Gettler: To pick the right people, search carefully

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This article appeared in the August, 2009 issue of CRN magazine.

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Gettler: To pick the right people, search carefully

Despite the increased numbers looking for work, finding staff in a recession is not any easier.

The downturn and global recession has provided resellers with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recruit the best brains in the business.

But recruitment and management specialists say they need to tread carefully. Finding the best and brightest in this market throws up a number of key questions.

How do you identify, recruit and retain talent in a buyer's market when so many are looking for work? More to the point, how do you do it when you might be laying off staff in other, less profitable areas of the business?

Where do you find talent? How do you groom recruits and what incentives should you offer? And how do you manage their integration into the company if the rest of staff is shell-shocked from cost cuts and redundancies?

To recruit effectively, companies need to look at their strategies, stress test them against the current conditions and identify where they want to be when the recovery finally comes.

Why is that? Because it forces them to assess how the recruit will help the business.
That gives resellers the opportunity to identify their competitive strengths and examine ways of improving their firepower. By doing that, they can identify and examine the skills the company needs when the market bounces back.

The chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Management in Melbourne, Susan Heron, says: "Before you even start hiring, you have to look at where the business is going. You need to look at the skills you need to bring into the organisation and what skills you will need to beat your competition."

Resellers need a special breed of recruit. They need people who think outside the box, who are one step ahead of the competition, who know how to package themselves and their products and who are flexible in how they make decisions.

They are different from the kind of sales, pre-sales and service delivery person or project manager in a boom market who sits back and waits for the customers and projects to come in. They are proactive, they are prepared for knock backs and they are more competitive.

Despite the number of people looking for work, finding people like that is not easy. The reality of the shakeout is that those who were not performing that well have lost their jobs. As Adaps IT Recruitment general manager Adrian Lund says, it's not like picking low hanging fruit.

"There still needs to be a lot of diligence and energy put into selecting the right person to make sure they suit the business,'' Lund says.

"If anyone is looking to hiring the moment, I would strongly suggest they act strategically. It's just as easy to make a wrong decision as it is to make a right decision about hiring someone."

It means looking at the business model and identifying how it is different from competitors.

And a due diligence process means checking every part of the potential recruit's background and asking the right questions in the interview to match the job being offered. There's one golden rule: past performance points to future performance and asking the right questions sheds light on that.

For example, if you are looking for a salesman working in a high risk environment, ask about the time they worked to a deadline. What did they do to meet it? Was the risk worthwhile?

Unless the business is just looking for someone who can fill in for the next six months, the employer need to look at where they see the business in two to four years time.

Where to find talent? There are four different markets. First, there is the active market of jobs boards like Seek, MyCareer and CareerOne.

Then there are networks, either social networks such LinkedIn or your own networks of contacts and colleagues. A third option is staff referrals. Employees usually have their ears to the ground. The added advantage with staff referrals is that it is easier to integrate the person into the organisation when they have been nominated by staff.

The final, most difficult but potentially most rewarding market is where companies go out headhunting and poach from competitors.

This has a two fold advantage: you get someone who would be great for the organisation and at the same time it puts your competitor at a disadvantage. On the other hand, it means paying extra.

Still, it is worth remembering that in this market, it is easier to recruit people at a discount rate. And besides, a good sales person is worth their salary many times over.

Rewarding and grooming is another key issue and needs to be handled with finesse. Andy Cross, managing director of IT headhunting company Ambition IT, says there are two ways of grooming and rewarding star recruits: money and career opportunities.

"These people are more self motivated and self-driven so the grooming you have to do is to keep them motivated and offer them stimulating career opportunities,'' Cross says.

"Good sales people are likely to be motivated by money and if they are earning the money and they can see the potential for developing larger accounts and better reward systems and career progression, that will be their motivation."

The final challenge is integrating the recruit into the organisation at a time when there are cost cuts and sackings.

Management specialists say the only thing one can do is be straight down the line. Openness and honesty with the rest of staff, and the recruit, goes a long way. As a rule, people deal better with tragedy than they do with uncertainty.

Specialists also say that when bringing in the recruit, the focus needs to be on the position, not the individual. The company's managers should emphasise what the new position will do for the organisation. After all, that's what recruitment is all about.

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