary qualifications and technical expertise is often the first order of business for many recruiters, but this can mean that the value of soft skills – less tangible and measurable than hard skills – is underestimated.

Indeed, according to research by LinkedIn, 57% of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills when hiring. Leadership was the most sought-after soft skill in 2018, with communication, collaboration and time management also being highly sought-after attributes.

At the same time, a balance needs to be struck between valuing attributes such as these and seeking out the most technically adept person for the job, says Ferry: “Soft skills are vital in appointing potential future leaders, but these sit on top of hard skills, not instead of them. You still need the exams and practical experience.”

“It’s better to spend 25% of your time getting your selection right than having to later spend 95% of your time micro-managing a new recruit because you hired the wrong person for the job”

Professor Anthony McDonnell, Cork University Business School

Think about interview structure

Interviews are also key in identifying how well a candidate might fit – but only if they’re properly structured, says McDonnell: “They have little validity if you don’t ask the right questions and just end up having a vague chat. Questions should be based around the job, the candidate’s experience, how much they know about your organisation and why they think they fit, rather than exploring hypothetical situations.

“Many companies also fail to see interviews as a two-way process. It’s not just about how a candidate sells themselves to you – you need to show what your business is about, too.”

Recommended Reading: 6 Ways to Recruit the Best Staff for Your Small Business

Grow your own talent

Growing leaders from within has also changed, says Ferry. “Previously you’d be promoted or put on a course or graduate training programme, maybe for one day a week,” he says. “But recent years have turned that on its head in favour of team coaching.”

There’s a danger of in-house leadership training being too ‘soft’, he adds. “You need a culture where people are respectful but not afraid to speak out, and should be encouraged to challenge you. Highest-performing groups need 80% gelling and 20% tension. If group relationships are too ‘pally’, you tend to get ‘groupthink’ or a lack of debate. Good team-leading isn’t about getting people to agree all the time; it’s about creating thinking that gives you the best ideas. Robust, respectful debate is healthy and should be encouraged – if you’re all consistently too pally or too confrontational, both those things can be harmful.”

Current staff touted for promotion should be given experience of the whole business, recommends McDonnell. “Job rotation is good for enabling future leaders to understand and, crucially, experience the different roles in the organisation. It’s vital to get that understanding of different perspectives.”

A winning combination

So how do you hire that leader of tomorrow? “We look at culture fit and skills fit, and then motivation fit – and if the first two work, the third one will,” says Ferry. “People tend to offer, and accept jobs in that order – salary usually isn’t the be all and end all, but comes into play only if the job is attractive from a culture and skills perspective.”

But hiring, says McDonnell, is only half the challenge of recruitment. “People always examine why employees leave,” he says, “but they should be looking at what makes them stay. Creating an environment that gives staff reason to stick around is good for your brand – and for attracting future employees.”

And it is important to remember that, ultimately, the most suitable applicant may not be the highest flier. “You aren’t looking for the best exam grades, nor the friendliest applicant,” he says. “You’re looking to find someone whose hard and soft skills make them the most appropriate person to suit your organisation.”

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