Hunt Hearts, not Heads

During a recent project, a client needed to get their current vacancies out to more individuals than we had managed via the usual channels. Without going in to excessive detail, they needed the best of a certain type of software developer – the sort that genuinely loves coding, is eager to learn and can share their knowledge as well as being incredibly good.  It wasn’t about the individual’s formal education – a relatively unqualified but ardent bedroom coder could easily trump a first class graduate with no real passion.  The client wasn’t a bad payer either, but neither were they the best.

Between us, we had all been involved in recruiting a very long time. The Client knew what a great person looked like for them, whilst I have spent my career understanding what is attractive to candidates.  We needed agents to help spread our message and we searched on LinkedIn for the people we felt best capable of doing that. Note that we searched for recruiters, not their agencies.  We wanted well connected people to add value to our company processes rather than specific agencies that claimed to be jacks of all trades.

We approached external recruiters because we believed we had something potential employees should know about that wasn’t reaching them by other means.  We wanted them to know about an organisation created as a place developers can fulfil their technical potential; where they can be creative and where there is an environment of like-minded individuals and myriad social, cultural and sporting opportunities for those that want them.  In short, an environment consciously created for decent developers.  All of this (and more) was explained in the recruitment section of the site (I know; I poured my heart in to writing most of it).

Yet having been given a chance to research us, all the recruiters we spoke to focussed on was the language my client develops in and some of the big name brands they’ve worked with – information that’s OK for explaining to a new partner’s parents what you do for a living, but not really a great reason to go to work.  Why hadn’t they picked up on the experience being offered to candidates? Has recruitment training taught consultants to obsess on names and numbers when trying to get candidates on side rather than think about the bigger picture? I mention this not because the recruiters didn’t come good in the end – they all had great networks and with a little education soon became the   ambassadors I needed. But it gets to the point of where recruitment needs to go. The how big (is the company), how many (people are in the team), how much (will I get paid) questions are no longer key to unlocking the best talent.  These are the head-driven arguments that give larger companies an advantage and add weight to their employer brand, but an attractive employer is so much more than that.

Expectations and values are shifting. More and more well qualified people (not simply the fabled millennials) want to spend their work time on activities that add value to them as individuals rather than simply rake in the cash.  Decent employers go out of their way to recognise this, thinking about not just professional development and accomplishment but also the ways they can positively impact the personal lives of their teams.  Decent candidates know these employers exist.  When explaining an opportunity to a candidate, recruiters need to think about how an employer will benefit them in all their aspects.  They need to understand what makes the employer and the candidate tick.  And  employers need to do more to help recruiters understand them too.  Not in the form of a perfunctory coffee meet, but by being able to articulate and demonstrate their stated employer proposition in their candidate marketing collateral and in their words and deeds.

In time we managed to bring our consultants up to speed on how to articulate the value proposition, becoming the first employer they proposed to their best candidates. This wasn’t necessarily because we were the ones that could straight away capture the heads of candidates, but we certainly stood the best chance with their hearts.

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