Finding specialist talent is challenging, but retention is just as key for growth

With the UK unemployment rate hovering around 4.5 since May 2017 (the lowest since 1971), it is unsurprising that companies are investing more in their employer brand to attract the best talent.

With greater competition in the marketplace, specialist employees are scarce.

According to LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2016, 59% of companies are spending more on their brand compared to last year. Five years ago, the field of employer branding was just emerging as a priority for recruiting teams. Today, it’s a key component of most talent strategies.

Although this makes sense in today’s connected candidate marketplace, companies should be wary of over-emphasising their spend on talent attraction and hiring, without placing the same attention on developing their retention strategy.

An integrated approach

HR recruitment teams know that they are critical to their organization (and they’re right), but a short-sighted view which elevates the importance of hiring, whilst diminishing other HR functions such as development and retention, can undermine even the best recruiting.

Whilst the ability to attract and recruit talent is vital to any company’s success, many companies fail to have an integrated approach to the entire candidate lifecycle; from attraction, through onboarding and development. This disconnect creates a fractured process where companies over-promote hiring and under-emphasise development, leading to retention issues and creating an endless loop of new recruiting.

Retention hurdles

Assuming Brexit doesn’t sink the UK into a hole, hiring will continue to remain a high priority throughout 2017 and beyond. And with the rise in the number of entrepreneurs - not to mention the growth of the gig-economy - luring full-time employees will become even harder as the talent pool slowly dries up.

This endless struggle for talent will put even more pressure on organizations to retain the staff they’ve worked so hard to secure over the past years. It therefore makes sense that those companies who are investing equally across new and existing talent will reap the most rewards.

Viewing your employees as fundamental building blocks of your organization, not commodities, will allow you to shift your mindset (and resources) towards continual development and growth, helping you keep your talent longer.

4 ways to ensure you hire candidates with the right culture / personality fit

If you’re a hiring manager, you’ve probably been there: You’ve found a candidate who is great on paper, but they’ve barely managed 12 months on the job. Whilst this happens all the time and it may not necessarily be anyone’s fault, there is a possibility that your candidate has left due to a misjudgement of cultural fit.

Hiring skilled people is one thing. But hiring skilled people who are going to fit in well into your corporate environment is quite another.

Here’s our tips on 4 ways to ensure you always make great hires.

Look for longevity

Look to those who have stayed within your business for a long time and find out why they have stayed and what they like most about working there. These people are key to exploring your workplace culture because as much as they are experts by experience, they have also been major players in creating it.

Also, when looking at candidate CVs, don’t underestimate the problems that might arise by hiring someone who has a choppy CV. Unfortunately moving around is a habit that is likely to reoccur.

What’s great about your working environment?

Consider the characteristics of those who appear happiest working within your organisation and examine the ways in which the environment suits these people best. For instance, you may feel that your large open-plan office fosters a great social, energetic and lively work style and atmosphere. Those who are team-players and keen to get involved might thrive best here, whilst those who are easily overwhelmed and enjoy a small company feel might be better placed elsewhere.

Examine your values 

Gauge the value of what your company offers, potentially via an employee survey, to understand what employees feel are most important and most valued benefits of working for you. Hiring successfully is as much about what the candidate can give you as it is ensuring you can give them what they need to stick around. If you understand your offering fully, you can consider at interview whether the candidate will be satisfied.

Work Patterns

All businesses have inherent work patterns which are more apparent to outsiders than they are for those who are part of the routine. It is worth taking a step back to consider how the working day takes place - the norms in your office might not suit everyone. For example, your roles may demand a longer working day than average which is compensated for with higher than average salaries. On face value your high salaries may attract new recruits who then discover the long working hours and don’t stick around. By identifying these elements you can present them at interview and deter those who would have been put off by it anyway at a later stage.

Can you negotiate when receiving a job offer? And crucially, should you?


Picture this: You’ve done endless preparation and have applied for a dozen jobs. The job you really want is with a great company, with excellent prospects. You think it’s super unlikely are going to get it, but you work really hard and apply anyway.

Then, the unthinkable happens! You get an interview request!

And after much preparation and research, you smash your interview, but still you think that a job offer is just a dream.

But then, when you were least expecting it, you get the call: A job offer!

At this point, it’s safe to say that what most people do is this: They accept the job, sign the contract, and turn up for work on the start date.

But what would have happened if you’d have negotiated? Could you have got an even better deal?

Let’s take it from the top.

A job offer is just a mutual agreement

Like any market, the job market only functions well if it’s competitive. This is the only way to ensure fair and equitable pricing. Imagine you were a farmer selling apples. Would you just sell your apples to the first buyer who agreed to purchase them? Or would you survey the marketplace of buyers, see the best price (and business partner) you could get, and then make an informed decision on which buyer to sell to?

And yet, when people talk about the job market, they think “oh, a company wants to give me a job! What a relief!” As though having a job were in itself some special privilege for which a company is the gatekeeper.

Dispel yourself of this mindset.

A job is just a deal. It is a deal between you and a company to exchange work for money (and other things you value).

This might sound like an abstract point, but you should absolutely approach negotiation from this perspective.

The role of negotiation

Negotiating is a natural and expected part of the process of trying to make a deal. It’s also a signal of competence and seriousness. Companies generally respect candidates who negotiate, and most highly attractive candidates negotiate (if for no other reason, because they often have too many options to choose from).

Whilst it’s very easy to say; it doesn’t matter how good or bad you think you are. You never damage a relationship by negotiating and it’s extremely unlikely that the job offer will be rescinded if you do. In fact, it’s almost unheard of.

You might think to yourself: “well, I don’t want to set high expectations, and the offer is already generous, so I ought to just take it.

No. Negotiate.

Or maybe: “I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot and look greedy with my future employer.

No. Negotiate.

“But this company is small and — “

No. Negotiate. Negotiate. Negotiate.


But where do I start? And how do I negotiate?

Fair question. And one that we will come back to on a later blog, but here’s the crux of the matter: how much does the job mean to you and how do you feel about the company? Just because you had your heart set on this company originally, where you now have your offer, it doesn’t mean that it’s definitely the right fit for you.

Do not fall into the trap of valuing companies solely along one dimension. That means don’t just value companies based on salary, equity, or even on prestige. Those are all important dimensions, but so are cultural fit, the challenge of the work, learning potential, later career options, quality of life, growth potential, and just overall happiness. None of these inherently trump any of the other. Anyone who tells you “just choose wherever you think you’ll be happiest” is being just as simplistic as someone who says “just choose the one that offers the most money.” All of these things matter, and your decision should be genuinely multi-dimensional.

Be open to being surprised as you explore different companies.

It’s also important to understand that companies don’t all value you along the same dimension either. That is, different companies are genuinely looking for different skills, and there are some companies at which you will be more and less valuable. Even at peer companies this is true, especially so if you have a specialized skill-set.

The more companies you talk to, the more likely you are to find a company to which you are significantly more valuable than the rest. Chances are this is where you’ll be able to negotiate your strongest offer. It might surprise you which company this turns out to be; keep an open mind, and remember that a job search is a 2-sided process.

Mastering the interview: 4 ways to avoid making hiring mistakes

We speak to hundreds of hiring managers every year and happily, in the vast majority, it’s rare for a client to admit they've made the wrong hire. As a business, we spend a great deal of time ensuring that any candidates we submit are likely to be a good fit for the prospective organisation. We therefore pride ourselves on the retention rates we can achieve for our customers.

Nevertheless; it’s inevitable that, on occasion, a company’s new starter just doesn’t quite fit the bill. This may well be nobody’s fault – after all, the person may be perfect on paper. However, if a mistake does happen, the origin of that error (assuming it’s not ours) can usually be pinpointed to one particular point in the hiring timeline: the interview.

Here are four tips to maximise the effectiveness (and efficiency) of your interviews and to avoid making hiring mistakes.

1. More tasks, less chat

This tip can seem a little cut-throat, but it could be a vital way of separating the good from the bad. As an interviewer, how often have you walked out the room and thought, “that candidate was great, very engaging and a really nice person, but I’m not 100% sure whether they can do the job?” It’s so easy to have a ‘nice’ conversation for an hour or so, but at the end of the interview if all you’ve deciphered is that your candidate is a good communicator, then you’ll be taking a risk if you offer them a job without inviting them back.

By getting a candidate to solve relevant problems during your limited time together, you’ll reveal a lot more than if you discussed a theoretical situation. Interviewing a designer? Get them to design something. Or an analyst? Give them some data and ask them to tell you what they learned. These tasks can even be done as prep exercises or take-homes and will give the opportunity to ask “why” when the results are in.

2. Have an initial impression? Try and disprove it

As a recruitment company, we completely understand that it’s hard to find great people. Similarly, it’s also easy to miss great people. It only takes a mediocre first call to a candidate to completely write them off – but if you’ve already formed an initial impression, it doesn’t always mean that you’ve got an accurate picture of their talent.

If you’re asking a candidate a question and they stumble and fluster their way through the answer, it’s easy to assume they aren’t great at a given skill. But; treat this as your hypothesis, and then test it. Ask another question or two to try and understand whether they really aren’t great at the skill you need.

Candidates can get things wrong for a lot of reasons. Maybe the question wasn’t clear. Maybe they assumed something that threw them off course. Don’t give up too soon. Don’t let a good hire get away because you jumped to conclusions.

3. Understand what drives someone

It’s easy to assume that a candidate is applying for a job because they love your company already, they know your brand and they want to work for your amazing business. However, making these assumptions can be a huge mistake. Sometimes candidates can apply for a role and appear great in an interview, even if they don’t want the job. Perhaps they just want a ‘foot in the door’ or they are too lazy to travel elsewhere, or perhaps they just need the money.

Be confident that your candidate’s drive matches the role you are offering, not just their skills, otherwise you could be left with someone who’s unmotivated and uninterested in the tasks required. Be straight with your questioning and ask your interviewee about makes them tick, what frustrates them and where they want their careers to go in 2, 5 and 10 years time. Often; you’ll find that the things that annoy your candidates will be exactly what is expected of them – making your decision a lot easier.

4.  You’re being evaluated too

The most common thing we hear with the very best talent is that they have the most options. This means that, as the interviewer, you are being evaluated too. Countless times, we’ve heard via a candidate’s feedback that they want to work at X or Y company because the hiring manager was super engaged, driven and asked challenging questions.

The best candidates want to know what their boss will be like and ultimately what it will be like to work at your company. They might be attending 2-3 other interviews consecutively, so the interview is your best chance to show how great your company is, using both specifics and intangibles. If you want the best, you need to be the best.

Your job descriptions could be hurting your hiring pipeline


Finding great people is a top concern for businesses across the Midlands. Waheed Nazir, Birmingham City Council’s strategic director, recently cited that the one thing that keeps him awake at night, is the lack of necessary skills that could potentially stop the city’s firms from growing.

In most industries, it’s therefore crucial that businesses hire (and keep hold of) the talent they need to expand and develop.

Yet for all the worrying about keeping a high-quality candidate pipeline, many of us are making the similar mistakes: Writing job descriptions that turn off a large percentage of the candidate pool.

With that in mind, here are four areas to look at:

Use caution with qualifications

The qualifications section of a job description tends be treated as a wish list: everything that would be “nice to have” gets thrown in. Why not? Setting a high bar for talent is good, right? Won’t making it tough to qualify ensure we find the best candidates?

Unfortunately, not all the time. Even though there might be wiggle room on qualifications (unless you’re a doctor / lawyer etc) that’s not always how candidates interpret it, particularly women. While men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, women tend to apply only when they meet 100%.

Therefore, a long list of ‘must haves’ will actually deter female candidates from applying. Problem!

Also, watch out for one word in particular – ‘expert’. Some candidates will consider themselves experts, but many qualified, talented candidates won’t identify with that descriptor, or might even be intimidated by it. Do you really require an inbound marketing expert or do you require someone who has the potential to become an inbound marketing expert? Importantly, what is an ‘expert’ anyway?

Check for gendered language

Gender also plays a big role in how language is interpreted in job descriptions. Certain words and phrases resonate with men more than women, and vice versa.

Many people write job descriptions as they would talk, and normally that’s a good thing, but not when it comes to job descriptions. Phrases and jargon like “killer business instinct” might feel fun and colourful, but they send subtle messages to the applicant about the kind of team they are signing up for.

Highlight benefits for all ages

Annual trips to Vegas might be a dream come true for a 20-something graduate, but when you’re starting or growing a family, paternal leave and healthcare are probably a lot more important at work than boozy nights out.

Be careful when highlighting “shiny” perks. You may be missing the opportunity to connect with candidates who bring years of experience to the table, as well as recent university leavers.

Watch out for corporate-speak

Insider language is a quick way to make someone else feel like an outsider, but if you’re not careful, acronyms and jargon will inevitably creep into your job descriptions. Job seekers reading descriptions are usually still in research mode, so feeling like they don’t speak the language of a company makes it easier for them to cross that company off their list.

It’s understandable that you’ll want to put some candidates off applying, particularly if the quality of CVs coming through your door is generally low – but by putting yourself in your candidate’s shoes and taking the time to reflect on your job descriptions, you’ll inevitably enable more of the most talented individuals to click that submit button to apply.