8 Ways to Improve Hiring and Retention

Almost every piece of research covering the priorities of business leaders and senior HR professionals will conclude that recruiting and retaining the people they need is the top priority and main challenge. Research covering aspirations of employees and jobseekers will usually find opportunities for personal growth and professional development as the main drivers behind the decisions on whether to join a company and if to stay.

Over the last two years – whilst researching the book Exceptional Talent, and collaborating with HR and recruitment technology businesses and suppliers on a range of qualitative and quantitative research projects – myself and co-collaborator Matt Alder have seen how many of the traditional ways we approach hiring, development and retention are being overhauled.

Not by every business, obviously. The lived work and job hunting experiences of most employees can still leave a lot to be desired. However with more jobseekers now basing their application and joining decisions on what they perceive a company is like to work for, how they are treated during the hiring process, and what opportunities they have for growth, it will become increasingly important for every business to look at the way they approach hiring and development.

There are 8 areas that we particularly need to transform:

Workforce planning and skills forecasting

Businesses must know the skills and capabilities they will need. HR and recruitment teams should think like curators of skills, not just acquirers and developers of skills, and to do that they must understand what skills are likely to be needed and when. This calls for a more integrated approach to forecasting and planning with each area of the business encouraged to look at what they will need over future business periods. Without this it will be hard to break away from a reactive, transactional approach to hiring. This will involve looking at potential contingent solutions too — a common observation we hear from procurement and strategic workforce professionals is that HR show little or no interest in this area.

Define what you mean by talent

What makes for a successful person within the business? Forget job descriptions that are no more than lists of skills and duties that someone thought necessary years ago. Find the answers to questions like, what is the job? What will someone do? What support will they have? Is there another way for the role to be covered within the organisation? What is the growth potential?

And then look at what ‘potential’ means within the organisation. Attraction and assessment approaches need to reflect the type of business you are, and be able to identify the people who can grow within the business.

Be a place where people want to work

One thing that recent research has shown us is that over 90% jobseekers look for some form online validation of what you are like to work for. This mainly comes from looking at what employees have said on sites like Glassdoor or more general searching through Google and Facebook. Over half said the main factor in deciding if to apply for role is how the business treats its staff, which ranked higher than any other factor.

This means looking at your employee experience. Are you a place where people want to be? This is more important than engagement initiatives and having an active social scene, it’s how people feel about working for you. Do they feel supported and valued? No employee demographic is hardwired to change jobs on a regular basis. Increasingly though they do want be in organisations that are good companies to work for, and that treat them well.

Improve your recruitment process

Whether the design of your application and interview process was based on the Labours of Hercules or a less violent version of Game of Thrones, it should be a way of identifying potential rather than finding the last person standing.

Lack of feedback, too many steps, and under-prepared or disinterested interviewers all registered highly in recent research on jobseekers’ biggest frustrations. As did a feeling of being undervalued and not having their experience recognised. Three quarters drop out of application processes either because of the way they are treated, or it is too long. How a business hires is the first key component in its approach to employee experience, so design an approach that really reflects the values and culture that the business does.

Integrate effectively

Probably the most important part of the employee cycle is the on-boarding phase. Some find the expression clunky, but whatever you call it, the journey from interested applicant to successful and productive employee is one that businesses are increasingly investing in.

The main reasons why people leave jobs within first 6 to 12 months can all be traced back to how they are on-boarded or integrated. Some of it is quite simple, and again should be the outcome of treating people well rather than trying to test them. Start early, make sure that everyone has all the information they need so they don’t feel either overwhelmed or uninformed when they start, give them clear goals and milestones in their first few months, and make sure managers spend time talking to them and talking through how they are settling in.

The period between accepting a role and starting is often the time when a new hire feels they get the least information, yet it’s also the time when they need most reassurance.

Enable people to grow and develop

Increasingly becoming the most important part of employee experience, 70% of employees say that learning opportunities are essential when choosing where to work and 98% that they’re key in deciding if to stay. Many also say they need more learning to help them do their jobs. And a third don’t think they skills they already have are being utilised properly!  Business leaders are regularly worried about the skills base and knowledge in their organisation, in fact two-thirds say learning is key for business performance, so it stands to reason that supporting employee growth should be a major priority.

One way to help people develop is through internal mobility. The best new hire that one of your teams may make is likely to be someone already in the business. Help the people you already have to find new roles within the business. Futurestep found 87% of companies believing that having a strong internal mobility programme helps with attraction and retention, and OC Tanner’s research showed 3 out of 4 employees who work on special projects, outside their core role and teams, feel they grow in ways that their day to day jobs cannot offer.

Create a learning culture

A learning culture is essential. Employees expect to be able to access information and knowledge as and when they need it, to help them do their jobs well, and reach performance expectations. Make learning available across platforms and at all times – only 1 in 6 favour face to face learning with a tutor. 60% want to learn in company time, at their own direction, and 24% in their own time. Different approaches to performance management are well documented, though its apparent that outside of the case studies, conference presentations and business magazine articles, many organisations still struggle to do this effectively, leaving employees feeling that their employers don’t value employee development. 25% of employees see no value in performance reviews in the format their employers conduct them.

Rethink retention

There are several reasons why retaining relationships with ex-employees makes good sense for the business, but none of them will happen unless we get better at exiting people from the business. If it’s a performance issue then address performance and don’t make it about the person. If we don’t want to lose them then we need to leave the door open rather than sour the relationship.

Ex-employees are validators and ambassadors of the employee experience, advocates for the business itself and part of our extended knowledge network. Alumni networks play a key role in sharing product information and company news, referring and recommending prospective employees and future customers, and may well return to work for us in some capacity again.

Many companies now look to formalise these relationships through what is increasingly known as off-boarding* with tech solutions to support managing the relationship and sharing information.

More than three quarters of employees say the reputation of the company where they work impacts their job satisfaction, and 85% that how they were treated during the application and interview process determines if they decide to accept an offer.

The way you attract, hire and develop people will go a long way to determining if you retain them. Workers believe they need more learning to help them perform their jobs better. This boost to performance will help improve rewards, satisfaction and engagement. Which means they are more likely to stay, and their managers better placed to achieve successful commercial results

(Our two most recent research projects, which provided many of the statistics quoted, were with Kelly Services – involving 14,100 job seekers across 10 European countries – and with Bridge, with whom we researched a population of both HR and Learning & Development professionals, and employees)

*(and yes, I know, if you don’t like the term on-boarding you won’t like this one either)


Thoughts From Jobseekers on How Work is Changing

It seems that barely an hour passes on digital communication channels without predictions, opinions and discussions appearing about the future of work. Those last three words alone now appear on bios and as individual specialisms. The battle is often between a dystopian view of the future where AI-powered robots have made all jobs obsolete and a more optimistic view where technology creates huge opportunities to bring more meaning, fulfilment and improved well-being to working lives. And amongst the unknown there are many commentators, bloggers and analysts who see certainty.

But how is work changing now, and what issues do employees face? We need to look more closely at the world of work as it is now and understand the trends, attitudes, and, behaviours that are currently driving change and that will continue to drive change.

To find out more about this reality, and rely less on the myth, Matt Alder and I partnered with Kelly Services to research more than 14,000 jobseekers across 10 European countries, capturing their experiences, hopes and opinions. The findings from this extensive quantitive research will be captured in a series of reports.

The first one has just been published. There were three key topics that jobseekers seem focused on – the quality of their work experience, the capabilities of their leaders, and the opportunity for some flexibility within their work.

A few of our findings:

  • How a company treats their employees is the main factor influencing someone on whether to apply for a job.
  • How they are treated during the application process will impact the decision on whether to join for 86%.
  • The number one thing people are looking for from their employers is the opportunity to learn new skills, which is ranked more important than salary increases.
  • There are no clear cut preferences on flexibility. For some it is location and for others hours. Whilst 58% felt working from home would improve their work/life balance, 48% believe that working from an office helps to keep work and home life separate.
  • The option to work from home wasn’t available to 61% in our survey, although 70% believed they had the technology to enable it.
  • The most important leadership qualities are accountability and honesty (except the UK where its awareness and decisiveness)
  • 53% of respondents had considered self-employment, but only 18% have any plans to become self-employed

One of our main conclusions was that for employees and jobseekers the reality is more about how they do their day to day job, and the ways technology may make their daily routines easier and more engaging whilst offering greater choice over how and where they work. Certainly the way they are treated and supported is much more important to them than working for businesses who embrace the latest fads and trends.

You can download a copy of the report here – hope you find it interesting.

I’ll write about some more findings when the next report is available.

Technology, People, Recruitment and The Tipping Point

The recruitment ecosystem is constantly shifting shapes and dynamics, and ameliorating in new and different ways. Technology is driving much of this. The simple days of agencies, internal and advertising platforms (be they print or digital) have changed. Consolidation and collaboration is now happening on an almost weekly basis. Recruit Holdings can buy Indeed and Glassdoor, and have a significant foothold in the way people search for jobs. Although the search more often than not starts on Google.

How are we responding to jobseeker behaviour? Research I have recently been involved with from 14,000 European jobseekers showed 63% saying that online reviews are influential when deciding to apply for a job, 55% that the main thing they want to know about a company when applying is how it treats its staff, and 24% dropping out of an interview process after the first interview because they saw negative online reviews.

External reviews are now an integral part of the job hunt. So is automation. And after years of debate about whether recruiters should think and act like marketers, or be a part of marketing, how do we now connect and engage with potential candidates? How do we find, develop  and retain the people we need? Will technology replace people in the recruitment process?  And is it conceivable that data will replace people as an organisation’s ‘greatest asset’?

I’m looking forward to finding out more on June 20th when I’ll be co-chairing the first Talent Tipping Point Conference.

Across 8 hours internal talent teams, recruitment agencies, HR, tech suppliers and RPOs will come together from all corners of the Talent Acquisition and Recruitment community, to talk and debate about the impact of technology on talent acquisition. How are we responding, how are we collaborating and how can technology help us to create better talent outcomes for businesses, workers and jobseekers. Opening keynote is from Lord Chris Holmes and during the day we’ll have views and insight from many industry leaders including Robert Walters, Fleur Bothwick, Kelly Griffith, Kevin Blair, Adrian Thomas and Janine Chidlow.

As part of the event preparation, research was conducted across a large range of employers, recruitment agencies, RPOs and hr/recruitment tech companies to gain an overall feel for how they felt about technology, employment models, diversity and whether the future was in collaboration. There were some interesting findings:

  • 44% of in-house recruiters think that technology will become more important than people in recruitment within the next 5 years; for agency recruiters and RPO the figure is 27%
  • Half of all recruiters do not see permanent employment as the default option for workers in future
  • 53% believe technology to be more effective than humans in the unbiased assessment of candidate’s, although only 7% think it more effective for determining culture fit
  • Almost 40% don’t believe that their current recruitment (whether direct, though agency or RPO) is as effective as it should be, with over two thirds believing that recruitment suppliers (tech vendors, agency, RPO) need to be better at collaborating

The pace of digitisation in recruitment is quite varied, governed by size, needs, budget and management capability. Yet cognitive solutions and AI are now being used all the way through the hiring process. With technology becoming increasingly integral to how we live, and the way we consume and do business, its impact on the way we attract, hire, develop and retain our people can’t be denied.

Want to join me at Talent Tipping Point? Recruitment International UK has a limited number of half-price tickets remaining for the event. Simply enter the code RITP when you register to save £250 on the regular price. Order yours today – https://lnkd.in/eUdSjNG

3 Ways to Begin Better Hiring

The way we recruit and onboard has to change. A run through of some recent research* tells us that:

  • 85% of HR decision makers admitting that their business had hired someone who proved to be a bad fit for the job
  • 1 in 5 of HR decision makers say that they don’t know how much a bad hire has cost them
  • Up to 25% of new starters leave within their first six months
  • 90% use their first 6 months experience to determine longer term commitment
  • Only 19% see a strong alignment between what their employer says about itself and their actual experience working there
  • 55% would consider changing jobs this year – 74% of them would stay for interesting work, 69% for recognition
  • 70% of unsuccessful senior hires give a poor grasp of how an organisation works as the main reason for their failure
  • Nearly half of experienced hires admit they failed to fully grasp the business model they were joining

Meanwhile qualitative research tells us that new hires are more likely to leave early if they don’t like the job or find that it wasn’t what they expected from the recruitment process. One senior manager from a large hospitality and leisure sector employer recently told me that almost half of their new trainee intake for this year had already left because the job wasn’t what they expected – not in terms of the actual duties but in the hours, dedication and working structures.

We need to get better at how we attract, hire and develop people. This all points towards the need for different approaches to the way that work is organised, employees are managed or directed, how retention is viewed and how we go about hiring. I can think of three ways we can immediately start changing. There are plenty more but these will do for a start…

Firstly, how we market jobs. I use the word market because I think we can accept that recruiters need to think like marketers. Rather than advertise for a perfect fit, or list a series of notional achievements and duties that we want someone to have already achieved, lets start talking to people who might be interested in our company and the type of role we are looking to fill. This requires an understanding of what the role is, the skills and knowledge that would help the role to be performed effectively, and the way that a new hire can grow and develop with us. And some proper market knowledge of how and where to connect potential candidates and of the kind of conversations we should be having with them and the content we should share.

Secondly, how we select the best person. Find out about the real person, what their strengths are, their character, durability and agility. Approaches to learning and development and how they tackle challenges and situations that might be new. This won’t be found by series of Q&A interviews, peppered with set-piece situational questions, trick questions or asking them to run through their CV for the umpteenth time. They all point to a lack of preparation from the hiring manager which can indicate a real lack of commitment to finding the best fit person or understanding of the role and how it can develop.

Thirdly, how we bring someone in to the business. Start the induction early, make them feel part of the organisation with clear objectives and timelines around roles and responsibilities. Make it a social experience, new hires who establish early social connections with their colleagues are more likely to settle quickly and feel part of a team. No one should start doing a new role and be unclear about what the job is, what it will take to be successful, who has input to the role and the formal and informal internal networks that will help support them in getting their work done.

There’s plenty more we can do to make hiring better but these will make a good start.

(* Findings taken from recent research published by REC, Korn Ferry, Egon Zehnder, IBM, Achievers, Weber Shandwick)

Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need. You can hear me talking about it on this podcast 

Time to Redefine What we Mean by Talent

The way we attract, hire, retain and develop the people our businesses need is changing. And so are the roles we want them to do and the way we operate. Yet too many organisations continue recruit as they always have, reporting skills shortages and costly unfilled vacancies. This needs to change.

Firstly we need to start redefining exactly what we mean by the word ‘talent’ – for too long the most overused and misleading word in the modern labour market. Many HR and recruitment professionals use it to describe a high skilled, high potential candidate who is in some way special. This narrow definition leads to poor recruitment practice, with recruiters chasing mythical candidates who tick all their boxes and seem ready made for their vacancy.

These people rarely exist, nor are they likely to be successful. When they are hired and identified as high potential they can fall into a ‘talent curse trap’, feeling trapped by others’ expectations and feeling a need to prove themselves worthy, attempting to live up to a perception of what a high performer should be like. This is rarely successful.

In an evolving commercial world where new jobs will often require skills that have not been hired before, these narrow definitions also fail to take into account the many ways that employees can develop and use their initiative and capabilities to help companies meet business challenges.

Most successful specialist hires step in to a role that will stretch them and help them grow and realise potential. Everyone has talent. It is finding the people right for the business and the role, irrespective of background and work trajectory, that organisations need to focus on.

Redefining what we mean by ‘talent’ also means we should select people for what they can achieve in the future rather than what they have done in the past. Previous performance is often an unreliable predictor of future potential and nowhere is this more prevalent than when looking at emerging roles and digital skills, which evolve and change at a rapid pace.

Selection processes have to change from a gladiatorial approach that resembles the Labours of Hercules, and seem designed to trip people up and exclude them from selection. These should only be used if they reflect what your culture is really like. Instead we should create opportunities for people to show what they can do and how they can contribute to the organisation’s future success.

Rip up job descriptions based around a previous incumbent’s profile, and stop drawing up wish-lists of ready made capabilities and achievements. Break vacancies down into tasks and rebuild them around what actually needs to be done. Some of these actions can probably be covered by people already in the organisation by either having their own roles re-imagined, or through secondments or stretch assignments.

Internal mobility – often the last resort for recruiters and HR practitioners – should to be the first strategy before trying to fill externally. The opportunities for development and skill enhancement is an important differentiator for talent looking to join, or remain, with a business, so lets start showing what we can offer.

Whilst retaining and retraining existing employees is valuable in helping to diversify the talent pool available, it is a focus on diversity itself when recruiting new people to the organisation that will help businesses really succeed in redefining talent.

Increasing the number of women in the workplace, attracting and supporting people with disabilities, finding a way to capitalise on the talents of neurodiverse people, and giving greater opportunities to graduates, apprentices and ex-offenders, will all help diversify and enrich the talent pool. And overcome those supposed skills gaps.


Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need.

5 Ways to Deal With Skill Mismatches

72% of Directors and business leaders are worried about their skills pipeline. Permanent candidate availability is at an all time low. Skills gaps are reaching crisis proportions. 740,000 more people with digital skills will be needed in the workforce this year alone. Half of recent graduates are working in non-graduate jobs. 66% of engineering graduates don’t work in engineering. 1 in 4 vacancies are going unfilled.

Barely a week goes by without statistics like these being used to demonstrate an acute skill shortage. And for recruiters, there’s more. Time to hire is rising. Cost per hire increasing. Interview processes getting longer. Recruiters have more open requisitions than ever. Quality of hire is going unmeasured but, anecdotally, could be better. Productivity is affected.

What can be done? To rely on bringing in developed skills and finding the ready made, perfect fit candidate from outside isn’t the answer. Waiting for a magical piece of sourcing code to help identify candidates with perfect skill sets from across different platforms isn’t the answer either. Even if you could find them, how do you they would join you? What have you got to offer them?

Your vacancy isn’t always the holy grail for a job seeker. Sure, some of the positions you are trying to fill might present interesting challenges for them, but then so might other vacancies in other companies. Even if you had a steady stream of candidates, how many would come and work for you?

In times of heightened hiring challenges, you need to be a place where people want to work. If you’re not, then no amount of sourcing, searching, advertising and referring is going to produce successful results in the long term. Here’s what you need to be doing first…

Consult with hiring managers

You are the recruitment professional, and the labour market – where the skills are – is your specialist area. When you take a briefing from a hiring manager be armed with all the data and manage their expectations. Know what the market is like for candidates with the skills you need. Educate the hiring manager in where the candidates are, what the pool looks like. Use data from REC, FIRM, ONS, job boards and sites like Indeed and Broadbean to make your case and let them understand where there are candidate shortages and what roles create the most competition.

Don’t just accept a job description, particularly one that replicates what the last incumbent did, but rip it up and find out what the role really needs – skills, competencies, capabilities. Begin to build a profile of what you will be looking for and how to assess it. Re-design the role if needs be around the kind of skills and experience available and help the hiring manager to understand the candidates they will be getting.

And test the hiring manager. Can they sell the company or vacancy? Are they a credible interviewer? Candidates always say that the key interview is the one with the manager they’ll be working for, so what impression will they get?

Understand the internal market

Know the talent pool inside your organisation – what skills people have and who is ready for a new challenge and an internal move, or stretch assignment, to help with their development. Make sure your managers are talent producers, not talent hoarders, and encourage them to support employees with internal moves. Identify the people who could develop with some training or input, and convert those you have into the candidates you need. Remember, people want to work for an organisation that helps them grow, develop and realise their potential, so play your part in making the company a place where that happens.

Research the external market

Do you know what candidates look for when they change jobs? How to make your company and open roles attractive? Well find out! There’s plenty of content out there about what job seekers really want, or why not do your own research amongst candidates and people who have applied previously.

What three things are most important to them? Do you market your roles to show that your organisation can provide them with what they want? People with the skills you need might be out there but not responding to your messaging or not perceiving you as a place where they would want to work.

Leverage all the networks you can. Previous candidates, alumni, clients, customers, suppliers and collaborators all have a relationship with your organisation, and all of them have connections. Somewhere in those extended networks might be the person you need. Find a way to reach them and get your message across.

EVP & Employer Brand

What are you like to work for? How does the employee experience shape up? The way you hire, orientate, develop, engage and retain people counts. The way you treat people and support them in reaching their own goals and fulfilling their potential will mark you out as a great place to work. What is your external brand? Does it align with internal values? The early period of employment is when someone reaffirms their decision to join you. If you don’t have an experience that underlines they have made the right choice in joining you – they’ll leave.

Candidate Experience and Recruitment Process

Have you applied for your own jobs? Do you know what the experience is like? Take feedback from candidates going through your hiring process and act upon what you hear. And don’t just take feedback at the end as it will be affected by the outcome.

You can’t expect there to be a pool of skilled and work ready candidates waiting to jump through hoops, endure long absences of communication and non-existent feedback, and work their may through a selection and interview process resembling the labours of Hercules, just to join you. So ditch the gladiatorial approach to hiring.

Make it easy to apply. Give information and let people show you what they can do. The technology is there so why not let people take video interviews at a time to suit them. Find out how they can perform when they are relaxed, rather than trying to find the perfect fit by seeing how they react under pressure.

You can tell a lot about a company by the way they go about recruiting and enabling their people. Stop waiting for the perfect match to come along and start sending out the right messages about the kind of place you are for people who want to learn, grow, develop and reach their potential.

Challenges Facing Executive Search

I was recently invited to attend the World Executive Search Congress in London. It’s a two-day conference with a variety of speakers covering techniques, marketing, relationship building and perspectives on where the sector is and where it is going. It is sponsored by recruitment software firm Dillistone Systems, and was well organised and attended. Previous commitments meant that I could only attend the first day.

I’ve written and researched a lot recently about the challenges and opportunities for contingency recruiters so was keen to hear about the concerns from the retained market.

First impression was that there is little difference between the challenges facing the two. The triple business threats of better skilled in-house teams doing more senior hiring for themselves, client ambiguity and hesitancy on making an appointment, and how to build better working relationships with clients, are common to the staffing sector whether you are working on a retained basis or contingent. In times of perceived candidate shortages, it wasn’t a great surprise to see a number of breakout sessions around sourcing and researching. However, the focus on LinkedIn and how to get the best out of it, many approaches for searching through Google, and general tips for sourcing, produced very similar learnings to those that are usually delivered to in-house and agency recruiters.

With retained work there is a commitment to completing projects, yet keynote speaker Simon Mullins, from the US Executive Search Information Exchange, shared research indicating that up to 40% do fail. This high failure rate primarily happens because projects aren’t properly managed. Often it isn’t the fault of the search consultancy’s own process but in the way they partner with their client. The three key areas where a client shoulders the blame are a lack of clarity on the hiring need, little understanding of the realities of the market and poor timing of the search request. These seem to be common occurrences however the recruitment supply chain supports a hiring business.

Hiring executives and corporate leaders should be held accountable for the recruitment and on-boarding process, properly identifying competencies and key capabilities, and accept that the search process can be risky, particularly if incomplete information is passed on to the search partner and the candidates identified. The search firm similarly needs to be honest with clients. One problem flagged up during the day was around boutique and smaller search firms who might be telling clients what they want to hear, not fully clarifying the brief and not pushing back enough through fear of losing future business.

Many of the top priorities for search firms in 2016 concern better integration with broader talent management processes, particularly those around internal mobility and retention, talent pipelining and supporting clients with better information, and helping diversity. The latter is a key concern and several suggestions were aired, including helping with unconscious bias awareness, coaching hiring managers, understanding exactly what is being communicated about the role and, for gender diversity, interviewing only women in the first round.

Search firms do have a role to play in supporting their clients’ talent processes. Simon Mullins spoke of them as being ‘stewards of the next generation of leadership for our clients’. They have market intelligence and should be trusted advisors, supporting clients and offering the best approach. The way successful searches are measured also needs to be refined. As one speaker said “Quality of hire isn’t about length of time someone stays but what they produce and achieve whilst there. Measure what’s important”.

Measurement was mentioned a number of times and some firms are starting to use Net Promoter Score. In most cases though it is still client metrics that are collected and not those for candidates, with too many firms seeing client testimonials as the only meaningful way of measuring service excellence. However, there is some change in the air with panelists talking about the need for candidate advocacy – one said “don’t commoditise candidates, their experience is important”, whilst another concurred with “metrics on how you treat candidates as important as how you treat clients”.

The need to position as a partner and not a supplier was also a key message. Much like some of their contingency cousins, it seems search firms can too often sell rather than listen, quote fees instead of discussing budgets, offer discounts before justifying value, and focus on delivery rather than bringing fresh insights and perspectives to clients. Keynote speaker John Niland took delegates through the journey of doing higher value work, getting them to focus client conversations on the choice of approach rather than which supplier to use, shape the project requirements as opposed to meeting preset ones, and to create the approach and deliverables with their clients.

The challenges for recruiters of all backgrounds and disciplines are similar. Differentiation, positioning, the need to give value and fresh insights, and support corporate employee initiatives are common to all. Many of the topics discussed and points raised at this event were not that different to those at many other recruitment conferences, although it might be that for this audience some are not considered as often.

The challenge for the permanent recruitment supply chain is relevance. And, in a world of increasing transparency and information availability, to offer clients a service and outcome that they can’t find themselves. As John Niland illustrated, too often the focus is on which suppler to choose rather than finding the best approach to solve the client’s needs, and add value to their recruitment processes.

The New Talent Journey


The way that talent is attracted, hired, on-boarded, developed and retained is evolving. New technologies, changing attitudes to work and employment (from both employers and workers), heightened expectations and a growing transparency around how businesses operate have led to a re-imagining of the talent journey.

What was once a series of events is now an ongoing process, that begins before there is even an identified hiring need, and continues beyond the lifespan of an individual’s working involvement with an organisation.

First lets redefine what we mean by talent. This is probably one of the most overused, misused and misleading words in the modern labour market. Often used by HR and recruitment professionals to imply a high skilled, high potential candidate who is in some way special. This narrow definition leads to poor recruitment practice, with recruiters trying to chase the mythical candidate who ticks all their boxes and is ready made for their vacancy. These people rarely exist, and they are rarely needed.

We now have new jobs are being created, needing skills that haven’t been hired before. People grow in different ways, using initiative and developing their capabilities in line with what interests them and what they believe they would enjoy and be good at. If their jobs are under threat, they will often find new ways to use their talents. The most successful hires will be people who grow into a role, mould it around their capabilities. Growth mindsets and cultures of innovation require curiosity, courage and a restless spirit. These can be found in many people if they are afforded the right tools, a collaborative culture and time.

And of course there are many roles that might seem mundane and repetitive. Yet the people who do them are skilled. Talent is about the people who are right for the role, and right for the business, irrespective of background and trajectory. Talent is also about the hiring business itself, its vision, values, purpose and dynamics. Its offer to its employees, whether they are employed or provide their skills on a freelance or temporary basis.

And it is also about the way in which new people, and new capabilities, are bought into a business.

The new talent journey is an ongoing process incorporating many stages:

Attention – What is known about the business and the potential new hire. Information available. Reputation judged from online interactions and engagements. Before there is even a connection there is a perception over what a business is like, and how it treats its people and customers. And there is also an impression of the candidate.

Attraction – How you hire, what information you make available, how the role is marketed and what is offered. How you develop relationships and conversations with potential employees and collaborators.

Acquisition – Your recruitment process. Application, interviews, assessment, selection. How you communicate, the quality of feedback, when you offer, and the experience you give. This doesn’t sit in isolation but seamlessly evolves from attraction and forms the basis for…

On-boarding – Still waiting for a new hire’s first day before you give them the tools they need for the new role? Think again. The best companies are on-boarding people form the very start of the hiring process, giving them a seamless transition into the business. Paperwork? Already done online before they start. Induction? Its also happening online, probably through a portal, often from the time they accept the offer. First day experience? It’s a gift, a meeting, time with a senior leader. It’s not a few days’ wait for a new laptop and a login, sitting with a team who didn’t know you were starting.

Development – Lateral progression and opportunities for skill and capability enhancement, across teams, functions, divisions and borders. Performance evaluation is ongoing and coaching led. New hires don’t wait for a probation review after 3 months and an appraisal after a year, they want real time, constructive feedback on how they are performing and how they can improve.

Retention – Mutual attraction, the outcome of treating people well and giving them the tools and framework to succeed, develop and enjoy what they do. And if they want to move on – then retain their loyalty and advocacy, because they will be your best referrers of new people and customers, and they may well return in some capacity.

Attracting, acquiring, on-boarding, developing, engaging and retaining your people is an evolving, interlocking process that renews, reviews, reinvents and repurposes. It’s the way that the people you need connect and work with you, grow and develop, create and innovate, make their mark, laugh and collaborate, and its the solid bond you put in their hearts, keeping them very much part of your network of connectors, referrers and influencers.

Its the new talent journey.

(My book Exceptional Talent has recently been published by Kogan Page. In the book myself and co-author Matt Alder explore how changes in technology, communication, and employee preferences are impacting the talent journey. We offer practical advice on how to build •effective recruitment and talent management strategies to meet the needs of today, while also helping businesses plan and prepare for the challenges of the future.)



Employer Brand Challenges & Solutions

Employer branding has been a hot topic for some time. The perception of what a business would be like to work for is built from a number of interactions and sources, some within the organisation’s control and some outside of it. The issues around it are debated long and hard in the blogosphere, at conferences and on webinars and podcasts. Certain words always arise – e.g. authenticity, culture, talent, differentiation – almost to the point of becoming cliches and losing their meaning.

So what are the real challenges that businesses face?

I have recently worked in partnership with regular co-collaborator Matt Alder, and in conjunction with employer brand solution provider Papirfly, to research what’s really going on in the market. We conducted in-depth interviews with a number of talent acquisition leaders. We wanted to understand the issues that practitioners face on a daily basis, how they handle them, what content they turn to and which conversations they join.

Our research found that they all face a number of similar challenges regardless of the sector in which they operate. These Employer Brand challenges cover a broad range, from alignment with internal processes and the employment experience, to overcoming negative reputations and the best ways to utilise employee generated content. And in these data driven times the questions of measurement and validation are never far away.

You can read more about these, and potential solutions, in our Pulse Report – which can be downloaded by clicking on the image below – and also from listening to this podcast in which Matt discusses the research findings with Papirfly’s Client Director Sara Naveda


Papirfly’s Employer Branding Insight Report was produced by Two Heads Consulting, a research, insight and content collaboration between Mervyn Dinnen and Matt Alder

Recruitment Agency Opportunities and Threats

I recently partnered with Broadbean Technology for some detailed research on the SME recruitment agency market in the UK. The aim was to look at how they were doing and also at ways in which they were adapting to market changes. Overall we found the sector in fairly buoyant mood and posting record figures. It has become a crucial supplier of strategic skills to the UK’s business sector, yet we also identified potential headwinds that some were beginning to feel.

Changing preferences of a new generation of candidates and consultants, both in the way they look for work and what they want to get out of it, are beginning to impact the way agencies attract and engage with candidates and trainees. The speed of interaction that technology enables, and users expect, is one that recruitment businesses have to embrace, particularly in an evolving era of transparency and ratings.

Clients are building their own internal capability and in many cases are looking for a different type of relationship. Some recruiters find negotiating with procurement, and working through an RPO provider, to be particular pain points. For forward thinking agencies this does create opportunities to add value and be seen more as a partner than a supplier. Making this change happen will require a different mindset and approach, and one that the research showed is starting to appear in the SME sector.

Amongst the trends we found underlining this, was a prioritisation on the development of marketing initiatives and building awareness to replace a more traditional sales-led transactional approach. This is important as the research showed only 10% of agency vacancies coming from outbound sales calls and 11% from speculative inbound calls. Building reputation and investing in CRM technology is helping many move away from a transactional model.

To support the increase in vacancies from developed relationships rather than speculative approaches, consultants are supported in becoming true sector specialists, offering knowledge and insights to clients, and to build their networks to source candidates. Growing concerns over the hiring and retention of consultants is being addressed by increasing investment in their learning and rewards, and realising the potential of employer branding.

During the research I spoke with a number of SME agencies who were trying different approaches. Some were embracing more agile models, others were taking a much more creative marketing approach, whilst building advocacy and client loyalty.

We featured some of their stories in the report along with more insights into how the SME recruitment agency sector is developing to meet current opportunities and challenges.

To find out more of what they are doing, and see how you compare, download a copy of the report here. And let me know how you are currently finding the market…


(It should be noted that we completed this research, and the report, prior to the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Whilst that result will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the recruitment agency sector over the next few years, it is almost certainly too early to tell what direction that may take)