How to Hire Well – Building a Centre of Excellence

How to Hire Well – Building a Centre of Excellence

5 minutes

This post is the third in a series about building a centre of excellence.  Last time I wrote about why a centre of excellence is a competitive advantage in business.  This time … I am torn!  Should I next talk about developing your existing people, or about hiring new staff?
 
It was a close call.  I’ll cover developing your existing staff next time.
 
Here, I’ll expand on topics I only touched on last time, about sowing that first seed:  hiring well.
 
Hiring is relatively easy.  There are plenty of people out there in the tech industry who are looking for work at any given time.  Recruitment of candidates is not like shopping for groceries (where one box of cereal is the same as any other). If you follow that pattern, you will only ever attain an average hiring process at best.
 
You can make this worse, if you don’t put in the required hours. Hiring can be a labour-intensive process too, especially if you are doing it diligently.
 
Its almost certain that whilst you are interviewing candidates, they are interviewing you & your company too.  They want to assess if this is the sort of place they want to work, so candidates will be looking for evidence.  You can’t wait until you have a great candidate before you think about  these sorts of things. You had better have some evidence ready at the point of interview, or they will decline your offer and take another role elsewhere.
 
When candidates do decline an offer, they usually won’t tell you why.  They will make some polite excuse, and decline. You will then either have to keep searching (expensive) or take a lesser candidate (differently expensive).
 
In essence, you will struggle to get good feedback on your recruitment process.
 
Below are my 4R’s for better recruitment practices when building a centre of excellence.
 

Relationships

 
A relationship with your recruiter can last longer than either of you in your current positions!  And it’s not only hiring managers moving roles and still calling the recruiter they worked with before.  I have know of several companies, where a hiring manager has followed the recruiter when the recruiter moved agency. Relationships are at the core of great hiring. They take time to build and time to nurture. That kind of investment is hard to throw away!
 
This is also about not outsourcing recruitment to your HR department.  Certainly for technology roles, HR are rarely equipped to tell a good tech CV from an average one.  This is definitely not a criticism, its a recognition that specialists can easily slip through a standard HR net.  And, as we established in my last post, average just won’t do.
 

Role

 
Part of building a relationship with a few good recruiters, is being able to give them a crystal clear idea of the type of person for whom you are hiring.  No, I promise you that this isn’t as easy as it sounds!
 
First things first, make sure your job description is not just generic padding – that helps neither you nor the recruiter.  It also doesn’t help any prospective candidates, who won’t be able to judge this role against all the other roles at which they are looking.  (Remember the golden rule:  talented people have choices.)
 
Next, talk with your recruiter.  If they are worth their salt at all, they will want to talk to you about the role.  For them, its like getting the answers to an exam question ahead of time!  They need to know what will get you to make an offer to a candidate.
 
For example, whenever I have recruited for a Scrum Master there are several things that recruiters usually think I want for this kind of role.  These are almost all wrong, or of less importance to me than they imagine.  Here are some examples:
 
  • Scrum Master Certification – I don’t care if the candidate is a certified Scrum Master or not.
 
  • “An Agile Coach is “better” than a Scrum Master.” This is not true in my experience. Both titles get used seemingly at random, so don’t describe competency well.
 
  • “Number of years experience is important”. The type of experience a candidate has is more important than amount, and even then, its only of medium interest.
 
  • “The more teams the Scrum Master ‘looked after’ ( or *shudder* ‘managed’) the better they must have been”. Er, no.
 
The only way the recruiter will know what you really mean when you say ‘Scrum Master’ is if you tell them what is important and what isn’t.  This takes time, and so, if you are going to spend that time, do it properly and make sure its with someone you want to work with over and over again.
 
Just like all Scrum Masters are not the same, neither are all recruiters.  Let’s not recruiter-bash, many are excellent, and the ones that aren’t don’t tend to last long in the business as a general rule.
 

Respect

 
So, now you have a great recruiter working to send you great CVs of people you would be delighted to hire.  Next comes the critical bit: interviewing the best candidates and making an offer.
 
Now I love our recruitment process at NewVoiceMedia (its one of the main reasons I accepted this role and not one of the others I was offered at the same time).
 
In a nutshell, NVM were respectful of my time and my skills.  They did ALL the interviewing on one single day (and made an offer the next day).  They also made sure that everyone I spoke to was a good representation of the people I would be working with if I got the job.  They also gave me a tour of the offices before I left – this is crucial if you are a candidate, believe me!
 
Everyone I spoke to not only knew about agile working but were practising it everyday.
 
In short, they treated me like my time was valuable.
 
I am very pleased to say that, aside from a few minor tweaks, the interviewing process I am part of is almost identical to the one I experienced when I was hired.
 
Recruitment of great candidates is not a one-way street.  I mentioned the golden rule earlier, here it is again:  talented people have choices.
 

Results

 
I won’t go into depth about the hiring process here. I would like to mention a few points about interviewing candidates that can get forgotten or overlooked.
 
Candidates know that they might not be right for the role.  It’s ok, to tell them this.
 
Candidates appreciate honest, constructive feedback on their performance at interview.
 
Candidates appreciate fast feedback (as do we, as employers) as to their success or not at interview.
 
Candidates will talk to their friends and family. They may even talk to colleagues at their new job. They will tell people about their experience interviewing with your company.   Aim to make sure that even an unsuccessful interviewee has a great experience. We want them to willingly return to interview again, perhaps in a couple of years time.
 
Finally, I’d like to make a brief mention about biases when hiring.  These are things that act on our subconscious & affect our decision making. Its easy to mistake bias for fact, or dress it up as ‘intuition’.  (John Clapham does a great introductory talk about various biases, have a look at his slides here.)  I’ll write a separate post later about this and other pit falls of interviewing.
 
So you have (in theory at least) searched for and found a great new talent for your business – congratulations!
 
My next post will look at how you work with your current staff to grow them into the talent they are capable of being .  So many hiring managers assume talent only exists outside the business, to be brought in.  I am on a bit of a mission to help such people think a bit differently!
 
Helen.

P.S.   I plan to gather these posts together into a .pdf  or mini e-book which I will send to newsletter subscribers.

If you are interested in building a centre of excellence or want to get the whole set of CoE posts in this way, drop me your email so I know where to send it.  (This form is for the PD only, and will not make you a newsletter subscriber.)

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