How to get the right person for the job

When the CEO of the US financial giant Schwab is deciding whether to appoint someone for a job, he often takes them out to breakfast. Beforehand, he arranges with the manager of the restaurant to deliberately mess up the candidate’s order.  

“I do that because I want to see how the person responds,” Walt Bettinger recently told The New York Times. “That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset, are they frustrated or are they understanding? Life is like that, and business is like that. It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.” 

A former senior public sector official in South Africa also liked to eat with candidates, and paid very close attention to a number of behaviours – including whether they taste their food before they add salt. This, he believes, tells you something about whether they take a considered approach to life. 

Scoff all you like, but managers can’t be blamed for taking extra and unorthodox measures to vet people: a misjudged appointment can be disastrous, and extremely costly. 

Unfortunately, this cautious approach has to be balanced with the struggle to find suitable candidates in South Africa. There is a large shortage in key skills, an arms race to find transformation candidates, as well as a growing disillusionment among especially younger workers about working for large corporates.  

So how do you find the right kind of person for your team?

Cast a wide net

Using your own networks remains an important way of finding the right candidate. Key, though, is doing it in a structured way, says Hein Koen, co-founder of the sim card management firm Flickswitch, which operates in a number of African markets.

First, compile a formal job specification, detailing what is expected from the position. Share it through your website and social media channels, and send it to your contacts throughout the industry who may refer you to a suitable candidate.  

Flickswitch has also found a number of candidates through LinkedIn. The platform is ideal for well-defined positions with standardised job tiles (for example, “operations manager”), says Koen.

For a relatively small amount, LinkedIn offers great tools to find a range of candidates with specific experience. For more strategic roles, however, the platform has its limitations. 

To find staff in less senior positions and who can start working immediately, the new South African recruitment app, Giraffe, is gaining traction.

Think “Tinder meets recruitment”: Giraffe connects you to suitable workers who are available in your location. Companies like Spur and Pizza Hut are already using the app, which recently won the $500 000 grand prize at the Seedstars World Start-Up competition in Switzerland. 

Become an employer of choice

Your company need not be the biggest in the industry, or offer extravagant perks, but to attract the right kind of people, it needs to convey the right kind of culture. Highlight attractive aspects of your company culture in all interviews and other interactions.

For example, this could be that you provide a mature working environment, where employees have a voice in decision-making, says Esté Buchholz, senior specialist: Human Capital at Deloitte.

Make sure that you have a thorough understanding of what would appeal to candidates for a specific job, Buchholz adds. A graphic designer may want a creative and “vibey” environment, with access to the latest technology, while for a chartered accountant, the opportunity to develop their career path is typically quite crucial.

Don’t be too rigid about minimum requirements and skillset

“Our philosophy is to find the right person and to keep them busy,” says Koen. Don’t fixate on whether the person has exactly the right skills and experience.

“Recruiting on experience is risky. Just because someone was in a position for five years, doesn’t mean they were necessarily good at the job. Skills can be acquired.”

More important is to find someone with the right attitude and personality for your position. For example, a client-facing role requires someone who is comfortable with people, while a developer may need to have a focused and detail, orientated disposition. 

If you ask for three years’ post-graduate experience, be open to interview someone who may fall short by a year or two.

This is often where it pays to have a good relationship with a professional recruiter, who can pre-interview all candidates and recommend someone who may be perfect for the role, but whose CV may not fit the bill exactly. 

Don’t forget junior and mid-level staff

Companies dedicate immense resources to executive recruitment while often overlooking the importance of mid-level and junior staff, says Buchholz.

“If you attract the right younger candidates, and invest in their development, you are cultivating the executives of tomorrow. This will help with succession planning – a crucial part of any business.”

Be respectful

Remember that the whole interview process will be a powerful reflection on your brand, says Buchholz. Treat all candidates with respect; for example, always start the interview on time and show an interest in their input.

Keep in contact with them throughout the process, and take particular care with your communication when they are not successful.

This article originally appeared in the 17 March 2016 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here

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