How to Recruit your Ideal Candidate

7 mins read
Employer candidates hiring recruitment skills

What’s your approach to making an ‘ideal employee wish list’ when the time comes to make a hire in your organisation?

Have you got a mandatory list of ‘must-haves’ spanning the educational background, skills, and experience you’re seeking? How flexible are you when it comes to assessing real-life human job applicants against this strict list of requirements?

Last year, I witnessed many employers struggling to find and secure the people needed to fill gaps in their organisation. Some of this was due to the super tight New Zealand labour market. Despite rising inflation, looming recession, increased net migration, and slight upwards nudges in our unemployment rate offering (false) promises of relief, the experts agree, and our direct experience tells us, that the post-pandemic NZ labour market remains very challenging.

That’s one issue.

Another prominent issue was a factor that I’m hoping we can collectively put behind us in 2024 – that of the unrealistic, rigid candidate wish list.

I was going to try to resist making the inevitable comparisons with the dating world, where we all know that logging into an app with gritted teeth, a long laundry list of requirements and a stubborn attitude will not yield a magical Prince/Princess Charming to ride off into the sunset with. But it’s just too similar!  I need to draw these very obvious parallels—Hiring Managers, OF COURSE it would be marvellous if candidates turned up in your recruitment portal, gorgeous, well presented, ticking every single skill needed for the job, plus12 years of experience, a handful of 5-star references, begging you for chance to work in your organisation and all for just above minimum wage.  But, it’s simply not going to happen.

I’m not here to tell you to settle for second-best, just like I won’t tell my bestie that she should say yes to a second date with the Tinder dude with questionable personal hygiene, and who refused to learn how to say her name properly. Some requirements are mandatory.

However, it’s also fair to say that a flexible, realistic attitude, a touch of critical thinking and an ability to connect the dots, and to reflect and ponder ‘hmmm, how else can I look at this ?” will stand you (and anyone) in good stead.

A useful and practical process

Here’s what I recommend you do when it comes to making your 2024 candidate requirement list, whenever it is that you are contemplating recruitment and whether its replacement for someone who is moving on, or a newly established role.

Review the job description

Does the Position Description (PD) accurately reflect the core duties, daily tasks, and long term focus of the job in the business?   Does it capture the purpose of the role and provide indications on how to achieve this state? Is it appropriately linked with your business objectives and goals? Make any adjustments as needed, taking into account things like team structures, changes in business direction etc.

Review your current talent

Assess the skills and qualities of your existing high-performing employees in the same or  similar roles. Identify common traits and skills that contribute to success within your organisation. What can you learn from this, that you can apply to your requirement list?

Added bonus task: high level identification of where your high performers came from

Were they a perfect match to the PD when they began, or have they grown/developed into their role?  What attributes or traits did they have in common, if anything? Maybe Sam, that ace Executive Assistant who everyone loves, didn’t originally come with business support experience, but had been a Super Yacht stewardess. What can you learn from reviewing these pathways?

Identify the essential

Push yourself hard here if you’ve noticed that you have a tendency to ask for a lot.  Sure, this position may require a finance degree, that’s a must-have. But is the need for  post-grad certification a bit looser?  Does your new hire really need to be an advanced Excel user, writing macros and running pivot tables left and right, or could it all work with a decent knowledge plus a willingness to learn? Are you asking for 8+ years in a similar position, or realistically would 2-3 years’ experience provide enough grounding?

Consider soft skills

There’s a lot of conversation, not to mention research, about the power of so-called ‘soft’ skills in our industry, and with good reason. Soft skills are the personal attributes and abilities that allow successful effective interaction between humans, in a workplace setting. Make sure that you understand, and are looking for the right soft skills for your vacant role. In particular, if you are being appropriately flexible about hard skills and experience, make sure you are adding adaptability and/or learning ability to your soft skill list.

Highlight transferable skill possibilities

This is closely related to the point above, because it is often the soft skills that are developed and honed in one job, that can be then transferred into another— even when the role, sector or industry differ. The contact centre industry in Aotearoa is one space where this tends to be done really well. Savvy employers in this sector know that to work in an entry level, junior or even mid-level contact centre, yes, it’s great if the applicant has already worked in a contact centre role. But key customer service tasks require excellent listening, communication and negotiation skills, which can also be developed in a hospitality position for example, or in retail. It’s a magical, and useful reading between the lines.

For your own list, think about a required soft skill. I’ll use the example of time management. Let’s say you need someone with a keen sense of timeframes, urgency and the ability to hit deadlines, for your engineering firm’s junior project coordinator position. That personable, enthusiastic candidate, keen to move into an office environment, who has been working for several years in hospo events could be the right person. They may not have used your specialist software, but that can be taught, and they’ll certainly be familiar with how to work within tight timeframes, ticking off key tasks, and hitting target timelines.

Now that you’ve built your list, and you’ve thought more broadly, and with a bit more creativity about what could work, off you to go market— or better yet, to get in touch with your favourite, local recruiter, that’s me, Gemma at Madison. You’re now in a much better position to helpfully assess the potential candidates coming your way.

A recruiter’s role

My personal mission is to continue to push my wonderful clients—only where I think it’s appropriate of course—to consider those outside-of-the box candidates, who I know from meeting and assessing could be ‘the one, but who don’t fit the ideal profile. One way I do this is during the briefing process, when I typically ask my clients to outline their top five non-negotiables— and why.

If you are working with a recruiter you trust, and hopefully this is your situation, then you might find yourself being asked slightly confronting and challenging questions about your requirement list. This is a good thing! Your recruiter is IN the job market every day and has a sense of the available talent. They meet great people every day, who may not ‘on paper’ make sense. It’s worth listening to this kind of questioning and advice.

Don’t miss out

The point of this blog is not to force you to compromise on the talent you need to staff your business. You deserve the right person fit and very best hire, to help your organisation succeed. The reality of recruitment, and humans however, is that no one has invented a perfect screening tool that spits out an 100% accurate result of  ‘this is the best candidate!’. We are all relying on a complicated medley of inputs and factors. Having a deeper, more complex understanding of what can work in your vacant role will mean that you can tap into a broader selection of potential employees. Ditch the rigid checklist, get really familiar with the nuances and power of transferable skills, and connecting the dots, and you’ll have a successful year of hiring.

Gemma Hill
Principal Consultant

A bit about me In 2016, I arrived in New Zealand from the UK and my recruitment journey began. With experience in people focussed industries like healthcare and hospitality across the UK and…

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