Recruiting and retaining talented staff


January 22, 2014

Recruiting and retaining talented staff

Recruiting a new member of the team has to be one of the most important activities undertaken by managers today. But despite extensive research showing the high cost of recruiting the wrong people, many employers still seem to have a surprisingly unstructured approach to the screening and selection of their key staff.

Can you be certain that your organisation’s selection process not only enables you to recruit and retain the most talented people but also reflects well on your organisation? This latter point may be critical. Get it wrong and you risk losing the best candidates to your competitors.

Before you even start the selection process you need to define what it is that you are looking for. Recruiters frequently complain that organisations rely on out-of-date or very generic job descriptions that often bear little or no relation to the role they are hoping to fill. It is essential that you clearly identify the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are important for success in the job.

Candidate selection

The process of sifting candidate applications also seems to be handled poorly, or at best unscientifically, by employers. Some organisations only select candidates with superior exam results or first class degrees, perhaps following Bill Gates' well known advice to "hire the smartest people". However, research suggests that academic excellence is not necessarily the best indicator of future success.

Professor Peter Saville, Chairman of Saville Consulting and one of the founding fathers of modern assessment and selection techniques, tells the apocryphal tale of a student at university who gained a first class degree in applied mathematics but who spent every evening alone in his room studying train timetables. "He was obviously brilliant at maths and he could tell you the time of every train but could he manage a team? I doubt it."

Peter Saville agrees that intelligence is still key, but he would also want look at the depth and breadth of a candidate's experience. "What else did they do at university? Study train time tables or get out and meet people?" These questions are best answered during the course of a structured interview.

And the interview itself is often cited by candidates as the point at which they decide to reject the employer. There are the horror stories of interviewers who talk non-stop or, even worse, the managers who claim "I can tell the moment they walk through the door". Critical hiring decisions, it seems, are being made by managers who frankly don't know how to interview. Moreover, when used alone, it has been shown that the traditional interview is a poor indicator of likely success in a job.

What’s the answer?

Although no single selection strategy can guarantee success, there are some positive steps that you can take to improve the odds of hiring the right people.

Peter Saville says, "Study after study has established that using a structured interview or competency interview together with appropriate assessment instruments can halve the error rate on hiring decisions." Apart from testing cognitive ability, most of the leading publishers of occupational assessment tests are now also developing multi-dimensional assessments that enable organisations to spot other key personality traits, such as drive, talent, potential and culture fit.

Of course, analysing every job, training your managers in structured interview techniques and introducing assessment testing comes with a cost in time and money. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this investment will pay off.


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