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With the skills shortage raging, finding the right employees is more crucial than ever – Cameron Bayley looks at how you can upgrade your recruitment process, whatever your budget.

Active ImageIn the current skills shortage climate it seems the real winners are potential employees. But if SMEs take a positive approach to improving their recruitment process, it can be a win-win situation.

“It’s an employees market out there,” says Dr Danica Hooper, behavioural profiling specialist for Drake International. “They’re very spoilt for choice, and they have fast and easy access to those choices. So, if you’re not offering a fantastic opportunity, they’ll go somewhere else.”

The process of recruiting staff used to be a simple choice between doing it yourself or outsourcing the whole task to a recruitment firm. But things are changing. “People sometimes have the misconception that if they hire a recruitment agency, the agency advertises and does everything from beginning to end. But that’s not true any more,” advises Hooper. “You see a lot more flexibility in recruitment agencies these days.”

Turning to a recruiter, says Hooper, is about two things: time and expertise. For most small businesses time really is money, and many can’t afford to tear themselves away from the coalface to place an ad and sift through resumes, let alone conduct a round of interviews. “It’s really about sticking to your core business and getting somebody in who has the expertise and the time to do this for you,” Hooper says. “It’s about selecting the aspects which you don’t necessarily have the expertise in, or the time to do, and outsourcing those aspects.”

For software company Belkin Australia, using a recruitment company makes sense to source all casual staff, as well as various other positions such as admin and IT. With a team of about 100, time management is key and an agency is vital to cull a pile of resumes down to a manageable shortlist of interview candidates. “For some positions you can get 100 to 150 resumes that you’ve got to go through,” says Alison Carlisle, marketing coordinator. “To cut the beginning part of the process and just get the ones who can do the job, or the best, or the top five, or whatever we request, makes our life a lot easier.”

Carlisle says the agency Belkin was using when she joined wasn’t satisfactory and they had to shop around. “We weren’t really impressed with the service or the quality of people. Our HR manager spoke to a few different people about what they had to offer and their prices, the whole kit and caboodle, and from there we went with the one we liked the most.”

From an agency perspective, Hooper says most are more than happy to discuss their options with clients. “Any reputable recruitment agency will have people on hand to come out and meet with small businesses, no obligation, just have a chat about what their services are and what they can offer.”

Costs vary widely between agencies, so it’s worth doing some research. As a general rule they’ll charge a percentage (such as 10 to 15 percent) of the advertised position’s annual salary. However, the costing is largely on a case by case basis, taking in factors such as what services you require from the agency, the seniority of the role to be filled, and how many positions you’re looking to fill.


Personality Testing

Another part of the application process you might want to consider is personality testing. Personality or psychometric testing has been a part of the recruitment process for several years, but has only recently become more widely accepted in the workforce. “Five or six years ago media would only talk about psychometrics when it was a sensational issue,” says Sarah Kearney, managing director for psychometric testing company SHL Australia. “Now there’s a lot more positive interest.”

Psychometric testing, Kearney explains, involves a selection of tests and work simulations. “What psychometric testing does is look at more detailed capability and potential to perform the role,” she adds. This includes verbal, numerical or abstract reasoning; personality questionnaires; motivational questionnaires; and work simulations or role-plays.

“Psychometrics doesn’t give you anything about their prior experience. As an employer we’re not saying that that’s irrelevant,” Kearney admits, “but it gives you lots of other information that doesn’t come from a CV.”

Allison Lee, director of public relations firm Impact Communications, has been using psychometric testing as part of her recruitment process for the last six years, combined with standard interviews and reference checks. “The decision to hire or not hire doesn’t rest entirely on the psychometric assessment,” Lee explains. “If we look at the psychometric assessment results we’ve got a better idea of what we’re getting ourselves into, and how that person is going to fit within our team and how we can manage better to get the best results.”

Lee recommends using a company that provides comprehensive feedback and detailed interpretation of the results. “Look for a test that has some rigour behind it. Don’t try and cut corners and use a cheap, low-cost, one-size-fits-all test. If you’re going to spend the money, you might as well do it properly.

“It’s something companies can do to make their decisions a little more accurate and give some objective data to make a decision on,” she says. “It’s really easy in small business, particularly because you don’t have the structure of a big company behind you, to go ‘I really like that candidate and they’d really fit into the team here’. Obviously, you should do more than base your recruitment decisions on gut instinct.”

While psychometric testing can cost anywhere between $200 to $600 per assessment, depending on which company you go through, the costs become more reasonable when you factor in the cost of unproductive or badly-chosen staff. “You would have to give them four weeks pay—it’s much cheaper than four weeks pay,” says Lee. “And that’s just looking at the tangible costs, not the cost of what the wrong person might do to your business. And in small business particularly, you can’t afford for one staff member not to be on the ball.”

Cooper agrees: “The costs can actually be really substantial. You’re looking anywhere from 30 percent of someone’s annual salary to more than 200 percent of someone’s annual salary to have them ‘turnover’. That includes things such as your recruitment and training fees, but it also includes less tangible things such as lost productivity, lowered morale in the workplace and decreased levels of customer service. It all adds up.”

Online Employment

Active ImageThere are other ways to enhance your recruitment process within a limited budget. Before Carlisle went to an agency, she used an online employment service. “It does a lot of things for you, when you’re using Seek and those kind of sites,” she says. One of the services she appreciated was the offer to notify unsuccessful candidates on your behalf, which can save time. Many online employment sites such as CareerOne, Seek and LinkMe, give employers access to services such as resume databases, prepared application forms, and the ability to filter applicants as they apply for a role. Basic packages are available from around $400.

Another way employers can make it easier on themselves at recruitment time is to spend time on position descriptions. “Your position description
is really the fundamental building block of recruitment and selection, so if you don’t have that right in the first place you’re really starting on the wrong foot,” says Hooper. While an agency can advise you, and even write it for you, if that’s not within the budget Hooper recommends business owners talk to staff members doing the job, or those supervising the position. “It’s really just about collecting information from people in the know.”

Hooper also recommends investing in short training courses on selection techniques, such as interviewing and reference and resume checking. And whether you’re using a recruitment agency or not, interviews are necessary, says Hooper. “It’s important that the firm that’s hiring does the interview themselves. While recruitment companies can conduct an initial interview for you, the decision really needs to come down to you and you need to make sure that you do have a meeting with that person.”

In the interview, you can ask more behavioural questions. “Asking individuals to describe a time when they’ve done something before, that really works on the notion that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. If you ask people questions such as what are your three biggest strengths and weaknesses, why should we employ you, people are really rehearsed and can respond really well to those questions,” says Hooper. “Asking them to describe something they’ve done in the past really gets down to do they have the skills, ability and experience to do this job.”

And don’t forget to look at the other end of the process: the exit interview. “The information you gain from exit interviews should help define your attraction strategy,” says Hooper. “So, if people are leaving for a particular reason, fix that and promote it when you try and get new candidates.” These, too, can be conducted in-house or via an agency. Belkin have recently started conducting exit interviews in-house, Carlisle says, and it’s proving to be a valuable exercise. “Every six months HR compiles a summary report from the interviews and presents it to our managing director,” she says. “This highlights issues or concerns as it outlines any area that is consistently mentioned in either a good or bad way.” Exit interviews have identified ways to reward employees as well as providing guidance and direction for the business, and how to better manage resources, she explains.

Take a look at your own recruitment process, it might be time for a bit of a spring clean. SMEs in particular, says Lee, shouldn’t hesitate to look for help. “Small business owners never got into what they’re doing because they are fantastic at recruitment. I was good at PR. I’m the first person to admit I need help with recruitment.”  

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