Why behaviours trump CVs when recruiting staff

According to research from Cavendish Consortium (one of the Government Growth Vouchers Delivery Partners), 75% of employers have hired the wrong person in the past.  So it is hardly surprising that for many SMEs, without access to specialist resource, recruiting and managing staff is a major constraint to growth.  And so it turned out with a recent client.

Keith and his have wife run a successful catering supplies business for 10 years and at one time had 4 staff.  Whilst turnover is rising slowly, profitability is not and Keith really wants to kick start growth.  He is full of ideas about how, but simply does not have time – serving current customers already takes far more hours out of the day than most people would consider reasonable.  But they have had bad experiences with workers in the past.  One, a contractor, was claiming for extra hours, while another did not have a good work ethic.  This has put them off recruiting people even though their business could easily afford it.

So when we embarked on a Growth Strategy, getting the right people in place was a key priority, allowing Keith to work on growth rather than in operations. 

But how do we know who the right people are?

As with many small businesses the role is broad – a mixture of sales, order processing, billing and keeping the systems up to date.  Nobody was likely to have exactly the right experience, but a good phone manner, IT literacy and the ability to follow high level instructions without too much supervision seemed a minimal requirement.  The rest could be learnt on the job and even flexible hours were possible so long as there was time to plan.  More important though was attitude and how well they get on.  Nobody cares as much about Keith’s business as he does, but applying the right attitude and motivation comes pretty close.  Traditional recruiting processes do not screen attitude and motivation comes after recruitment – CVs were undiscriminating, we needed something else. 

Creating a fit for purpose recruitment process

The first test was to see who could follow simple instructions.  We asked people to apply by emailing a one-page letter explaining why they would be good for the role.  ¾ of applicants sent CVs with no letter  - they went in the bin as either they could not read or chose not to follow simple instructions.   The rest were told the good news that they had been shortlisted and were invited to shoot a short video describing their favourite recipe and what they liked about it - nothing complicated, just a selfie on a smartphone to show how articulate and confident they were likely to be.  3 videos arrived by the due date and all 3 applicants were invited for a quick IT proficiency test and interview the following week.  One of them could not do a simple Google search or enter data into a web form - he went home.  The other 2 interviewed well and either could have worked, but the decision was made in favour of the one who seemed easiest to get on with.

We had created a very simple business case, which showed just how much work needed to be offloaded by Keith for the appointment to make sense.  Making this transparent was a key part of the recruitment process so that applicants knew what was expected before they accepted the job.  They were also told that they had a 3 months trial period to reach the standard required - not in a nasty or threatening way, just so that they could see things from the employers perspective.

The new team member was given some quite specific training on the systems that she needed to use and was left in no doubt how important it was that everyone needed to pull their weight because there were so few in the team. 

The client remains very happy with the choice made.    

Banner image © Mark Neild 2013  Dolphin in Bay of islands New Zealand taken shortly before we went swimming with them.