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Recruitment headaches: How to hire the right people for your firm

With many firms struggling to find the right candidates, practice owner Zoe Whitman reveals how she went about finding and recruiting her two new employees.

20th Sep 2019
Founder But the Books
Columnist
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Who will be hired?
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The last few weeks have been all about recruitment. We’ve been working at full capacity, leaning on freelancers and it’s been clear for a while that we’ve needed more people in the team.

Recruitment’s daunting though. Although I have years of hiring experience to draw on, I’m by no means an expert, and recruitment feels different when it’s for your own business.

I’m not just hiring somebody to run month-end. I’m hiring somebody to run month-end for my clients, the ones I’ve worked hard to find and to build a relationship with. Those relationships are my business’s lifeline so they need to be handled with care by people I trust.

I’m pleased to say we’ve successfully recruited an accounts assistant and a marketing assistant to join the team. I was lucky to interview several candidates each of whom I would have gladly hired, but I also reviewed a lot of very poor applications and it’s clear to me from conversations with my network that recruitment and finding good people is hard.

So, where do you advertise?

We advertise through our website and although as a small firm, potential employees may not know who we are and may not seek us out we can never know who’s going to click through from our social media channels.

We also put the ads in our social media feeds, but we mainly rely on a free job website. It’s possible to throw a bit of budget at the listing to get it in front of more people and we had 37 candidates for the accounts assistant role, and 26 for the marketing role. I won’t lie, we had a lot of very weak candidates to sift through but it gave us a good pool of applicants to start with.

Do you use a recruitment agency?

As somebody who has been placed in jobs several times by recruitment agencies, hiring through one seemed like a good idea. I explored this last time we recruited but the costs are high, particularly as a proportion of the salaries for the part-time roles we were recruiting for.

I like that not using an agency allowed me to retain control. We ended up giving our accounts role to somebody whose current role is in a completely different industry and I suspect she would have been ruled out immediately by a recruitment consultant. I’d rather make that decision myself.

How do you shortlist?

One problem with having 37 applicants is deciding who to interview. I was pretty ruthless at the shortlisting stage. In the job ad, I specifically asked people to send a covering letter and I ruled out anybody who didn’t and anybody who didn’t meet the minimum requirements listed in the job advertisement. I also ruled out people who hadn’t spellchecked their CVs and covering letters because attention to detail is so important in everything we do.

This gave me a much smaller list of applicants to review and I held informal 30-minute video interviews with the five or six candidates who’d submitted the strongest applications.

We use Zoom for video calls with a lot of our clients and video interviews were an opportunity to see whether the applicants could install and use Zoom (follow instructions, and use the technology we use in the business), as well as a way to quickly screen quite a few candidates in a short amount of time.

What do you ask at the interview?

I try not to ask the questions that I hate to be asked myself so I don’t ask a lot of “tell me about a time…” questions unless I really need to know the answer.

One of my favourite questions to ask is for the candidate to explain something to me about a topic I’m unlikely to know about, in a way I can understand. It’s a good way to find out how people are at explaining complex information – a common problem in our profession. Applicants have explained the use of certain grammar rules to me, how camera lenses work, and my favourite: how to get bubbles into champagne.

How do you recruit when you’re not an expert?

When I needed some more technical questions to ask in the interviews for our marketing assistant, I asked my network to help. I put a post out on LinkedIn and I got some great interview questions as well as tips on what to look out for. This really helped me delve into the candidates’ marketing skills without needing to be an expert myself.

My parting tip though and possibly the secret to our success: all of our roles are part-time. I know that advertising for part-time staff has resulted in applications from people who wouldn’t have felt able to apply if I’d been stuck on the idea of finding somebody to work full time.

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