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Lisette Howlett

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Opinion: Cost-effective recruitment strategies


In a new regular series, Lisette Howlett provides expert thought and opinion on recruitment and retention in today’s business landscape. This month, she looks at how HR departments can implement cost-effective recruitment methods.

I have always believed that cost-effective, high-quality recruitment and retention requires a good strategy (vision plus plan of action) and combination of time, creativity and courage. 
Time is the key dimension that impacts on cost. The more time you can spend on it yourself, the lower the cost in terms of money. But time is, of course, a cost in itself so a judicious balancing of money and time will deliver the most cost-effective approach. 
Creativity and imagination is the best way to save costs – how to track down a source of candidates that your competitors have overlooked, or put together an employment prospect that nobody else has offered.

Finding the courage

Courage is the winning touch. Courage is not about making wildly inappropriate hires – not fair to the company or individual – it is the ability to make a decision in the absence of perfect information and the confidence to see it through to success. Courage is also about continuing to search until the right candidate is found.
Good recruitment is also thinking about the longer term. In the frenzy of filling the job and the exhaustion of fitting in a bunch of interviews, we can find ourselves settling for the best we have seen. We need, however, to continue until we find the right person; for the job, the organisation and the future. 
Having an exit strategy is critical in effective recruitment – where will this person go next? This helps shape the type of candidate you need. If you have a shortage of management succession you should be recruiting someone you can fast-track; if you have very limited progression opportunities, hire someone who is motivated to do a good job without progression. If you think the person might be an absolute star but could be your worst mistake, try it out, but put in extra safeguards, a longer probation period, an initial temporary contract etc. 
At its simplest, recruitment is about finding people and persuading them to join you.
Clearly the most cost-effective way to find people is for them to contact you. It takes time to build to a position where virtually all your recruitment is through direct hires but it is a good investment and something you should set targets for. Here are some key thoughts on increasing direct hires:
  • Ensure you have a good career portal on your company website. Display it strongly on your homepage and ensure that the whole site is in keeping with the values you are seeking to portray as an employer.
  • Develop and maintain a strong and consistent employment brand – congruence is critical. Decide what it is that will distinguish yourself in the recruitment market and make you attractive to the candidates you want and use this in all of your online presence. 
  • Build and nurture your pipeline through:
    • Targeting schools and universities – including things like free skills workshops, works shadowing, competitions etc. Not only does this raise your profile generally but it also lets you identify talent and keep track of it. In one of my past jobs we ran a ‘summer school’ between the second and third year for top students in our target universities. This had been going on for years when I arrived and whilst it was working as brand awareness it was not converting into recruits. I introduced the idea that at the end of the two-week school we would make offers of employment to the top talent we had spotted. This meant that we caught people before they had even started to think about looking for a job and met our competitors.
    • Keeping in touch with your leavers via alumni programmes.
    • Ensuring that when any employees go to a conference or external course they provide you a list of the 3-5 best people they met. I have done this and it is a great way to build a list of top external talent which you can then approach if you have vacancies. I used independent consultants who were experts in the relevant fields to approach them on our behalf and paid very little compared to a headhunting firm.
  • Introduce reward schemes which pay existing employees for bringing in new recruits. As it happens I personally dislike this approach – I think the organisation culture should foster these referrals without paying a bounty on each head. I recognise, however, that in some circumstances they may be appropriate and therefore if you do this ensure that it includes a retention requirement – i.e. that it is only paid out if the person remains for at least a year, plus consider a buddy system whereby the recommender helps them settle in.
  • Think about alternative sources of people who will have the attributes you are looking for. So if you are looking for call centre staff, think about handing flyers out to supermarket checkout staff leaving at the end of a shift. Or target parents of school children at a local school who might be interested in working school hours. 
  • Make sure you have a really good – ideally online and automated – way to collect applications (including speculative ones) and acknowledge candidates and keep them informed of what is happening to their application. 
When it comes to advertising, being organised and planning ahead is a major cost saver. If you use a particular paper or magazine to advertise, pre-book regular adverts. Not only do you get a much better price but you also get favoured placing. And if it is online advertising-focused limit yourself to a few sites and build your presence on them through banner ads as well as specific job adverts.
Finally, streamline and continually review your recruitment processes. This is often what puts the top talent off – either applying (if the process is too onerous) or attending interview (if it requires too much time off work) or accepting the job (if they did not feel stretched and stimulated).
In my column next month, I will focus on cost-effective retention.
Lisette Howlett has worked at a senior level for a number of global companies. As well as successfully launching and running her own HR consultancy she is also behind the first ever website that enables employees to rate their experience of using recruitment agencies,