Want to win the war on talent? This is what you need in your war chest

You can’t do great work without great people, and in many parts of the PR and marketing industry, the right talent is increasingly hard to come by. With skills shortages jeopardising everything from the delivery of particular campaigns to even the sustainability of whole business models, our founder and CEO Alice Weightman discusses the strategies that can help leaders in communications stay one step ahead in the talent wars…

Talent is a perennial concern for CEOs in the PR/marketing/public affairs space. It affects the industry at both a micro level – getting the right people in place, when you need them – and at a macro level, leading to upward pressure on wages that erodes bottom lines and makes survival a challenge.  And, of course, with Brexit looming (at least at the time of writing), we are facing another great unknown that could lead to attrition of talent from the industry. These are challenging times, but there are several things businesses can do in order to make finding – and keeping – talent easier.

Hone your employee brand

So often agency websites are sales-focussed i.e. geared toward winning new clients. However, you can’t service these clients without the right talent so of equal importance is selling yourself to prospective new hires. A dull page just asking people to send in their CVs won’t cut it anymore; use your website as your shop window and make sure it is clear why the best candidates should want to come and work for you and what makes you stand out from the competition.

Build a talent pipeline

This takes time and effort but building a talent pipeline long before you actually need that talent within the business really does pay dividends. Liaising with potential hires on an ongoing basis, building warm contacts and doing the soft sell over a longer period of time can mean that when you do need talent, much of the relationship-building is already done and great candidates are already half way to joining you. If you do not have the capacity to do this in-house, a good head-hunter will be able to ensure that the right conversations are happening.

Re-think your interview process

This is a candidate-led market and that means that many comms businesses should be re-framing how they see the interview process. Power has shifted towards candidates and star hires (and sometimes even their less impressive peers) know that they can rely on offers from several agencies, and play them off against each other to ensure they get the best possible salary. In these market conditions, seeing the interview process as merely a chance for employees to sell themselves to you won’t work. Equally important is selling your organisation to them.

Think outside the (London, full time, extensive industry experience) box

Technology means that we simply don’t all need to work in the same office, in the same city at the same time. So one way businesses can tackle their skills shortages is by using technology to broaden their talent pool geographically, whether that means recruiting outside of London or even enabling employees affected by Brexit to carry on working remotely from another country.

Similarly, ‘returnships’ can help businesses gain access to latent talent by reintroducing those who have been out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities, while breaking up roles into new, part time positions can help widen the pool to include senior talent only in the market for non-FT roles.

Parallel recruitment – that is recruiting from complementary industries – can also pay dividends in the long run. Indeed, we have just introduced a new service called Parallel People that helps businesses do just that.

Build your own flexible talent pool

Some businesses shy away from hiring freelance talent for fear it will be too expensive, but actually, freelancers can often prove better value than employed talent. Often, they’ll be senior-level professionals who are very much ‘a safe pair of hands’, with the ability to carry out work much more quickly (and effectively) than more junior in-house colleagues, meaning they actually prove more cost-effective. Platforms dedicated to finding, managing and paying freelancers, such as our sister company The Work Crowd can make the whole process of building and managing a freelance talent pool so much easier.

And whatever you do, don’t panic buy…

There’s an old saying: “Buy cheap, buy twice” and certainly a bad hire can end up costing your business more in the long run. In fact, some estimates place the long-term cost of hiring the wrong person at around three times that person’s salary. When interviewing, don’t just take a transactional view of whether this person can more or less plug a current gap in your business. Instead, assess them on cultural fit, values, ethics – it’s these things that will help glue your business to the right people in the long term.

Posted on 12.04.2019

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