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I hear endless stories about great innovations in recruitment (usually with the word “digital” attached—although what form of work these days doesn’t have a digital component— so if it needs to be stated, then isn’t the point being missed already?) Not wanting to miss out, I asked my team to undertake a quick survey of employers and employees on both sides of the Atlantic to ask them what has really made a difference and what could make a difference moving forwards.
The one theme that stood out was the cry of “please, can we put the human touch back into recruitment?” There are some brilliant companies who have written code so that they can carry out video interviews by computer, removing all human bias, with the claim that these programs are “as successful as their in-person interviews” at making the right hire. But this doesn’t provide the experience potential employees want—especially graduates or entry-level hires. Not only does a computer “read” the CVs, screening out if someone has made a typo, missed a comma or, God forbid, gone to a fee-paying school, it goes one step further in this madness of automation and actually conducts the interview itself. Did we all get lazy? Do we really think that the most important thing that a company has– its people– should be outsourced to an automaton?
There are a number of serious repercussions to automating recruitment. For example, at one of the global “Big 4” accountancy firms where the Vice Chair always cared about training the firm’s “up and comers,” he asked some of the year 1 graduates to join him on a major client meeting. They were suited and booted, on time and as eager as young pups can be. The only problem was that, when the VC tried to engage them in delicate banter— the soft chit chat that could put a client at ease—these young hires had a distinct lack of warmth and ease of communication style. Shocked that these were the best candidates his company had found, the VC decided he couldn’t take them into the client meeting, and then delved into the recruitment process they had been hired through. Their CVs were immaculate, they had overcome any number of obstacles and disadvantages, had led societies, done internships, worked at the local food bank, got first-class degrees, but no one had actually checked to see if they had the softer skills that would allow them to win the hearts and minds of their colleagues and potential clients. It had all been automated.
Additionally, at the moment, we are advised to “work from home where possible.” Is it really possible to carry out successful inductions and integrate someone into a business’ culture if they are working from home? We have seen that new remote hires take much longer to adapt and really struggle mentally to engage with their new organisations. It is just too important to leave their onboarding experience to chance, as well as their recruitment. We owe it to our people to give them the best possible chance of success in the workplace for their own well-being and that of the organisation. If people are comfortable enough to go out partying over the weekend, but are less happy to come into the office during the working week, we might see the growing trend of employing people from other parts of the globe who are prepared to give a bit more and relish the job opportunities that are out there.I’ve witnessed firsthand how making in-person connections is critical to retaining talent and bringing new hires into the fold of a company’s culture. In Autumn 2020, for instance, we saw a fast-growing fintech company looking to make a couple of significant hires into their leadership team. Their board and investors were spread across both sides of the Atlantic, but the main operations were based in London. Interestingly, throughout the global selection process, it was candidates based in more hardship countries like Brazil and India who would have done anything to meet in person; it was those on the board who were not willing to take that risk. (Arguably, if the right measures had been put in place, there would not have been much risk, but staying remote seemed more like the easy option.) Two candidates were selected and joined the business, both working and inducted remotely. One had previously known some of the management team; the other had no personal connections or history with them. The latter candidate left after nine months, as, although he loved the business and the opportunity, he felt he was never able to develop a real attachment with his peer group or the organisation. Since he was never able to create the loyalty needed to really flourish, it left him open to approaches. After leaving, he joined a company where he already knew some of the team, and which had a much more dynamic work/home balance.
Our young folk need to be engaged with, inspired, and empowered by their more senior colleagues. This is exhausting for both sides if not done in person, so we need to go back to working four days a week with our colleagues and friends, not just one or two. That being said, we should keep embracing the new workday flexibility to increase employee satisfaction and work-life balance. This should be around people’s working patterns during the day: -a genuine acceptance of school pick-ups and drop-offs or acknowledging that some thrive on an early start and want to go to the gym mid-afternoon. We have completely embraced people working remotely, but seem scared to open our minds to agile working patterns during the day. We need to take responsibility, as leaders, for setting the right direction for our people— not taking the easy option, but striving to be a visible part of an in-person team.
So, bring back the personal touch—interview in person, spend time with your new people and don’t leave it all to a machine.
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