You’d be forgiven for thinking in this post-recession era with inflated numbers of people looking for work; with the maturity of on-line social media; and the emergence of affordable personality profiling technology that recruitment has become very different, easier, faster and more effective in recent years.

However, while these developments have addressed many historical obstacles to recruitment, they’ve also generated a number of new problems which mean appointing the right person into your HR team remains a significant challenge today.

Advertising your HR role used to be a relatively simple affair. There were only a handful of viable options – a couple of HR magazines and one or two broadsheets – and your budget usually made the decision for you. These days you have to trawl your way through a myriad of websites, each claiming to have a unique population of the best HR talent in any given market in order to pick the one, or maybe two, that you’re confident will provide you with the audience you need.

On-line advertising does of course reach a very large audience very quickly, which in itself poses the next challenge, that of dealing with the dozens, if not hundreds, of applications you receive. Despite your advert stipulating precise levels of academic achievement, language capability, industry background, location, and a host of other prescriptions, the majority of applications will not be suitable – but of course they all require a response in order to avoid the potential employer-brand PR disaster from disgruntled, well net-worked HR professionals venting their frustrations openly on social media.

You may decide of course that an advertised approach is not the only way to market and that you should be using social media as well…another double-edged sword. While it’s an undeniably powerful networking tool, and of particular value to the professional recruitment industry who have the time to invest in it, it does represent an unregulated forum that’s open to potentially subconscious artistic interpretations of capabilities, achievements and omissions which need to be identified quickly to avoid wasting time.

Social media is also, of course, only the domain of a certain demographic, the natural technophiles with a youth bias – not exclusively of course, but a bias all the same. Linked In, arguably the most popular professional network in the UK at the moment, still doesn’t host anything like 100% of the working population and there are plenty of others out there vying for the top spot – Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest…the list goes on, and this isn’t even touching on the non-UK focused sites.

While it’s likely that everyone would hail the increased speed of access to the market that the on-line recruitment strategies provide as one of its greatest advantages, it is important to be aware of the danger of that pace affecting the speed of decision making itself. The role needs, of course, to be filled with the shortest possible delay, but it’s vital that the person you appoint is the right one – and that means satisfying a multi-faceted highly-complex and nebulous set of criteria. It means taking time to meet and, crucially, get to know these individuals. It often means keeping the door open to new applicants while you’re in process with others so you don’t miss out on the best candidate who happened not to be on Linked In when you looked, it means being flexible and reactive while focused and decisive…it means managing these somewhat conflicting priorities while maintaining a two-way information flow with your candidates at all times. Rushing to fill a position too quickly probably means needing to fill it again in the not too distant future.

Once you’ve got to a list of potential candidates the selection process starts in earnest. You will soon be chanting “…I’m a commercially minded proactive self-starter, an excellent team player able to act as a single contributor…” in your sleep – but don’t blame the candidates, these are difficult documents to write. You’re not hiring them for the CV writing skills and you’re probably not hiring them for their self-promotion capacity either…but aside from background checks and referencing how are you going to identify amongst them which is the right one for you?

A vast amount has been written about the pros and cons of interviewing as a selection process and it remains an unresolved discussion, but despite evidence to suggest it’s not a reliable indicator of a candidate’s future success, it is still the dominant process for all organisations with whom I deal, and I think for good reason.

The rise of personality profiling as a decision maker, particularly within senior appointments within large multinationals, is very apparent and certainly has a lot to add to the process but from my perspective there is no substitute for using your own judgement, from meeting with someone and deciding whether you feel they’re right.

Regardless of what academic achievements the individual has, what the personality profile suggests and what referees have told you, what you’re hiring is an individual who will sit with you and your team for something like ten hours a day, in good times and bad, and there must be some connection there. This connection, often referred to as a “cultural fit”, makes allowances for technical short-comings (which can be trained), adds to a team’s engagement, increases team member tenure and, ultimately, their productivity. The problem with “cultural fit” is that it’s an ill-defined concept, there’s no standard vocabulary and it is therefore difficult to articulate, but everyone I know recognises when it’s there and misses it when it’s not, but of course they can only do so through face to face meetings…

…so in this high-tech spectacularly rapid information age where you can reach a candidate from London while they’re travelling around Borneo cuddling Orang-utans in the blink of an eye, we still come down to decision making on the same level as we did before the telephone was invented…by personal preference, by face to face networking, by interview…

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