Little things can matter quite a lot. Such as the day off on your birthday, free fruit, social evenings and reward and recognition schemes. With bigger events, like the arrival of a family, the companies that do best are those that cater for life-work balance such as flexi-time and the ability to work from home from time to time.
Stress and feeling overwhelmed by the workload is as detrimental as feeling under-challenged. People don't want to work long hours every day, month after month and never feel they are still not on top of things. Neither do they want the same routine every day for years either. It should take someone about a year to get properly settled into a job, a year when they handle it well, maybe even excel at it, and in the third they will need to be stretched again.
How long to retain?
Companies have very clear personalities; some are “slipper” companies where everything is very comfortable, while the other extreme is what I call the “chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out” variety. There are some companies that want to hang on to people for ever, keep the dynamics the same and hire people with a perfect fit.
Others actually plan with only keeping people for a relatively short time. In some cases, I can understand their business reasons for doing so. Take one company that recruits very bright graduates, using a specialist graduate recruitment company to do so. They train them from scratch, don't pay them very much, they work hard and stay for a couple of years. And then they come to me. Great! This particular company is continuing to do well – they've had the same number of employees and the same annual turnover for the past five years. Maybe that's all they want. Others have grown by 30% year on year.
Personally – and obviously – I am more of a people collector. I think the ideal mix is retaining the majority, with some of the new replacements not just being replacements, but a bit of fresh blood and “new brooms”. That way you get a healthy circulation.
I see companies who look for clones of the ones they have, maybe of themselves. Yes, that will work for many. But I think the odd "troublemaker" can add a lot to a company. Not comfortably, but many companies can get a bit stuck. Get someone in with fresh ideas, who's seen something else, who can add to what you have got. But you have to be prepared to support them.
How to source candidates
First of all, look within your company. Are there candidates groomed for promotion? Internal promotions always send out positive signals. Ask your employees if they can recommend someone. Maybe offer a “finder's fee.”
Use your web site wisely. A lot of potential candidates research web sites and send their CVs to the companies that suit them. Sometimes this works, but I often hear that “I sent my CV to them months ago and never heard back.” It gives a bad impression. Keeping on top of the candidate flow is time-consuming, so if you don't have the capacity to respond to general job inquiries, only post current vacancies and try to respond to everyone, even if it is a standardized message.
The same goes for advertising either locally or in the industry press.
Where you are based geographically matters a lot more than you might think. It might be idyllic to base the office in the country-side, but it makes it so much harder to attract professional talent. Most of the candidates I come across in Europe have very clear views of where they want to relocate. Major cities and warm locations score about equally high. London, southern France and San Francisco are firm favorite with the vast majority.
It also matters what kind of reputation a company has in the industry. It doesn't only apply to senior, seasoned professionals. It happens equally often that we get translators and engineers who will tell us exactly which companies they don't want to work for, as they have heard about a company from friends and colleagues. It is so prevalent, in fact, that we have created a special field for it in our online registration system.
Some companies use recruiters like us to save time, effort and money. Maybe they have tried themselves to recruit people and not found the right person and it's getting urgent. In fact, the candidate should have started yesterday. We have a pool of qualified candidates from the industry and we already know what they are looking for, where and for how much.
Others go straight to recruiters as a way of planned outsourcing with a clear deadline for the various activities – receiving pre-qualified candidates, interviewing them and start date.
Some come to us very discretely, concerned that a current employee is planning to leave and they don't want to be completely unprepared. Or it could be that someone is not working out.
Be clear about what you want from recruiters. You don't want twenty CVs that you have to sift through yourself, and you don't want people who have no idea they have been put forward for your vacancy. You need maybe five really good CVs from qualified people who want to work with you, in your location and at the salary scale you are offering.
You also need to be realistic about the time it still takes to hire, bearing in mind that you have to interview probably twice and that people have notice periods. Regardless of how you source the candidates, you need to have some basics in place.
How to recruit effectively
First of all, be clear about what you need. Write a job specification with clear tasks and responsibilities. List which qualifications you need as a minimum requirement and which are nice to have. Think carefully about which salary you are going to offer. Make sure it's in line with other employees' salaries, while being attractive and realistic.
According to one text book on effective recruitment¹, on a scale from 1 to 10, assessment centers and a sharp interview and come in at the top and 7 and 6 respectively, followed by psychometric testing at 5. A badly prepared and casually conducted interview comes in near the bottom, along with graphology and astrology.
Prepare your interview questions well, for instance “Describe a really challenging project you have worked on” and “What do you do when you disagree with your manager?” Get people to talk about difficult situations rather than just their talents.
Use the same questions for everyone; give them all an equal chance. Make notes immediately afterwards, using the same assessment criteria. You should think about carefully and define your assessment criteria long before the interview.
Get as many colleagues as practical involved in the selection process. The ones that have given their thumbs up for the candidate will also be supportive of them when they start.
Hang on to the good people you have got by offering them a good place to work, suitable for different levels of ambition and life situations. Some will still leave, hopefully for good reasons. Plan with how to replace them just like you plan a project. Put backup and succession plans in place; make sure you have a pipeline of candidates and a good process to select the right ones.
If it isn't a Chinese proverb already, let's make a new one: Care about your people, then good people will come to you.
The Larsen Team: From left to right, Inger Larsen, Denise Spacinsky,
Costanza Marinelli and Gretta FitzGerald