Failed recruitment starts with flawed search

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If manager anecdote is to be believed, traditional recruitment fails more often than it succeeds; it fails to recruit the manager’s idea of an ideal jobholder. Firms are awash with stories of candidates having to be dismissed soon after joining and jobs having to be re-designed to compromise on job scope. It seems almost as if managers in every firm in the land are debating extending new recruits’ probationary periods or discussing whether they should dismiss before the two-year unfair dismissal qualifying period is reached.

Of course, it’s not true. Traditional recruitment is not that unsuccessful – it’s just that in any group of new hires today, there’s always a good proportion to which these laments apply. It seems that the occurrence of new hires falling below expected performance is on the rise.

Failing Hires

There are perhaps three causes for a new hire failing. First, managers are sometimes not as clear as they should be in defining exactly who they need. And second, and more often than not, managers’ interview processes are not as robust as they should be to predict who will excel in the role. They select the best of a group rather than the best of those able to excel. We’ve blogged extensively on these two in the past.

The third cause is rooted in the ineffective way that search is done.

Traditionally, managers employ recruitment agents to complete the search and propose a number of CVs for consideration. The recruitment agent, much like an estate agent, takes a brief from the hiring manager. We’ve blogged considerably on how this should be done, so we’ll assume for this argument that the transfer of brief is effective.

The recruitment agent then uses that brief to search. First, they search their own database of jobs seekers. Second, they advertise on three or four jobs boards and third, they search the candidate databases associated with these jobs boards.

UK Labour Market

Now, for a full discussion, we need to say something about the present labour market in the UK. We have just five per cent unemployment nationally. In the South East, this reduces to something like two per cent. And in buoyant economic centres like the Gatwick area, it’s just one per cent. One per cent unemployment means that every single person that wants a job and has something to offer is already in a job. Even those whose capabilities are low are in work.

The UK has also, over the past twenty years or so, failed to match job demand with skills supply. To be fair to our educational establishments, and to the Government who set education policy, many of the jobs done today weren’t even envisaged twenty years ago when workers entered education. But that aside, most firms seeking higher end skills and knowledge in candidates have unfilled vacancies and lament the qualities of candidates offered.

The state of affairs is described graphically in the diagram below.

Failed Recruitment Starts With Flawed Search

On average across all firms, skills available in candidates seeking jobs fall short of those sought by managers. This is shown by the difference in the two curves and the two averages. This results in a skills gap. The skills gap is shown above as a void (hatched) between the two normal curves describing the skills demanded and the skills available. The area under the two curves represents the total skills in each case. The differences in population can be seen for each skill level by comparing the population at corresponding points on the curves.

Significantly, the effect of the skills gap is most keenly felt at the top end of the skills range (to the right of the centre highlighted by the sqiggle). It’s here that there are fewer people with the required skills and here that there is a dramatically higher percentage gap for each skill level.

Traditional Approaches

People who place their CV on a jobs board do so for many reasons. Those genuinely seeking to move to the next tier in their career are of course of particular interest to hiring managers. But what about those who are happy in their jobs; what about those who might be enticed to move given the right opportunity? This group aren’t actually looking right now – but they are still search targets. These people are not available to recruitment agents.

Consider also that in a state of near-full employment, the average time that a job-seeker is actually looking is a matter of weeks. That means that if a manager opens a job vacancy, they have a very short window to interview and entice a candidate to join. This causes a huge pressure on the hiring manager to compromise. Remember also that there’s a significant skills gap at the upper end so managers are likely to be looking at fewer good candidates anyway. Economic expediencies then add further pressure, and any idea of recruiting the ideal candidate goes out the window in favour of getting a bum on a seat.

To break this unacceptable situation, it follows that managers must search in the largest pool possible. They must therefore seek to hire from the total population in that profession at the required skill level and not just in the pool of people actively seeking new work.

It also follows that instead of looking in a window of about two or three weeks width, managers must look over a longer period. A period of several months would allow a larger number of candidates to be appraised.

New Approach

So when there are fewer good candidates, firms must search in the biggest possible pool for the longest possible time.

This strategy requires three key conditions.

First, managers must have a very clear specification, defined in terms of competencies and behaviours needed to excel. It’s not enough for a manager to talk to a recruitment agent and describe in abstract terms the sort of person sought. The specification must be just that – specific. The specification must be an absolute rather than a relative statement. And there are defined ways that psychologists like TimelessTime use to characterise people in such a situation.

Second, the traditional way of tasking a recruitment agent to search will be less likely to succeed. It’s essential to get access to every single possible candidate. This can only be done by expansive search using tools such as LinkedIn.

And third, the search must go on for as long as is needed to find candidates that exceed the standards. Selection must not be the best of a bad bunch available at a single point in time.

Now, all of this goes against the tradition of recruitment agents – they work on ‘no win, no fee’. Recruitment agents also use an actuarial method of pricing based on a success of something like one in three searches. Successful placements pay for those unsuccessful and for wasted effort. In such a situation, recruitment agents can’t afford to keep a job open for months.

So recruitment agents move swiftly, dipping into the labour market over a few weeks, sifting CVs, offering and hoping to win in one-in-three searches. The model perhaps works satisfactorily today for low to mid skills, but it can’t hope to be successful when there are few candidates who are being evaluated against an absolute excellence standard.

Dismissal of a jobholder in the few months after a recruitment and compromise in expectations of performance from a jobholder both stem from poor recruitment. Often, that poor recruitment itself stems from constrained and ineffective search.

For good firms to find and hire good people who will excel in jobs, managers must search in the biggest pond against exact requirements for as long as it takes.

If you want to buck the norm and do search correctly, call us.

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