Two big messages currently dominate the headlines around the labour market in the UK:
1. there are huge numbers of unemployed people, particularly young people, looking for work
2. there is also a skills gap and employers cannot find what they are looking for.
The CIPD points out in its ‘Employers are from Mars, young people are from Venus’ report that employers often complain that young people are not ‘work-ready’. The report also points out that there can be barriers to young people securing employment through the design of employers’ recruitment practices.
A big part of getting young people into employment – that is, an essential part of young people being ‘work-ready’- is preparing for interview. But interview coaching is essential for anyone, and not just the candidates. I was once told by a university careers adviser that interviewing is an art form, not a science. Some people are naturally good at being interviewed, and some of us have to practice. Similarly, on the interviewer side, some find it easy to pull out the information they want from a candidate, and others really need to work on this skill. Still others are sorely mistaken in thinking the onus is on the interviewee to do most of the work in the interview, but this is not the case. To run a successful recruitment you need to know what you’re looking for, and have several techniques at your disposal to find out if the candidate in front of you possesses those skills.
I would agree with the CIPD report in that recruitment processes should be examined to see if they really are open enough for employers to get what they need out of candidates, especially young ones, and also to enable different types of candidates to present themselves well and have an equal chance of getting hired. In a typical interview when all has gone very smoothly and a ‘fit’ stands out head and shoulders above the rest it’s usually because we’ve ended up recruiting someone broadly similar to the employee who has held the role before. The emphasis often seems to be on filling a role quickly and with as little risk as possible, but in taking that approach we’ve most likely missed out on a candidate who could be equally as good in the role but who would also offer something different to the organisation than the last person.
When that obvious hire doesn’t appear during the recruitment process, instead of employers getting frustrated at the quality of candidates, we should be thinking again about the process and about how to meet candidates in the middle, perhaps by being more transparent about our criteria. There’s no need to lambast your candidates on the internet as I have seen from some recently. Employers need to ask: what is the real reason our candidates are not up to scratch? Could it be that we haven’t been completely clear about what we were looking for in the first place? Or maybe we weren’t clear with ourselves about our criteria and we ended up interviewing the wrong people?
A great example of an organisation meeting candidates in the middle are the ‘Work with us‘ pages on CAFOD’s website. CAFOD, like a lot of NGOs, has quite a convoluted recruitment process, but it’s a good approach for them to try and explain the process to prospective employees. We can’t always assume that the best candidates are the ones who’ve managed to fill out the application form in the best manner, or we’ll only end up hiring people who are good at application forms (or good at producing killer CVs).
We also need to accept and get over the fact that what should be obvious to job applicants is seemingly not obvious anymore. It’s true that blatant job-hunting no-nos (don’t be late for the interview, do some research on the organisation you’re applying to, don’t lie on your CV…) seem to be lost on a few candidates. But it also could be said that what should be obvious to recruiters can also get lost in the panic to get a new employee into an empty desk (don’t answer your mobile during the interview, don’t describe the role in an completely negative way, don’t keep the candidate waiting because your schedule is disorganised…).
Problems in the recruitment process are not always on the candidate side. Just because there are lots of people out there looking for work doesn’t make it any easier to set the correct criteria and identify the best one for you to hire. And I wouldn’t move to criticise candidates unless you’ve done all you can as an employer to make the process as clear and open as possible.