Friday, 28 April 2017

How Sharpening Your Process Can Alleviate Your Recruitment Woes

Three years after the "credit crunch" hit, the economic outlook is still far from certain. Barely a week goes by without press coverage of the Eurozone crisis, government bailouts, mergers, redundancies, and high unemployment. It would be easy to imagine that we are living in an employer-driven job market with high-calibre candidates two-a-penny, clamouring for jobs. Yet for many employers, this isn't the case. Despite the high number of potential employees reported in the press, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to source the right people for the jobs they have available.

Strangely, rather than crowds of good applicants for each job, sales and marketing managers in particular are finding it difficult to find the right calibre of staff for their teams. Despite the seemingly constant stream of phone calls from recruitment consultants offering candidates, these candidates often disappoint at interview, meaning time-consuming, drawn-out interview processes at a time when sales teams need to be operating at full strength. Unlike many jobs, of course, there is often no need for a specific qualification in a sales or marketing position. Instead, recruiters need to rely on experience and personality when selecting new employees. Both of these are easy to exaggerate on a CV.

When investigating the causes of this problem, a number of areas come to the surface. As an employer, it's vital to address those causes within the company's control, and to understand those outside of it. By doing this, you can ensure that you get the right employee for the role, and do so skilfully and efficiently without wasting valuable time interviewing unsuitable applicants. This time saving will reduce employers' desire to compromise on the candidates employed.

Cause 1: under-preparation of candidates by recruitment consultants

The role of the recruitment consultant should be to match candidates to jobs, and jobs to candidates as accurately as possible. There are, of course, many excellent recruitment companies, who gain a deep understanding of their clients, job roles, and skills required to perform these roles. They then get to know their candidates' desires, strengths and weaknesses, and sell, in a targeted way, the right candidates into the right jobs. When this highly skilled consultant identifies a good potential candidate, the consultant should give the candidate the right interview preparation to enable the candidate to secure the job. Unfortunately, this utopian picture of recruitment is rarely the reality. Too many recruitment consultants behave simply as transactional salespeople. Rather than go through the process described above, they will send a large number of candidates to a large number of job interviews without the necessary preparation which a candidate, particularly a junior one, needs to secure the job. Often, the right candidate may be passed over due to poor performance at interview.

Cause 2: over-preparation of candidates by recruitment consultants

Whilst under-preparation of a candidate can be problematic, over-preparation can cause even more trouble for an employer. Candidates who receive too much preparation from their consultant can perform above their skill level, particularly in sales interviews. Some consultants will rehearse interview scenarios so much that the candidates know the "text book" answers for most questions they are asked. In this situation, the candidate can be highly impressive at interview but then disappoint once they are in the job.

Cause 3: poor skills learnt at school

Perhaps your sales or marketing candidate seems a good fit in terms of personality and/or experience, but they let themself down in other areas. This particularly irks me both as a recruiter and as a trainer. As a recruiter I have interviewed a number of candidates who have been well suited to jobs, but been hesitant to have these people in my team due to poor grammar or sloppy diction. Whilst these candidates may have been potentially talented at selling, I have been unwilling to put people in front of my clients who are unable to conjugate, punctuate or articulate. Too frequently have I been told by an interviewee what a great "opportunity" I'm offering, or been asked "what was you doing before you worked here?"

In addition, as a trainer and as a sales manager, I am frequently stunned by the lack of basic IT skills in people ten or fifteen years my junior.

Here are just two examples of poor preparation for working life by our schools and universities. There are more, and they make finding the right person for a job increasingly hard.

Cause 4: poor recruitment process

Whilst these first three causes are outside of the control of the recruiter, they are, of course, important to be aware of in order to address them effectively. My fourth cause, however, is entirely within the control of the recruiting organisation.

Although a key component of a leader's job is to recruit and train the correct people for their team, precious few leaders have ever been given recruitment training. Many go into an interview with a muddle of "good interview questions" but with no structure or goals for the interview, and no real success criteria in order to identify the perfect candidate. I have spoken to many senior managers who have confessed to being "clueless" when it comes to interviewing. This obviously creates problems of its own, but when combined with Causes 1 to 3 (above), the ability to fill a position quickly and efficiently is severely compromised.

The solution

These four causes of sales and marketing recruitment difficulties require a solution touching on both business strategy and personal skills. By addressing these two areas together, managers and leaders can dramatically increase their recruitment success rate for sales and marketing functions, as well as customer service and other areas of the business.

Solution area 1: business strategy

Recruiting externally is always a risky undertaking compared with promoting and up-skilling internally. Job skills, productivity measures and personality traits which can be observed over many years in formal as well as informal situations when promoting internally, must be observed over just a few hours in the somewhat contrived environment of a job interview. In addition, recruiting externally for a more senior position sends the message to current staff that they are not valued highly enough, or not skilled enough, to fill that role themselves. This can have a negative effect on organisational atmosphere and culture, as well as on staff turnover. Recruiting mainly at junior levels and developing a career path for existing staff both minimises this risk and demonstrates faith in current employees. This faith, along with clear and defined career goals, can act as a tremendous motivator and increase staff performance at many levels.

Of course, this is easier said than done, and this strategy should not be adopted on a whim without going through an in-depth process of clarifying company goals, identify potential risk factors, and understanding how this process change can fit with overall organisational strategy.

Solution area 2: personal skills

Of course, changing a business strategy is of little benefit unless business leaders have the necessary skills to capitalise on the new situation. When you consider recruitment costs, and the potential costs of recruiting badly, it becomes clear that a proportion of training budget should be allocated towards recruitment training for managers and leaders. Recruitment training is more than interview skills training. It extends to considering the role for which you're recruiting, identifying whether the role itself is structured correctly, profiling the ideal candidate, then both ensuring the candidate is right for the position and selling the position to the right candidate. Whilst this may seem like quite a broad spectrum of required training, when this is compared to the cost of recruiting poorly, the investment will pay for itself very quickly.

Naturally Sales' top tips for effective recruitment

Tip 1: Create a highly detailed job spec

One of your goals when recruiting is to interview only those candidates who are a close match for the job. The more detailed you make the job description, the closer a match you should get of candidates. It can be tempting, for more junior positions, to exaggerate the scope of the role in order to attract a higher calibre of candidate. This is a very risky practice, as you are setting yourself up for frustrated employees and rapid staff turnover when the new recruit realises that he or she is not in the job which was sold to them.

Tip 2: Profile the ideal candidate

Before approaching the candidate market, it's vital you understand who you are trying to recruit. Sit down, preferably with a colleague, and make a list of skills, experiences and personality traits which would make up the perfect recruit for the role. There are various techniques to achieve this, which include analysing previous employees who have been both successful and unsuccessful, brainstorming desired traits, and considering what type of person would fit well with the existing team.

Tip 3: Use more than one consultant

Using a recruitment consultant to help with sales and marketing recruitment is usually worth the investment, particularly in more junior roles. However, there is a gulf between the best and worst consultants in the markets. Use more than one consultant on a pay-for-results basis to ensure they are kept on their toes and actively try to fill your position quickly.

Tip 4: Whittle them down ruthlessly

Whilst you should use more than one consultant, those with whom you work should be of a suitable quality to help you succeed. Recruitment consultants are salespeople who sell candidates to employers and jobs to job-seekers. For sales roles in particular, if the consultant is a poor salesperson, they will struggle to identify good salespeople to put forward. A good recruitment consultant will ask many probing questions in an effort to understand your company, role, culture, ideal candidate, etc. Begin your client-consultant relationship by making it clear that you want to receive only the best CVs, and that quality is more important than quantity. Should the consultant not live up to your expectations, find someone else to work with.

Tip 5: Look out for mistakes in CVs

When reviewing CVs, it's important to remember that candidates can put anything they like in the document. A better measure of a candidate's appropriateness is to look out for inconsistencies, mistakes in spelling, grammar or punctuation, short stints in previous jobs, or unexplained gaps. Clumsy mistakes can be a sign of poor attention to detail or lack of knowledge. Other inconsistencies should at least warrant further investigation during interview.

Tip 6: Start with a phone interview

It is good practice to conduct the first interview over the telephone. Apart from giving a good indication of the applicant's telephone manner, it is also a great time-saver. When a face-to-face meeting goes badly, it's usually at least half an hour before you can politely show the candidate the door. By beginning with a telephone interview, you can keep the interview time down to 6 or 7 minutes if the candidate is unsuitable, meaning that face-to-face interviews can be reserved for only the most promising applicants.

Tip 7: Be flexible with your interviewing

Whilst it's important to have a well-structured interview plan, it is equally important to approach each conversation with the flexibility to drill down into the specific strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. Whilst most interviewers will have a list of "good" interview questions such as "why did you leave your previous job?", "what are your career goals?" and "what would you change about your last manager?", the most important questions you can ask are "why is that relevant?", "how would you do that here?" and "can you tell me more about that?". Questions like this allow you to personalise your interviewing, and to press candidates for more details to ensure skills are genuine.

Tip 8: Consider team fit

Anyone who is experienced workplace conflict will understand the enormous cost involved in terms of managerial time, lost productivity from those involved, and low morale in the team as a whole. Considering team fit is a vital step in the recruitment process. In addition, there are certain characters which should be present in most teams, for example highly ambitious employees, steady and reliable types, characters who provide energy and enthusiasm, and those who help teams to gel. Understanding how your new recruit can fill one of these roles is instrumental in forming a balanced team.

Tip 9: Ensure the candidate closes

Important in any job, but vital for a sales position, is that candidate see interviews as a selling opportunity, selling themselves into the role. Interviews should be well-balanced, and the candidate should be asking as many questions as the interviewer. At the end of the interview, the candidate should attempt to close the deal. Should they not do this, they are unlikely to be a natural salesperson. Do not let a recruitment consultant influence your opinion of the candidate by suggesting that an interview isn't a real selling situation. It is, and should be treated as such.

Tip 10: Deliver on your promises

Any promises made during the interview in terms of job scope, responsibilities, opportunities or other areas must be delivered upon in order to maintain a motivated employee and a highly-performing team. Resist the temptation to over-promise in order to secure the right candidate, and if you do find it necessary to adjust these areas during the interview, ensure expectations are realised once the new employee is in the role.


  1. Dougles, not sure if you saw my email, but you forgot to put the required attribution to my article you posted from, I guess, Ezine Articles. Could you please rectify this? Many thanks.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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