Recruitment – time to rip up the rule book

Struggling to recruit? Can’t find the talent you need to grow, or fill a gaping hole in your team?

In the world in which I operate (Indirect Tax i.e. VAT and Customs & Global Trade), the candidate drought is having a considerably adverse effect – shortlists for most roles are becoming shorter, if not altogether absent! I’m sure the same applies to other niche sectors as well.

So what’s the problem?

  • The pandemic uncertainties have resulted in a ‘better the devil you know’ view about moving jobs – large swathes of the possible talent population feel this way.
  • Most companies have (maybe surprisingly) done pretty well at looking after their staff in the uncertain times – resulting in greater loyalty from their employees. At times when most aspects of life were up in the air, one of the few securities that most had was their comparative constancy of their employment and that they were still getting paid!
  • Many Europeans returned home to their country of origin to be closer to loved ones during the pandemic, and the insular messages of Brexit don’t either encourage a return, or make European talent feel warmly about moving to the UK.

In niche technically driven populations such as Indirect Tax, there’s never enough talent to go round in the best of times, and the squeeze caused by the above is really starting to hurt.

So what’s to be done to stand your best chance of filling roles? Some of our BLT clients are making impressive efforts to get their recruitment right to stand a chance in such a competitive market – get in touch if you’d like some pointers specific to your business. The best tip we can give you is…..BE HUMAN. Here’s some things you need to change to be a successful hirer in this day and age.

1. Increase your budget by 15%

Sorry to cut straight to brass tacks, but money is the first thing the prospective talent pool will want to know about (candidates are by and large a mercenary bunch these days). And if you’re not paying a bit over market rate in the current climate, you can guarantee that there will be other employers out there who will be. And you need to compete.

If in doubt about what is market rate, ask for a copy of BLT’s latest Market Report & Salary Survey. You’ll need to be able to offer more than what people are currently earning – so that means having the facility to offer a decent salary hike above and beyond the figures on any survey. With any luck you may not have to pay that much, but it’s important to have the facility to attract those already earning at the top end of any band. Restricted by existing internal salary bandings? Take urgent action – make sure your existing staff are salaried correctly (but never more than they’re worth to you). You’ll run the real danger of losing your existing talent in such a cut-throat market if not – which will only add to your recruitment headache.

2. Don’t rely on LinkedIn

The internet is awash with loads of job adverts – complete with identikit lists of job responsibilities, bland corporate messages and how brilliant you are to work for. The onus is completely on the candidate to go to the effort to apply to you. Yes, you’ll get some applicants, and amongst the inappropriate ones, you might find someone capable of doing the role. What you won’t always find is the best person to do the job – quite frankly, such will be way too busy to trawl the internet looking for work, and aren’t actively looking anyway – certainly not to the extent where they’ve got a CV ready to send through if they happen to scroll past your advert!

What you need is a person to encourage a conversation about whether or not to apply, and talk to those who aren’t scouring job boards. To be your advocate in the competitive market. That person is called a Recruiter. And in Indirect Tax, a BLT Recruiter! Yes there’s a cost to using us, but what’s more expensive – not filling the role? Filling it with someone average who may or may not work out? Taking ages to fill the role so it becomes stale in the eyes of the market? These are the risks of not engaging a recruiter.

3. Choose your advocate wisely

For niche roles such as Indirect Tax, with the best will in the world, that is unlikely to be your internal recruitment team (with apologies to my internal recruitment connections!). Yes, such individuals are great about talking about your corporates messages, understand your business, can provide detail of the job specifics, and can chivvy processes along successfully, but they are unlikely to have a) an existing network of contacts built up over decades b) personal ‘human’ relationships with the prospective talentpool c) specific knowledge of the nuances of a niche discipline such as Indirect Tax and d) the ability to be independent.

Candidates want to talk to people who know them, understand what they do and what they’re looking to achieve, and who are able to give them an honest, and unbiased view of whether they should consider a role. What the candidate population doesn’t want is to be bombarded by LinkedIn messages from people they’ve never heard from before, trying to sell them roles when they’re not even actively looking for pastures new. Such ‘coldcalling’ only entrenches them more in this climate. What you need is an independent specialist recruiter with the biggest and longest-established network of Indirect Tax contacts with a softer, more consultative approach – ah yes, that’s BLT again.

4. Avoid technology

The drive for automation has sucked the life out of many companies’ recruitment processes. Many organisations rely on recruitment portals – universally loathed by the candidate population and recruiters alike! By the time the candidate has gone to the effort of updating their CV, wrestled with creating yet another password to log into your system to apply; completed whatever application form or CV coversheet that’s required; ticked boxes about diversity and privacy policies – you’ll be lucky if that perfect candidate you want to attract has bothered to go past first base! You need to make your application process as easy as possible – and back to basics we should go – CVs sent to a human by email (note, not a generic email address!)

5. Instant decisions

And yes, we mean instant. Those who are proving most successful at recruiting are reverting to the candidate or recruiter within the space of a couple of hours after CV submission to say whether or not they’re interested in meeting. It demonstrates enthusiasm, commitment, and that you really value that a person has gone to the effort to apply. And quite frankly the competition will beat you to it if you don’t.

Speed is of the essence throughout – that goes too for booking in interviews swiftly and providing feedback in a matter of days, if not hours. There’s no excuse for delays in this day and age, particularly when interviews are often held over video conference, making it much easier for an hour to be found in people’s diaries.

6. Field your best people at first interview

First round interview should be conducted by a Partner, or Head of Tax/Indirect Tax/FD for in-house roles – it’s the only way to demonstrate that you’re giving an application the due attention it deserves.

7. Sell appropriately

Focus on what you can offer the applicant. That’s not just financial – people want to hear about the working environment, the great work they’re going to be doing, the pros (and just as importantly, some of the more palatable cons) of working with you. People want to hear the real picture. Of course you need to assess their capabilities, but do that surreptitiously during the course of the initial get to know session. You can always probe a bit harder at second round interview once you’ve got them genuinely interested in your role and company. Never grill technically – technical questions should be phrased in a way to ensure that the candidate doesn’t feel crushed if they get something wrong!

8. Simplify your process

Bin any psychometric testing. Cut out the requirement for any presentation. In this market, candidates sadly will be reluctant to do lots of preparation for interview – most will be perfectly happy where they are after all, so why should they bother! Phase out formal competency based questions for more junior level candidates. Instead try to tease out whether they have the soft skills and whether there’s a match in terms of values during a general conversation, rather than the rigid ‘give me an example of a time when….’. Such questioning is more appropriate for more senior level roles, where the answers are more likely to be more meaningful and relevant to whether they are going to be a great match for your business.

9. Don’t appear desperate!

Always do a second interview. Offers made after just one interview don’t allow the prospective candidate to really get to know you and your team – you’ll have spent less time with the candidate, and consequently will have got less commitment from the individual concerned.

10. Swift and constructive feedback

Particularly for those candidates you decide not to take forward. They have friends, colleagues, networks – and if they’ve had a positive experience of your process, and have been given detailed, respectful and constructive feedback even when it’s a ‘no’ – they’re more likely to do some free marketing about your working environment for you!

11. Offer well, but fairly

Don’t penny pinch! You’ve come this far after all…..why risk it falling through for the sake of a grand here and there! However, don’t offer more than the candidate is worth – not only to you, but also with a view to their value in the market. If in doubt about what that is, ask your trusty BLT recruiter! Excessive offers open a whole different can of worms. The general rule is that if a candidate is asking for more money than their experience merits, or what is generally offered elsewhere, then you should start to think about exiting stage left…..

 12. Be prepared for the inevitable counter offer

You’re less likely to hit problems here if you’ve done the rest of the process well, but you should always assume their existing employer will hit the panic button when a candidate resigns. And we’re up against a candidate population that is largely feeling loyal to their current employer. Arrange follow up personal ‘catch up’ conversations, informal meet the team sessions – you can never stop selling until your chosen candidate starts with you. (And of course beyond – promises need to be met, otherwise they’ll only leave quickly, and back to the starting blocks you go!)

We hope these tips go some way to help employers negotiate the minefield that it is recruitment right now! There’s more help and suggestions we can give you too – so do get in touch if you want to get your Indirect Tax hiring right – email gnb@blt.co.uk or give me a call on + 44 (0) 207 405 3404

GNB - Ripping up the rule book


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