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Job’s worth: how to find the ideal employee

In the intensifying war for talent, hiring the right people for the right roles is becoming increasingly important, as unhappy employees vote with their feet

Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development director Mary Connaughton: “Lots of people want more flexibility and autonomy in their jobs now”

Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development director Mary Connaughton: “Lots of people want more flexibility and autonomy in their jobs now”


People have never had it so good when it comes to career choice. With the economy approaching full employment and growing at full tilt, competition for their services grows ever more intense. And money is no longer the deal-maker or -breaker that it used to be. Nor indeed is the size of the company gas-guzzler in these environmentally conscious times.

Purpose, not petrol, and values rather than euros are now the order of the day, with happiness the ultimate goal. This means employers have to try harder than ever to hire the right people first time because cash and benefits blandishments aren’t going to stop dissatisfied employees heading for the exit door at the earliest opportunity.

Employers are responding to this and making genuine efforts to recruit people who fit in with their values and align with where they want to go as an organisation, according to Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development director Mary Connaughton.

In a tight jobs market, employers can lose candidates with long application processes

“We are seeing a lot more around employer branding,” she says. “They are making videos available of people working for them talking about what it’s like to work there. Candidates can look at profiles of people who work for organisations in certain roles and might say that’s the type of place they’d like to work, or not.”

She believes this increased transparency has a selection effect among candidates. “Employers want people who share their values and want to engage with them. They can build a community by connecting with those people who engage with them already – customers, suppliers, employees and other supporters. Those people will connect with others who share their values. When organisations are looking for candidates in future, these are the people to go to.”

One of the issues faced by employers is candidates who haven’t considered the values or purpose of an organisation before applying for a job with it. “Organisations often look for people who have thought a bit about the role but, in a tight jobs market, employers can lose candidates with long application processes,” Connaughton notes. “They allow candidates to click quickly to apply but might ask a question about why they want to work for the company. It’s all about getting the right people to apply. You don’t need 20 people applying if you get the right five.”

‘Power of your own employees’

“Leveraging the power of your own employees is vital,” says Paul Vance, head of resourcing at KPMG. “We find that attracting the right candidates is partly driven by making sure the business, and its employees, showcases itself to its audience across all channels via opportunities such as online job platforms, social media, campus days, and networking events.”

Existing employees can also be a direct source of candidates, according to John Cunningham, commercial director with recruitment agency Morgan McKinley. “One of the best things an organisation can do is have an employee referral programme,” he says. “Your employees should be your best ambassadors when it comes to attracting friends and acquaintances to come and work for you. Every organisation should have an incentive programme in place to promote this. It can be a phenomenally powerful way of attracting talent.”

Job ads are not working. The market is just too crowded, and candidates are faced with information overload

Micheline Corr is director of specialist hospitality recruitment agency The Firm. She believes direct intervention is required if organisations are to get the right people for senior positions. “Some companies are really great at communicating their employer brands by taking part in Great Place to Work and so on,” she notes. “If a job-seeker can see how a company is performing as an employer through people who have worked there and what they have to say about the company, it is much better than wasting everyone’s time.

“But job ads are not working,” she adds. “The market is just too crowded, and candidates are faced with information overload. Most online applications involve a quick click through process, and this produces an information deficit as well. An employer can get a lot of responses to an ad, but the number of matches is actually very low. If a junior HR person has to go through all the applications, they won’t always identify the matches and the right ones can get lost in the crowd.”

Professional recruiter

The solution, she argues, is to engage a professional recruiter. “Meeting with a recruiter to fully understand their talent, background, career objectives, and purpose of the job change can be very valuable for both a candidate and an employer,” she says. “We find out what they want to achieve and ensure they don’t apply for the wrong roles. That’s the value that we bring to the job-seeker. We also work with employers to help them achieve their objectives and guide them on what their offers should be in that regard.”

If an organisation is willing to trust people to work flexibly, the experience is that they get rewarded for that with higher output and productivity

Connaughton concurs that employers have to look at their own offer as well as what candidates are bringing to the table. “They have to look at the offer and make it more attractive. Lots of people want more flexibility and autonomy in their jobs now. Flexibility can mean lots of things and we would like to see all job advertisements saying the role can be done flexibly. We would like to see employers challenging themselves to do that.”

“This is an issue organisations have spoken about for a long time but very few actually have a flexible working policy,” says John Cunningham. “Employers need to offer remote and home working and flexitime. It is hugely important for work-life balance and mental health and wellbeing. If an organisation is willing to trust people to work flexibly, the experience is that they get rewarded for that with higher output and productivity.”

Candidates really appreciate robust, efficient hiring and interview processes

“There is a much greater focus on the employee experience and the purpose of the organisation now,” says Dervla McCormack, financial services partner, people and organisation, with PwC. “People are looking at an organisation’s vision and mission and asking if it is one they want to work for. They are asking what the purpose means to them and how they fit in with the vision. An organisation might be digital and progressive and offer interesting work. Candidates are also looking at the skills they might learn on their journey with an employer. People quickly get frustrated working for out-of-date organisations with legacy systems. They want to work for organisations that offer skills development opportunities and interesting work.”

‘Dynamic and exciting’

KPMG head of cyber security Dani Michaux agrees. “People want to know that they are going to be part of something dynamic and exciting. They also want to work on real-life, often demanding projects. In our world, the types of client we have can be a real selling point in attracting people – candidates want to know who they’ll be working with as they develop their experience and expertise.”

The hiring process is still important, according to Vance. “Candidates really appreciate robust, efficient hiring and interview processes,” he says. “We know they have choices, so we are committed to things like timely feedback for candidates on their application, interview and offer and making sure our remuneration is both competitive and attractive. We spend a lot of time making sure there is a good ‘fit’ with people. It really is a two-way street, so we are diligent about making sure people know about the opportunities and what is expected of them. We find candidates are equally thorough and it works for everybody.”

Organisations also need to find out why people are staying, not just why they are leaving. “You can’t be guaranteed the truth in exit interviews,” Vance notes. “People may have scores to settle. If you find out why people stay it can be a lot more valuable. If you find those individuals who are key influencers in the workplace, who are authentic, informed and trusted leaders who people go to for support and advice, not because of their seniority but because of who and what they are. Those people are part of the bedrock of an organisation and its culture and if you can find out why they are there you can create an environment where similar people will want to come and work for you. You can also use analytics to profile the people who stay and then try to select for them during the recruitment process.”

And that just might offer a solution. Look internally to establish the kind of people you’re looking for and use a professional recruiter where necessary to screen out those least likely to stay. And if that doesn’t work, it might just be time to rethink what you’re offering.

A unique approach pays dividends for MSD

“Our main challenge in Ireland continues to be the significant growth across the pharmaceutical sector,” says Maria Cullen, talent acquisition lead with MSD Ireland. “The world’s largest pharmaceutical companies are present here and therefore, the war on talent results in tough competition for similar skills and experiences, especially in STEM.

“We also recognise that today’s candidates require more than just a job; they want career growth, agile work practices, a sense of purpose and to work for an employer they can be proud of,” she adds.

MSD takes a unique approach to hiring. “We treat candidates as guests and through a highly inclusive and open process, offer them an insight into our culture, people, values and purpose,” says Cullen. “We have moved away from the formality of the traditional interview process setting, enabling candidates to express their authentic selves in an engaging way. We also inspire our employees and leaders to share their career journeys as talent ambassadors and this contributes to our success.”

The right skills and experiences are important but just part of what the company looks for in a candidate. “We strive to hire talent with the ability to cultivate and thrive in our existing culture,” she adds. “It’s not just about hiring a candidate for a job. It’s about hiring talent that wants to continue to grow and develop. This year, approximately 200 of our 600 hires were internal talent moves, demonstrating that MSD employees don’t have to change company to enjoy a diverse and rewarding career.”

Career progression opportunities help make MSD a very attractive place to work. “Given our significant portfolio of businesses, MSD is uniquely positioned to offer our employees excellent development opportunities without ever having to leave the island of Ireland,” says Lorraine Kenny, HR lead with MSD Ireland.

“Of our 2,500 employees, about 300 are in international roles, based out of Ireland. One of the key priorities of MSD’s country leadership team is to provide opportunities for talent to grow and develop, and in particular we have a focus on developing female talent to take on leadership roles. Our success in this space has driven our attrition rate to less than 5 per cent, significantly lower than the industry average.”

MSD is also launching new trust-based and flexible working policies to provide employees with the maximum flexibility possibilities within their role and team. “We also focus on making our policies more user-friendly and have developed tools to enable employees easily review our parental policies,” says Kenny.

“We are also about to launch a lifestyle policy designed to allow all employees take unpaid leave for periods of time to support lifestyle goals, but with the benefit of pro-rating pay over the course of the year,” she adds.

“Not only focusing on physical health but also supporting emotional and financial health and safety is very important for us. Indeed, a strong health and wellbeing culture represents a strengthened commitment on MSD’s part to build a culture in which employees and their families can live healthier, more enriched lives.

“In 2018, we launched ‘LIVE IT!’, a comprehensive and integrated approach to employee health and wellbeing. We believe supporting teams to make measurable improvements in their health and wellbeing is good for our employees and good for our business,” Kenny concludes.