I recently presented this topic at the Marketing Meetup in Norwich, organised by the lovely Joe Glover. Recruiting into a digital agency certainly has always had its difficulties, especially in East Anglia where often graduates are more likely to leave for the bright lights of London than stick around to look for work.
More recently in our recruitment, the issues and stumbling blocks have changed. They have become a bit more cat and mouse and I have found myself comparing our problems to the world of dating. The feeling that applicants are keeping their options open, playing us against their other interviews and maybe even their current employer, was lingering around. In a round of recruitment early this year, we even saw a 50% no-show rate to the interviews booked in. Indeed and LinkedIn have made an environment where people can apply for roles very easily, some with one-click only. Imagine the constant swipe right motion on the dating apps, not much commitment there is there? The reed.co.uk job app even mimics the swipe motion, swipe right if interested, left if not. As an employer, this means you often do get a lot of interest on your job ad, much more in 2019 than in 2016 for example. But those candidates may well be playing the field and could eventually ghost you.
So, we changed our process.
The main three areas we looked into were the job advert, the CVs received and the interview itself. To speak in dating terms, the job ad is a bit like your tinder profile, the bit where you sell yourself in order to reel in the one that you want. The CV you receive is essentially their dating profile and the more I think about the process of applying for a new job now, the less it will be customised to your job. But there are certain things to bear in mind when reading (and shortlisting) CVs in 2019 and I have some tips. And finally, the first time you meet, the first date (the interview).
The Job Ad
Now any job ad will follow a format. You hook them in, you explain about the role and the company, list the skills they need and show the benefits you get back. This bit isn’t broken, but there are certain things that employers can do to stand out now. And they are much simpler than you think. When I took a proper in-depth look into our job ad (when it was no longer working for us), I realised it had been tweaked so hard that it was no longer a nice thing to read. When recruitment comes up for a Hiring Manager, there is a huge temptation to post the job spec from the last time you were looking – it’s not broke after all – but does it show you in the best light?
To put ourselves under the spotlight, we still used things like “20 days holiday plus bank holidays” so advertising the legal statutory minimum holiday as a benefit… Other benefits were just too vague, like “Wellbeing policy”. We also mentioned that all applicants should be proficient in Microsoft Office and in a digital agency you will need so much more.
So I started from scratch. The headings stayed the same; Role, Company, Key Skills and Benefits, but what came next was what we need right now, the gap that needs filling and what you will actually get from us. For example, being specific on the programmes you need like Photoshop or Google Ads and showing a brief insight into your benefits. Name a couple of great things included in your wellbeing policy and what your team love about it. We changed “nights out to let your hair down” to “coffee, tea, cake, beers and gin depending on the occasion” as that is actually what it is like to work here.
Remember that your applicants will check out your social media as much as your website, so make sure this is a good reflection of the #agencylife that you want them to buy into. Essentially its best foot forward on this. Think about the picture on your tinder profile, you pick the right lighting sure, but you don’t use a photo from 10 years ago.
The 2019 CV
There’s a new format about and if you haven’t recruited in 3 or 4 years you may be a bit alarmed by how much a CV has changed. Someone somewhere is telling graduates that CVs should be 2 pages only, created on photoshop with colours and graphics and logos and must absolutely contain a picture of you. (If you are telling people this, please see me after).
I am a traditionalist when it comes to a CV and again, my advice in this area is so simple. I want to read your key achievements, your career history, specific campaigns and their results. That’s it. A pie chart of your skills is lovely but these things are so subjective. I feel the same way about rating your skills out of 5 or 10. Giving yourself a 9 out of 10 in Search Engine Optimisation is all well and good but what does this actually mean? Especially in the data-driven world of a digital agency, surely we can’t be just making up stats? When shortlisting CVs, I genuinely used to ignore these graphics. I probably shouldn’t admit that but it’s the truth. Over the last 3 years, I have learnt to use these “scores” as talking points. Questions like “what is missing in your SEO experience (because you rated yourself 9 out of 10)?” feature a lot in our interviews and this also shows that you have taken the time to read through the details. The more that hirers question these graphics, hopefully, the less frequent they will become.
I also often give advice on a CV I don’t like to the applicant. If it isn’t easy to work out their skills or their experience, tell them. It will also tell you how they take criticism and hopefully help them find their dream job (even if it’s not with you).
You are sussing them out and they are sussing you out and if one of you is a bit late it makes the other person incredibly nervous. Interview or first date? Either way, it’s a high-pressure meeting and the spotlight is on both sides.
When we invite people to interview we set up a test for them – or even a series of tests. This allows us to work out if we like them before they even turn up. For digital roles, we set a copywriting task, a personality test and also do a hands-on task in the interview – none of which would make or break the situation alone, but together they add up to a full picture of that person’s skills. Setting some sort of test will also get a gauge of the person’s commitment to this role. When we started doing this last year, we did see a decrease in the number of people who accepted an interview invitation, but you would rather know their commitment, wouldn’t you? Knowing the candidate may be playing the field is useful to bear in mind. You will need to sell the benefits of your business, the progression, how the role will start and how training will work. Iron out any queries they may have about you when you are in the room.
Also, I find it helps to call candidates at the end of the day – ask them how it went and see if they have any reservations. You don’t need to say anything other than “the overall feedback has been really positive” but this will keep them on board. You may have other interviews lined up but keeping people in the loop goes a long way. This should go some way to ensure you still have choices when your process is done. My main tip is to not play it cool and wait 3 days after your date. Follow up fast, give them ample opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.
This should mean that when you come to the offer stage, you have the queries ready to answer and everyone is fully bought in. If you are thinking “oh we always like to have a comparison”, I hear you and I agree. But if you can get all the details early on, assess the skills in a practical test and keep candidates in the loop, you are much more likely to still have all your options in the pot.
More About Me
My career started in recruitment and this has naturally been added to my role for SocialB. Much like other agencies or small businesses, recruitment doesn’t come up all that often for us. But when we do need to find someone new, to a specific spec (you could say that we have a type), I often find that the market has changed into something you don’t understand. We hear all the time that it’s a candidate-led market, just meaning that the applicants have their pick, but it’s difficult to get to grips with.
Recent research from the British Chamber of Commerce said that 64% of businesses struggled to find the right people when recruiting in Q2 of 2019. So if that’s you, you are not alone at all. There are some fantastic people in the region who are tackling the skills gap in Norfolk specifically, but we are still working with a relatively remote workforce. The importance of being competitive and quick when recruiting is ramped up even higher.
With this mind, I am always happy to chat to other hiring managers about their process and whether it needs a re-vamp. It’s something we learnt the hard way and caused me a stressful few weeks (work piling up, applications slow down, interviews cancelling) and how do you take the power back?
To hear my full talk, you can access the podcast here.