For the tech community and beyond, the stakes for recruiting and retaining talent are higher than ever. Adding to this challenge, the rules of engagement have shifted in the competition for talent, whether seeking new graduates or seasoned candidates. The situation is especially complex in Canada, where employment rates are very low, and available talent is in short supply. As a result, organizations are finding they must step out of their comfort zones with strategies to attract and engage top talent.
In the past few years, we have moved from a more traditional approach to recruitment to focusing more on engagement. Whereas we were once in control of interviewing candidates, recruitment has become a two-way dialogue in which the participants are on an equal footing.
Recruitment is not only about hiring people that are the best fit. An equally important dynamic in today’s recruitment dialogues is whether your company is a best fit in the eyes of the candidate. The reality is, you are being scrutinized as much as the potential employee, which places you in the role of “selling” your business and its culture.
Most of today’s job-seeking graduates are simply not attracted to traditional, hierarchical corporate environments. They want to work in environments that are engaging, vibrant and flexible, that champion employee well-being, and offer opportunities for growth. When speaking to candidates, we find we are increasingly fielding their questions around values and diversity.
While most companies can answer those questions, the key is authenticity. The worst thing a recruiter can do is pay lip service to their values simply to secure a promising candidate, and not be able to deliver on them.
The challenge is exacerbated in a world where a great deal of recruitment and onboarding activities are done virtually. If you are interviewing a person remotely and reading from a script, that approach simply will not do. Going through a pre-set list of questions will not create an engaging experience for them. It is imperative to make the experience as personal as possible by encouraging a two-way conversation rather than a conventional interview format. In other words, let their answers guide the direction of the conversation.
Sometimes engagement can start with something as simple as greeting them by their first name or asking about their personal interests. If for example they mention a specific concern, such as emotional well-being, take that as a cue to bring up a program or offer an anecdote – in an authentic and genuine way – to showcase what your company does to support that particular concern.
Focus on experience rather than fixed end goals. For example, our management team has learned that focusing on the word ‘promotion’ simply doesn’t resonate. However, talking about growth opportunities in an open-ended way holds much more appeal. Share tangible benefits, but also focus on those that are intangible, such as what they will learn, what development tools are offered, and how your onboarding can help their career growth. Bring up the importance of autonomy and flexibility and how you will encourage decision making, soft skills development, and opportunities to demonstrate initiative.
Often, it’s difficult to gauge soft skills in a single conversation. But they are becoming an increasingly valuable asset for organizations today. In startup environments especially, eagerness, curiosity, drive, and initiative are attributes that are highly valued in addition to technical skills.
It is possible to glean some insight by asking situational questions that focus on both the past (i.e., how did you handle a challenge in your previous job) and future (i.e., what would you do in this situation). It also helps to ask questions about attributes such as ambition, creativity, and collaboration, among others. Having a bank of questions to draw from that require more than yes or no answers will help to ensure consistency in the interview process.
Assessing their engagement level is also key. There is no point forcing your company on an individual who has “tuned out.” Telling signs are, not asking questions throughout the interview, rushing through each topic, or appearing distracted.
If they can’t give a sufficient answer to a question such as “what makes you excited to go to work,” chances are that person is not interested and is not a fit for your work environment. And if they start the interview telling you they are choosing between several companies, and only ask about benefits and salaries, then the likelihood of them being genuinely interested in joining your company is slim. The key is to hire individuals that are driven by the same things that you value as an organization.
Most importantly, keep in mind that different perspectives are essential. In our business our people are serving clients around the world. Depending on the role, the right skill sets and personality profiles can differ. That is why we put a high value on building both a culturally and psychologically diverse workplace.
Of course, recruitment is never an exact science. There are many times that a candidate that presents well in an interview simply doesn’t work out. Conversely, someone who seemed reserved in their answers can sometimes end up being a superstar. It’s not always black and white. But with the right questions and a constructive dialogue, you can at least get a sense of their potential and interest in joining your company. The key is learning to understand what each person can bring to your work environment. And of course, what you can bring to them.
Maggie Da Prato is the Head of Talent for the Americas at Dialectica, an information services company that innovates how the world’s leading investment and consulting companies access primary research.
Dialectica aims to double its workforce in Canada by the end of the year and reach 500 employees by 2025.