Like many thousands (maybe even millions) of others, I have spent much of this year job hunting. And I have to say, in my long and varied career I have never known a job market like it. The market is over-supplied with very good candidates, so competition is fierce, and rates are depressed. There are people leaving permanent jobs who want to move to life as an interim, and vice versa, and it’s hard to be taken seriously in either scenario. Organisations are struggling to recruit into some roles with staff on furlough and dealing with remote working, new ways of working and maybe even pivoting their entire business model to survive. And we’re all dealing with all the ramifications of Covid and Brexit. It’s bloody horrible out there.

I have lots of sympathy – and empathy – with the situation we all find ourselves in. But it does feel like the recruitment process has not stepped up to the plate in this time of crisis and is actually making things worse for people in many ways. I’m exhausted by it. It could easily be so much better. So, based on my experiences over these past few months, here are my Top Ten Tips for Hiring Managers…

  1. Get some fresh thinking in

If ever there was a time to shake things up and bring in some new ideas, this is it. Instead, we see more and more ‘round peg, round hole’ searches – hiring managers only looking for people who’ve worked in that exact space before. And of course, this runs the risk of unconscious bias and an ongoing lack of diversity – of both people and thought.

  1. If sector experience is mandatory, say so

If you’re only looking for people who have worked in that exact role before (do you see how bonkers that looks written down?), then make sure it’s front and centre in the Essential Experience criteria and please don’t ask candidates to write a 2000 word supporting statement which is then irrelevant and ignored.

  1. Don’t advertise jobs that don’t exist (ya think?!)

This one’s really for the (more unscrupulous) recruitment firms out fishing for CVs, but I’ve seen lots of examples of roles being advertised that have already closed, are interim not perm (or vice versa) or have even already been filled. My personal favourite was when I enquired about a role – which was advertised on LinkedIn and the recruiter’s own site – which had been filled last December. Yep, NINE MONTHS ago. (Insert eye-rolling emoji).

  1. Don’t move the goal posts

Something else that has caught me out is when the recruiter closes applications early. If you are going to ask people to prepare detailed, specific applications and state a closing date, then please have the courtesy to keep it open until then. It takes 2-3 days to craft a professional, considered application and there is nothing more soul destroying than doing all this work, only to log back on a couple of days before the deadline to find it’s already shut. Unfair and unprofessional.

  1. Make sure you test the UX on your careers portal

On the whole, these are great – you can register a CV and keep tabs on responses, interview dates and other opportunities. The best ones allow you to register an interest in a role while you work on the application, so you’re not caught out by an early close date. But do please make sure they work properly. Don’t expect people to fill in a form that basically replicates their (beautifully presented) CV, and if you’re going to ask a series of questions, please list them upfront, so candidates can prepare properly and submit it all in one go.

  1. Are you sure you want a Marketing Director?

I’ve lost count of the number of Marketing Director roles that either have a list of requirements as long as your arm, or expect you to be operating at a strategic, C-suite level one minute, then writing the copy for the website the next. It made me wonder if any other director level roles are advertised like this. Are CFOs expected to tot up the petty cash? Do Ops Directors need to schedule the deliveries? Here’s one that popped up just this morning, reproduced almost verbatim:

Ensuring unified messaging, consistent branding, and collaboration across all marketing and communication strategies. Managing and driving brand and media planning, events and experiential marketing, performance marketing, content and social media, account-based marketing and insights and analytics. Build relationships with and manage a diverse group of stakeholders across a complex landscape on an ongoing basis. Managing external communications to raise the brands profile and image. Develop and manage the company’s marketing strategy. Researching and analysing market trends, demographics, pricing schedules, competitor products, and other relevant information to form marketing strategies. Stick a broom up your bum and sweep the floor at the same time.

I added that last bit just to see if you were still paying attention.

  1. Make sure the JD is a true reflection of what you really need

I realise that the recruitment process can also be an opportunity to help the organisation refine the role, depending on the market and candidate availability. Things may shift as the search progresses – that’s all to be expected. But there is nothing more frustrating than crafting an application, carefully citing examples of your experience of the 27 different skills required (see above), only to get a reply that you didn’t focus enough on PR, or Events, or Internal Comms, or any other experience you may have in spades, but which wasn’t actually emphasised, or even mentioned, in the brief. And if the role does significantly change, have an honest conversation with the short-listed candidates. Don’t forget this is a two-way process.

  1. Acknowledge applications, and if you get a personal request for feedback, don’t ignore it

Ah yes, feedback. That would be nice. Just a simple response or acknowledgement would be helpful, even if it’s only an automatic ‘we’ve received your application’ email (so long as it’s not from a ‘do not reply’ address). I had a really positive (or so it seemed) 90-minute interview with the CEO of a small charity who didn’t even bother with a ‘thanks but no thanks’ afterwards. Nothing at all, despite me politely emailing her, three times, to ask if she’d made a decision yet. Beyond unprofessional, just plain rude.

  1. Don’t use it as an excuse to fish for free consultancy

I work a lot with agencies and have every sympathy with the pitfalls of the pitch process, especially now I’ve done hour long presentations and submitted detailed proposals for interim roles and consultancy briefs that have gone nowhere. Hours of work and ideas handed over gratis. And what’s even more annoying is when you can clearly see on LinkedIn that, armed with all this free strategic insight, the role was given to an internal, often more junior, candidate. (A good friend of mine was accidentally cc’d on an email saying they were going to do exactly that now they had her proposal).

And please make sure the interview presentation is realistic and you give the candidate enough time to prepare. I have been asked to set out my approach to tackling a complex 5 year strategy in my first 100 days in THREE SLIDES, with 2 days notice. And if you ask someone to present, please let them present – don’t keep jumping in with questions that are about to be addressed, or ask about the specifics of exactly who they’d speak to when they’ve not yet set foot in your organisation (or even seen an organagram).

  1. And finally. Don’t default to Zoom interviews just because you can

This is probably my biggest gripe of all. They’re brilliant for first stage screening and for some one-on-one interviews. But the Zoom panel interview is a terrible invention (previously written about here), and if you want the candidate to present to you, this really needs to be face-to-face. If people can now return to their offices for their day jobs, they should definitely be returning for something as important as this.

And if you absolutely HAVE to use video, please set it up correctly. I’ve been unable to share slides, only able to see the interviewers in postage stamp size at the bottom of my screen, had unknown people lurking in the background… For a senior role, when it’s so much about chemistry and fit with the management team, this is just not acceptable. Zoom (or, worse still, Teams) should not be the easy (lazy) default. And if there’s something that wouldn’t be acceptable in the real world (like uninvolved people present in the interview room) then it’s not acceptable in the virtual world, either.

So there we are. Ten small changes that will make a big difference to the candidate experience and ensure you really are finding the best person for the job – not just the person who did that job before, or who got their CV to you first, or who doesn’t want to actually visit the office/meet the team before joining your organisation.

There are signs things are picking up as we all get on with our ‘new normal’, so hopefully I won’t have to deal with all this for much longer, but in the meantime if you need any help, or know anyone looking for someone with fresh ideas and tons of fabulous experience, do give me a shout…

If you have job hunting horror stories to share, I’d love to hear them!