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The HR minefield: winning the war for talent – feature

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Rick Bacon, managing director at Parity, looks at several aspects of ‘the war for talent’, including identifying organisation requirements, selection and testing of potential employees and possible sources of candidates.


‘War for talent’. Yesterday’s news? On the contrary, for many organisations, the battle is still raging. Changes in economic conditions, resulting in organisational retrenchment and redundancies, are fuelling the fire.
It may be true that this has filled the candidate pool, but few organisations are shedding their top, most highly valued workers. In fact, most are using the economic downturn to streamline their operations through targeted redundancies.

So, the question still remains: how can organisations improve their chances of finding the best people?

Top candidates are attracted to organisations for a number of reasons. A candidate-focused approach, where wants and desires are understood, is essential to winning this war for talent. However very few organisations recognise this in their recruitment plan. Employers still need to take a long hard look at their internal company culture, their corporate goals, structure, market position and approach to human capital before they’ll emerge victorious.


Identifying the Human Resource requirement

Initially, an organisation needs to understand the job in hand before it can start planning the recruitment road map. The first question to be asked is: what processes need to be executed today and what skills will be needed tomorrow? As Bruce Tulgan says, “Staff the work, not the jobs.”

This is essential in a skills-short market, and all organisations should adopt this mantra when presented with talented individuals. A focus on flexibility must be paramount in any group-wide recruitment strategy.

When defining a job requirement, a personal profile needs to be designed – this will ensure that when the hunt is on for new staff, the line is not baited for goldfish when you are actually hunting a shark.

For example, it is vital that an early decision is made on whether a job needs undertaking by a contract worker or a full-time employee. This is because generally contractors view jobs as assignments for their portfolio, and follow a self-assembly approach to their careers. They prefer short-term scenarios and are not attracted to ‘standard’ roles with little career movement. On the other hand, process-led positions require industry-specific skills. Once mastered, these become the employee’s main career vehicle. This knowledge is then used to further their career within an organisation.


Know your worker

In order to sustain or create the perception of employer of choice, it is essential to understand the motivational drivers of the worker. In a recent survey of computer professionals , the most important drivers of job satisfaction are those that build a sense of worth and present new opportunities. The four leading factors were a sense of achievement, professional growth, the opportunity to learn new skills and interesting projects.

Note that financial remuneration does not appear at the top the scale. These findings are reinforced by recent InfoWorld research. This concluded that whilst pay is an important factor, several other issues contribute directly to IT professionals remaining with their employer. For example, many identify with the corporate goals of their employer and express a desire to fully contribute to the attainment of these.


Selection and testing

Recruitment is often an expensive process and making the wrong choice can be damaging for all personnel involved. It also disrupts the business and adds considerably to costs in lost opportunity. Testing can minimise risks by guiding decision-makers through the recruitment process.
Having mapped core competencies and skills, it is relatively easy to identify and design relevant tests. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that there is not a culture of over-reliance on these. The main areas that are both practical and advisable to test are psychometrics, intellectual skills, practical skills, language capabilities, mathematical mental dexterity and stress management.

With the introduction of technology and open access to the Web, testing has become both cost-effective and flexible. Results can usually be captured in real time, producing data that can be actively used in interviews and the selection process.

An added advantage of testing is that existing high performers can be used as models. By using them as benchmarks, it is possible to maximise the full potential of new recruits. Balancing the dynamics of a team can equally have an energising effect on both existing staff and newcomers, greatly enhancing overall output. By modelling team members, it is possible to predict how all will interact, where the team can be strengthened, and if potential conflict areas exist.


Is technology the recruitment panacea?

In short, the answer is no. However, as cost reduction and increased efficiency are the principle drivers of recruitment strategies, technology can play a vital role. Parity’s research has found that recruitment costs rise year-on-year. Unsurprisingly, reducing these without reducing the quality of the candidate is the number one objective. When you look at how much time is spent on recruitment, it is no surprise that hiring a single individual can cost as much as £30,000. It is understandable, then, that most companies are looking at ways to automate this.

Technology on its own cannot improve what is essentially a very personal and interactive process. However, by implementing the right solution, technology can offer a wider selection of candidates, faster. This releases management to concentrate on core business and allows HR staff to focus on more strategic tasks.

However, before selecting any recruitment software, there are a number of questions that should be asked. These cover issues such as: what processes need automating, and what cost savings can be expected? How will IT improve the quality of the process? Will the use of IT increase the effectiveness of recruitment and what new candidate sources can be reached through the adoption of new technology?


Sources of candidate

Too many companies rely on too few sources of candidates. Whether the processes are manual or computerised, candidates must be sought from at least seven different sources:

1. Internal candidate development
The central theme of any HR strategy should involve the opportunity for all workers to advance within the organisation. Employees must feel they have a place within it and that their career goals should be as easy to achieve internally as externally. As a matter of course, internal candidates should be approached prior to external sources.

2. Referrals
A recent survey found that only 2% of average recruitment budget is spent on referrals. With recruitment costs spiralling, such schemes are not used to their full potential. Recruiting two staff members per month through referrals can result in a net saving of over £120,000 a year. Not only does this have a direct impact on cost, it also means the money saved returns to existing employees, thus boosting morale internally.

3. Corporate Web sites
The cost involved in the maintenance of a recruitment presence on a corporate Web site is minimal and the flow of CVs can be huge. For example, large blue-chip companies constantly receive online applications and many financial institutions only process their graduate applications through the corporate Web site.

4. Candidate databases
High profile recruiters receive thousands of CVs on a monthly basis, enabling them to build extensive databases. If the data on these is handled correctly, they can be filtered to produce an interactive pool of potential employees. As these candidates develop their careers, an open dialogue can be maintained. The end result can be future recruitment of highly skilled individuals at a minimal cost. It is also possible to hold the data in a self-serve capacity, where the candidate takes responsibility for updating his/her own profile.

5. Agency supplier
The main source of employment for most companies, and the one that comes under most criticism, is staffing agencies. Introducing a preferred supplier list and SLAs is the first step to success. The agency market is diverse, with small local suppliers, global corporations and niche specialists all jostling for business. Companies looking to recruit should use this diversity to receive a flexible and targeted service.

6. Job boards
The Internet has taken over as the main medium for finding recruits – 65% of people in the UK use the Internet in their job search. In addition, many agencies use job boards as the main source of their candidates. This same source is available to the employer. By working directly with job boards, it is possible to cut recruitment costs by as much as 90%. It is also possible to reach a wider audience.

7. Advertising
This remains the most effective method of reaching a large audience within a given time frame. Regardless of the medium used, it is important to have a predefined process for handling volume responses in a professional and effective manner.

A considered recruitment strategy is a prerequisite for any successful business plan. Control of recruitment costs and the ability to attract, source and retain high quality candidates will secure competitive advantage and increase profit and shareholder value. The real market leaders of tomorrow understand that recruitment is not about jobs. It’s about people.


1. Author of “Winning the War for Talent”
2. Conducted by Lucent Technologies NetworkCare Professional Services

One Response

  1. Don’t forget…………the truth
    Whilst agreeing with the majority of the issues identified, there is one that appears to have been overlooked. Put simply, that is the honesty of the candidate.
    One must surely never overlook the fact that around 35% of candidates are prepared to be untruthful when submitting their CVs.
    Many potential employees will play whatever ‘games’ are necessaryu to obtain an appointntment.
    A responsible employee must ensuret that what has been claimed is true. Failure to do so not only leaves that employee open to the risk of
    liability for failing to ensure ‘due dilegence’ but also may result in overlooking more suitable candidates.
    I would recommend a thorough CV verification prior to any appointment.

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