Recruitment is often described as a ‘war for talent’ or a ‘battleground’, with hiring companies vying for the very best talent in a highly competitive marketplace. However, the reality for many recruiters and HR departments is rather different. Depending on whether you’re recruiting for generalist talent (those with no sector-specific skills) or specialist talent (those boasting highly desirable, highly sought-after skills and experience), you’ll be faced with either a talent-surplus or a talent-scarce market.
Unsurprisingly, each of these markets requires a rather different approach to recruitment. You might hear these approaches referred to as ‘weeding out the weakest’ and ‘attracting the best’ – but what do they mean and when should they be used?
Weeding out the weakest
A common technique used when recruiting for generalist talent – particularly in a talent-surplus market – is to attempt to ‘weed out’ the weakest candidates using carefully constructed job adverts. Hiring companies tend to make their job adverts read like little more than job descriptions, making them as specific as possible so as to dissuade the majority of potential candidates from responding to the advert. The message to potential applicants is clear: don’t apply if you don’t have the skills.
Attempting to weed out the weakest candidates isn’t always the most effective approach to recruitment, however. What hiring companies are essentially aiming to do is to reduce the size of the candidate pool. It goes without saying that this is hardly a desirable outcome when the talent pool is already small – for example, when looking for specialist talent. When you think about it, weeding out the weakest candidates is a counter-intuitive means of approaching recruitment. Why would you concentrate on making your job advert unappealing when you could expend the same amount of time and effort selling the opportunity to your ideal candidates?
Actively trying to ‘put off’ potential applicants is not an effect means of bringing in the top talent. You have to put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. If you were looking for a job and read two distinct adverts – one terse and clinical in its tone and the other interesting and compelling – which would you apply for? Alternatively, think of it this way: if you read two identical job adverts, both constructed like job description checklists but one originating from an unknown family business and the other posted by a well-known PLC, which would be most likely to receive your application?
Attracting the best
Fortunately, there is another approach to recruitment. Attracting the best doesn’t involve hiring companies tailoring their job adverts for the candidates they don’t want to employ. To catch the eye of the best possible candidates, you need to sell the notion of a career opportunity, rather than an uninspiring list of tasks and opportunities. If you’re recruiting for specialist talent in a talent scarce market, the last thing you want to do is start putting people off with rigid person specifications and a dry list of candidate expectations. In such instances, job adverts should be seen more as exercises in creative writing than anything else – you need to speak to the sense of ambition and adventure in skilled high-flyers, using intrigue and imagination to sell your company and the opportunities on offer.
When recruiting for generalist talent, you might choose to appeal to the sense of pragmatism and realism in your candidates. You’re posing a series of yes/no questions to potential applicants: ‘do you have these skills?’ ‘Have you gained this experience?’ ‘Can you provide an example of when you’ve achieved this?’ Etc. Writing job adverts for specialist talent, however, is more about emotion. It’s less a case of encouraging candidates to think ‘I can/can’t do this job’ and more a case of making them think ‘this career opportunity appeals to me personally.’ In the eyes of such candidates, the perfect job advert would be written with a sense of intrigue, adventure and opportunity – it should appeal to their personality, their attitude and their work ethic, while fitting in with their visions for the future. You’re outlining a scenario of what life would be like for them, should they choose to join your company.
About the Author: David Twiddle is Managing Director of Twiddle & Co., a talent management firm exclusively serving entrepreneur-led and family owned businesses.
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