How to recruit and retain the best staff

Having the right staff can be key to a company's success or failure. The methods you use to hire new employees are important, but so is learning how to keep hold of the really good ones. Helen French finds out what the channel has to say on the matter?
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Your best employee decides to emigrate to Australia. How do you replace them – and then ensure your new staffer wants to stay put?

Before advertising, consider your firm’s reputation or how well known the brand is – companies that are well thought of are more likely to attract strong candidates.

As Scott Wilkinson from SimplyFixIT says: “The reputation you build as a company in the public eye goes a long way to set the scene for prospective employees.”

There are a number of ways to advertise. Advertising locally is one option, or via online resources like Gumtree. Consider social media, too. If you have a lot of industry followers on Twitter, for example, you may be able to reach an interested party that way – and for free.

Mike Trup, MD of distributor Interactive Ideas, prefers to keep recruitment in-house. He says: “It is our belief that most agencies are just the equivalent of human estate agents and care more about placing candidates at exorbitant fees than suitability and sustainability.”

Naturally, the recruitment agents we spoke to didn’t agree, believing that there’s a lot they can do to help smooth out the hiring process.

Gary Janes, director of Channel Recruit, says: “Agencies save time. Also, very rarely do internal HR departments have the skills required to attract talent into their business.”

Andy Campbell, from games specialist Specialmove Recruitment, comments: “Agencies have the resources, network and reach to represent the client company and take the opportunity to a much larger audience. They offer real value for money.”

The ideal candidate
Once you know where you’re advertising, make sure to set your criteria clearly. What kind of person are you looking for? What skills do they need to have?

It’s tempting to assume this is all you need to do, but sometimes the best candidates need to be proactively sourced. Agencies can assist with this, as can some serious networking yourself.

Janes suggests: “Headhunting for people with certain skill sets or industry/product experience is the most time-effective way of ensuring you get the best possible candidates. It’s unlikely that a top performing sales executive will have his or her CV floating around on a job board.”

Making your mind up
When the CVs start pouring in, it’s time to whittle the candidates down to a select few – which is often a lot harder than it sounds.

Back to Janes, who comments: “If you have a lot of candidates, set more criteria and filter quickly. Always remove candidates with spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and so on. Don’t accept it.”

Sometimes you have to wait until interview to see what people are really like. Wilkinson says: “I am looking for people with a personality, someone who can talk to me with passion, without resorting to jargon. I am a firm believer that product knowledge can be taught, but passion and a warm personality can’t.”

Trup reports: “My philosophy is to ‘hire for attitude and train for skill’. If the attitude is right everything else can be developed.”

Keep hold of your (wo)man
Hiring the right person is only half the battle. Keeping hold of them requires hard work too.

Though there aren’t necessarily lots of jobs about at the moment, thanks to the state of the economy, the best staff are always in demand. Money can sometimes be a factor, but often they simply want to move to a new opportunity. So how do you hang onto them? A number of factors can help persuade staff to stick around, from company culture to training.

Trup comments: “We believe in recruiting locally where possible as it helps retention rates and also hiring people with more capability than the role they are in currently, thereby giving them career position.”

Staff can get frustrated if they feel they can’t get any further up the career ladder. Wilkinson feels SimplyFixIT is lucky to be in a period of growth at the moment: “We’re opening new stores, which means there are positions to move up to. As a new store opens we always try to manage it from internal candidates.”

Training is another way to help staff feel their career is going somewhere, and while it can take staff out of the office or shop sometimes, it can also benefit you as they improve.

Craig Hume of Utopia Computers says: “Training is important. We put a large emphasis on skills improvement. Two of our staff are currently finishing a diploma in Customer Service.”

A little happiness goes a long way
Offering benefits doesn’t have to cost you and can boost morale, too. Take childcare vouchers, for example. They enable employees to make tax savings on childcare fees, but also save firms as you don’t have to pay NI on the vouchers.

You could also think about offering flexible hours to those with childcare needs (see below).

Janes warns employers not to be complacent about staff happiness. He suggests staff surveys can be a good way to measure morale and point out ways to improve things.

Finally, Campbell says: “Reward and recognise your staff’s hard efforts. Build an environment of appreciated and unity. Get this right and staff loyalty will be high.”

Flexible Thinking

Over the last few years recruiter Women Like Us has helped over 1,000 employers find part-time and flexible staff, from marketing managers to IT consultants to project managers. We asked them why flexible work could spell good fortune for business.

What do employers gain when they offer flexible work?

The benefits are clear. Flexible jobs are hugely popular to a ‘hidden pool’ of people who have talent and experience by the bucketful, but who have taken time out of the job market and now want to return. And it means that companies can find highly skilled people without the expense of a full-time salary. If you only need a £40k person for three days per week, why pay for five?

And does this approach also help firms retain staff?
If employers are keen to keep loyal and experienced staff once they take on family responsibilities – part-time and flexible is the way to go. Surveys show that employees who work flexibly are more motivated to work efficiently and less likely to leave. People really value part-time working patterns and are willing to go the extra mile in return.

What about businesses that claim flexible workers wouldn’t fit in with their current working practices?
It may not work for everyone, but for the vast majority of businesses creating and adapting jobs that can work outside the nine to five norm makes sure that your staff – your biggest asset – are as productive and as cost-effective as possible.

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