Dear Colleagues,

The various engineering companies’ recruiting practices never cease to amaze me in how varied and often random they appear to be. This applies to all situations – no matter whether one is recruiting a plumber to chief engineer and from a one-man to a multinational company.

Apart from the usual travails of attracting a good candidate (who if often giving up a good job) and then finding out the company that was hiring her was systematically going bust, to the usual one of finding out there is a total mismatch between job and candidate. It is an enormously expensive process hiring and then training up someone for a position and the cost to the business is incalculable and wide reaching when the wrong person is hired. As often happens.

Some modest suggestions for your next recruitment campaign:

Get agreement from everyone at the firm on who you actually want. Often the job has changed subtly over time and the requirements are completely different to what the job description indicates.  Sometimes, you don’t need to recruit an additional person – you just need to restructure the existing jobs.

Review your advertisement before placing it up on the web. Often it is from old materials and is outdated. Ensure you don’t embarrass yourself with an advertisement that is twenty years out of date referring to old company premises.

Recruit internally before looking outside. In other words; ensure that everyone has an opportunity to ‘throw their hat in the ring’. No matter how unsuited; it is worthwhile considering every person interested in the job. It will sharpen your focus on what is required in the job.

Write an advert that is strong on’ What is it in for me’. Ensure you sell the position with the positives of the position (but at the same time don’t lie or oversell). Give the honest benefits of the job. There is a fight to find good people with talent. Even in recessions; good people are always in short supply. So you have to compete against other recruiters for this person.

Plan your interview carefully with a good preamble and solid questions to maximize the opportunity for the candidate to ‘expose themselves’ so that you can clearly see whether there is a fit or not. Focus on telling the candidate the disadvantages in the job (e.g. travel or obnoxious clients) or the company. Total honesty with the candidate is critical to establish a long term relationship. I also ask the candidate what they want in terms of remuneration. Rather than imposing this on them. This is obviously controversial but I believe it gives one a good honest indication of what they are after. Ensure that the key players are in on the interviews and a candidate is suddenly thrust on them.

Ask What Would Happen if Successful. Do they have other jobs offers to consider or would they get a counter offer. Sometimes, it identifies a candidate who is not particularly interested in the job but who is simply shopping around.

Don’t Take Someone On because you Have run out of time. Often the current incumbent to the position has left and it is now becoming urgent to get someone to fill the role. It is best to use a temporary replacement until you find the right person. It is worth waiting for the right person. No matter how long it takes. As with a bad marriage; in hooking up with the wrong person it can be an expensive and lonely process to disentangle.

The only alternative if you simply can’t find the right person is to see whether you can restructure the job requirements to make it more appealing. Giving certain elements to other people in the firm.

Thanks to Elizabeth Lions of the IEEE for an interesting article entitled: Five Mistakes Leaders make when Hiring.

As Steve Jobs' comments apply to good recruiting design: 'Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works'.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve