The proven ways to attract and hire top talent

28 Nov 2018

The proven ways to attract and hire top talent

If finding and attracting the best talent has never been easy, the disruptive pace of change has made it tougher than ever. So, what is the key to success?

In the previous chapter of ‘Leadership, Disrupted’, we explained the very different expectations of millennial talent in the workplace. In this chapter, we tackle how businesses in the real world are finding effective ways to attract and hire them, based on our interviews with the APAC leaders of 70 MNCs.

Every HR Director and business leader is talking about ‘agility’. In a world where the skill-sets that are relevant today will be surpassed tomorrow, they want people who can learn and adapt.

The business environment has become fluid and people who can learn new things and thrive in ambiguity are in demand. This requirement has become just as important as experience. It narrows the field and is pushing companies to re-think their strategies, benchmarks and even the work environment itself.

Taking control of the story

‘Managing the employer value proposition’ is not a new concept, but it’s one that is now taken much more seriously amongst senior leadership teams.

Many APAC leaders we interviewed spoke about this and see this as part of their day job now. Why?

Well, potential employees used to look at a company’s website, the annual report and recent press, as preparation for an interview. That’s information that can be mostly controlled by the company. Today, with social media and damning comments from disgruntled ex-employees on sites like Glassdoor, that control is lost forever.

Managing perceptions

Several of the leaders we interviewed explained how they proactively work to manage the external perception. These two comments were from hugely successful global companies that found they needed to re-shape the market perception of who they are as an employer.

“From an R&D perspective, we have re-shaped the company in a way that we are a cool company to join for the best and brightest. Founded in 1939, re-invented in 2015”.

“I am working to make our industry attractive [again] to people who are looking for a great career.”

Talented people are looking for leaders they can learn from and want to follow. This executive was passionate about taking on public speaking opportunities to create the right positioning: “External evangelism is important because it helps with hiring.”

Some older industries are really struggling to compete and work out how to fix this. “Young people are hard to attract and retain. We are not a very attractive sector for young people to join.”

Adding attractions

For those pro-actively changing themselves to meet the expectations of the talent market, this can require financial investment - “We had to re-design the workplace so that it is attractive to people.”

For others, it means taking stock of and learning to talk about the company’s true strengths.

“We use our culture as a competitive advantage. This is a global project, driven by the CEO.”

As they say, ‘like attracts like’. “We removed limitations on how quickly people could move up. These young people are attracting other young people.”

As this leader explained that “Employees do not expect lifelong employment and in turn, we do not expect lifelong loyalty. Together, we commit to helping them achieve their goals, while they help us achieve ours.”

In the last chapter, we addressed the subject of millennials, but the employer value proposition is relevant at every level. It is not difficult to get this right, but many companies do not do this well.

Hiring getting harder

Nobody commented that hiring is easier today than before. “The war for talent has escalated. Our traditional competitors are still there, but now we are competing with well-funded start-ups that don’t have constraints.”

Some companies (mostly tech), have real pull because of their market position and trajectory.

“When you are riding on the front of the wave and have scale, everyone wants to talk to you.”

For most, this is not the case. And those companies struggling to attract talent are often their own worst enemy. The hiring process itself can be seen as a component of the employer value proposition. It is the first direct thing that an employee experiences.

Many MNCs, with the objective of being thorough, create a torturous process for candidates that really sends the wrong message. This happens at every level. Companies looking to hire agile people, need to show off their agility in the hiring process!

Attitude is almost all

We often heard that attitude was more important than ever, but this company had run the numbers to prove that: “Attitude before skills in recruitment is directly linked to higher retention.”

Finally, there was a great deal of discussion about how the education system is not keeping pace with the real-world skills needed. This highly-educated CEO has taken an interesting position on their graduate intake program to me. “It does not matter to me if people have a degree. We have started bringing in ‘apprentices’. They are our future leaders.”

The interview

Most interviews are still focused on skills and experience. The CV allows the interviewer to explore the skills and experience of the candidate from their previous roles. Only then is there a subjective assessment about cultural fit.

A more scientific approach, using assessment tools is becoming critical as “mindset” is now considered just as important as “skill-set”.

This kind of comment is something we heard very frequently. “I look for people who have done different things in their career.” The point being that people have demonstrated that they seek change as part of their DNA.

This comment highlights a problem where decisions about the agility of a candidate need a different approach - “I am frustrated by our inability to hire leaders with dexterity – those who can drive change.”

“The talent in their 20’s are no more agile than the older generations. It’s the education system.”

Others have a different view - “Younger people seem to be less bound by the past, so can accept change.”

Positive qualities

The following comments came from two very different sectors, with real cultural differences.

One leader spoke about how for many years he has looked for specific qualities when hiring leaders. He went on to explain that he now looks for these qualities in every hire.

“Firstly, I look for humility. The world is changing so fast that we need to understand that we don’t have the answers. The value of experience is diminishing and the value of learning is rising. Secondly, I look for agility. What we have learned in the last six months can be more relevant than the last 20 years. We need to take the risk on different people. Thirdly, I look for authenticity. The need to be an aspirational leader is more important than ever.”

And then this final comment from a very fast-growing technology company leader. For them, the skills they need do not yet exist outside of their company, so their hiring requirements as they grow are not just about the hard skills the candidate has today. “75% of every job interview is about leadership principles.”

Hiring from other sectors

When companies value mindset as much as skill-set, then the relevant talent pool in any industry becomes much smaller. The leaders we interviewed, who are truly driving change, have broadened their view on where to find good people.

“We cannot be constrained by key people from our industry. Many of our best hires have come from outside our industry. We have worked on a constant infusion of fresh blood. They ask different kinds of questions.” (A comment from the transport sector.)

“Some people can transition and understand new models, but not all. You need some new people. People from Finance and IT consulting.” (Healthcare)

“We are no longer hiring from our competition, but from the tech sector. They say we can do it when our traditional people say we cannot.” (Property)

“For hiring, we have thrown away the rulebook.”

Let’s talk pay

There is no easy answer on the importance of pay. Here are three comments that all respond in different and contrasting ways:

“In Asia, the financial component of employment is still the highest factor.”

“Staff are focused on quality of life as a priority. Our generation would have moved to East Timor for a career opportunity. This is increasingly difficult now. It’s the trade-off between professional development and quality of life. In the past, mobility was refused for family reasons, today it’s a lifestyle.”

“The office location has become extremely important for attraction and retention. Pay is just an element.”

Attracting and landing top talent will remain a top three item on every executive’s priority list. The good news is, as we heard, getting better at this is not difficult. But it is clear from our interviews with MNC leaders, it takes a real effort from the whole leadership team, not just from HR.

In the next chapter devoted to talent, we’ll reveal how MNCs in APAC are keeping hard-won talent engaged and the critical importance of diversity.


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