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Recruitment can be a lottery for business if it isn’t handled correctly – astute employers use a strategic approach to attract talented people, employ innovative recruitment measures, and promote a strong employer brand, writes Charisse Gray.

There is light in the skills shortage tunnel for employers who think laterally and use the raft of technological advances that have created new and diverse ways to find the right people. But what is ‘right’ for your business, and have you developed an employer brand that is ‘right’ for you?

The contest among employers to attract and retain talented employees is occurring against a backdrop of fierce competitiveness in a tight labour market and increasingly fast technological advances. And where, in many industries, candidates are picking and choosing between organisations and roles.

These forces are driving widespread change in recruitment patterns. Savvy employers are thinking strategically and long term, understanding that retention must be treated as a tactical issue that can deliver considerable benefits to the bottom line.

They realise the importance of implementing robust, structured recruitment processes, superior interviewing techniques, and careful skills-matching processes, to ensure that individuals are selected for the skills needed for the role and that they will be a good cultural fit for the organisation. They appreciate that these employees will be more likely to succeed and stay with the organisation longer.

Helen Bermingham, HR general manager, NSW Business Chamber, has had plenty of experience in finding talent for a wide range of positions and sectors. She believes behavioural interview questioning—identifying competencies that are aligned with the core organisational values, then developing questions that assess these values—is imperative.

“It allows candidates to discuss actual scenarios they have experienced and provides a comparable situation to the recruiter’s question,” Bermingham explains. “It allows the applicant to set the scene, describe their part in it and detail the outcomes.

“I also think reference checking in relation to team and cultural fit and how they handled conflicts and change in their previous employment is important. This type of information gives us an indication of the environment the candidate thrives or struggles in.”

Bermingham believes ascertaining whether your candidate is a good culture fit is critical, as it is increasingly difficult to extricate an unsuccessful employee from a business when it is recognised that they don’t fit comfortably into the company culture.

“I have always maintained that the responsibilities of a position can be learned if required, but whether the person will enjoy and be successful in a particular work environment and industry will usually predict their success. Capability match is of the utmost importance also.”

Even in today’s competitive recruiting climate Bermingham doesn’t believe that employers should choose the “best of the lot” just because they are desperate to fill the position. “It’s always better to wait for the right candidate than make a poor choice because invariably it is the wrong choice,” she says.

When presenting to the 2007 AHRI convention, Meahan Callaghan, HR director of Seek, explained that their recruiting strategy of employing for a strong cultural fit, rather than a technical fit, has seen Seek acclaimed as a ‘Hewitt Best Employer’ and is the reason for their consistent high engagement success during the business’ continuous growth. The first interview is the only time the technical skills of the applicant are discussed. The interviews following, and there may be up to six, are around management and leadership skills and ascertaining whether the employee will be a ‘good cultural fit’. In this way the culture, which they have so carefully nourished, won’t be eroded as the employee’s time with the company grows. Callaghan says they walk away from an applicant they are not 100 percent sure of.

It helps if people really want to work for your organisation. Placing an advertisement for staff allows a business to build a strong image that your business is a great place to work.

Brett Minchington, managing director of Collective Learning, a firm specialising in employer branding, says the employer brand is the most powerful tool a business has for attracting, engaging and retaining the right ‘talent culture fit’ in what is increasingly becoming a difficult recruitment marketplace. “There is so much competition for good talent today, but those companies who have projected a strong employer brand will be in a better position to pick and choose from the best candidates. In fact, having a strong employer brand means talent will choose them.”

However, Minchington stresses that it’s not sufficient to send out compelling messages about how good your business is to work for–you must be able to deliver on these promises. He also warns that the future will see competition for the best employees becoming as fierce as competition for customers.

“The organisation’s people brand must match that of its corporate brand. The employer value propositions that the business articulates must be reflected by the actions of all its people all the time, and the people management policies, systems and practices must be closely aligned to their branding strategy.”

Minchington says it is imperative that the organisation genuinely believes that employees are a company’s only truly sustainable competitive advantage, and understands that an employer brand must be built from within the company. Collaboration with staff and management are critical, and CEOs and MDs, though not necessarily driving the process, must be engaged in it and champion the program.

Broad Mix

Advertising in newspapers and using recruitment agencies are only part of the recruitment communication mix available today. Employers have a diverse and exciting range of advertising mediums at their fingertips.

In fact, many jobs are just a click away. Few industries have embraced the internet as wholeheartedly as the recruitment industry’s online job boards, and players such as Seek, MyCareer, CareerOne, Monster and Yahoo! HotJobs have shown steady growth over the past six years.

Talent pools and candidate databases are becoming more prevalent and online specialised databases abound, with many targeting specific markets and industries for jobs, such as engineering, building, IT, government, and secretarial, while others target specific types of people, for example the over 40s, expatriates, career mums, indigenous, contractors, and people with disabilities.

Telstra and Talent2 are continuing the push towards the transformation of traditional recruitment methods with the establishment of a world-class recruitment centre that utilises leading edge technology, people and processes.

Recent changes to the parenting payment from Centrelink means more parents are looking to return to the workforce on a part-time or full-time basis. These candidates come from a range of backgrounds, many with valuable experience. Employers can tap into this new pool of skilled workers by calling the Hotline on 131 715, or visiting www.needstaff.gov.au

The Victorian Government’s My Business, My People offers free assistance to businesses with five to 100 employees for finding and keeping good staff. For information phone 132 215 or visit www.business.vic.gov.au/mybusinessmypeople

Online recruitment is visible anywhere, anytime, making it a powerful recruitment tool. Job boards are convenient to use and access. Interactive multimedia content offers a rich emotional involvement for the targeted user while enabling employers to shortlist candidates from a wide geographic area,
with minimal cost and time.

Online job advertisements allow the recruiter to showcase their company, target a specific market, and provide a full description of the job and the person they are seeking. Some sites like Seek have set up a pre-screening facility to save time for both job seeker and recruiter. ‘Job alerts’ sent to potential applicants ensure that appropriate and interested candidates see the advertisement. Applications like online screening and testing tools plus database capture and retrieval, make internet recruiting a dominant medium.

Companies are increasingly using job boards to their advantage by drawing potential candidates back to their own websites and allowing technology to filter, sort, and process the applications. There is an increasing trend for companies to set up their own websites, or exclusive recruitment micro sites, for attracting candidates.

Many companies who are finding success in recruiting are using a mix of strategies dependent on their target applicant. They might use their own website or an online job board or print advertising, because these mediums are an excellent opportunity for building their corporate brand in the community and the marketplace. Or they might choose job or career fairs that target specific skills and a select demographic.

Online initiatives are excellent for Gen Y and Gen X who are prolific and adept internet users.

Consider the variety of recruitment options below:

• professional and industry magazines

• local, regional, and national newspapers

• recruitment agencies

• college and university job boards

• radio

• videos

• intranets

• job and career fairs, events

• podcasts

• virtual sites

• career websites

• corporate websites

• talent pools and candidate database systems

• government skills databases

• internal referrals

• client, customer, stakeholder, agents or vendor referrals

• social and business networks

• word-of-mouth

There should also be a considered approach to recruiting in regional areas. Megan Harrison, senior human resources consultant for the Australian Business Limited Apprenticeships Centre, explains that an employer’s approach to recruiting in regional areas should differ from recruiting in metropolitan areas.

“In regional areas where the population is considerably smaller than the major metropolitan locations, the number of candidates seeking alternative employment obviously reduces as well. This makes the task of finding the right person for the job more challenging. In a candidate short market, managers need to proactively seek candidates rather than taking the traditional approach where candidates simply apply to work for them. And, always check references. The candidate may be well known for contributing to the community, but it is their working performance in previous positions that you should be interested in.”

Consider using a variety of advertising mediums to widen your search. And choose the most appropriate advertising medium for your target audience. Online job boards such as Seek may be relevant for administrative positions, but not appropriate for retailing roles. Also, advertise in regional newspapers and relevant industry magazines, but don’t forget word-of-mouth, the traditional ‘bush telegraph’, and a sign on the business window. Use business networks and contacts to spread the word about a vacant position.

If you are experiencing skills shortages in your region check out the Government’s Skill Matching Database that helps match skilled migrants with skill shortages in regional areas in each state (www.immi.gov.au/skills)

12 Steps To Successful Recruitment

1. Understand labour market trends, emerging technologies, workforce demographics, and your competition.

2. Ensure those responsible for hiring are skilled in articulating the organisation’s value proposition, culture, expectations, and future direction.

3. Recruit with securing top talent foremost in mind.

4. Know that wages alone are insufficient to attract and retain talent.

5. Appreciate how important your employer branding or perceived image is.

6. Understand how important good staff are to your business, and what each individual brings to their role and the organisation.

7. Design and deliver customised recruitment messages to the target audience via communication mediums they are comfortable and familiar with.

8. Recognise that retention must be treated as a strategic issue–one which can deliver lasting bottom line benefits to an organisation.

9. Invest appropriately in people, processes and software, to ensure the recruitment process is a robust one.

10. Have retention strategies in place from day one.

11. Think carefully about the job you need to fill, and the type of person you need to fill it. Develop accurate and thorough job descriptions with the skills necessary for the position now and in the future.

12. Build a database of skills and good people. Applicants who may not fit one job may well fit another in the future.

* Charisse Gray is senior business writer with NSW Business Chamber.

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