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Recruiters are looking beyond qualifications and experience in finding the perfect candidates.
The term “company culture” is used a lot by managers but it’s an airy phrase that sometimes doesn’t mean a lot. For one thing, what the board thinks is the culture will be different to the execs at ground level.
But it’s also tricky to pin down exactly what factors influence an organisation’s personality. Is it the way you hire and fire, the treats you lay on for staff, how you encourage them to push forwards – or does it come from the people themselves: their attitudes, passions and motives?
Ask a CEO the question on camera and they’ll produce a snappy answer, but inwardly they might shrug their shoulders. And yet the way a company goes about its business is becoming increasingly important in recruiting and retaining the best people.
Whether you are aware of it or not, this is the glue that binds the company together. It forms the basis of the brand and ultimately it defines whether you shoot for the moon or get stuck in the mud.
It’s particularly important to the Millennial generation of sub-35s who, legend has it, are more in tune with what a company is than previous generations who cared more about what it does.
Workplaces depicted in old movies – think The Apartment – are binary rows of desks and typewriters. For the interwar generation and the boomers this wasn’t a problem. Work was work and people were just grateful for the pay cheque.
For young people entering the workforce in the 21st century, however, culture is a new currency that more than rivals wages. All this makes the cultural thumbprint of an organisation an active ingredient in its ability to attract and hold on to the best people.
Stephen Isherwood, chief executive at the Association of Graduate Recruiters, says organisations are evolving to fit new appetites: “Many organisations are switching to strength-based recruitment, which is based on discovering what a candidate loves to do rather than what they just ‘can do’. Employers find this relates to more robust recruitment decisions and improved retention.
“A young person who finds purpose in a role and is a good cultural fit, will stay longer and perform better, and is less likely to leave. Both sides of the partnership benefit. Students win as they’re invested in what they’re doing and so enjoy work more while the employer has a more engaged and switched-on employee.”
Coming of age in the internet era has influenced how young people go about their business. Attention spans are generally shorter, global awareness is up and high achievers in this bracket want to make a difference, now.
This is easy enough if you happen to run an international charity or fast-growing tech firm where opportunities abound. But what about the old economy, how does the leisure industry, for example, measure up?
Katey Capper is head of corporate recruitment at Mitchells & Butlers plc, owner of pub and restaurant brands like All Bar One, Harvester and Browns. She says training is the vital ingredient because it lays the foundation for a good career.
“It’s so important for young recruits to find a job with a purpose and one that is the right cultural fit for them. When we considered the design of Mitchells & Butlers apprenticeship schemes, and how we best communicate apprenticeship opportunities, we had this front of mind,” she says.
“When we attract the right cultural fit, we know the scheme will offer them the right opportunity, sense of purpose and pride and that they will have the best opportunity to flourish in our organisation.”
Meanwhile at international hotel chain Hilton, a prominent purpose beyond that of making money helps to crystalise the business’ appeal to jobseekers.
“Hilton’s team members are integral to helping us achieve our mission – to be the most hospitable company in the world, and this shared goal is often what attracts new employees to our business,” says Ben Bengougam, senior vice president, HR, EMEA at Hilton.
“If our applicants share these qualities then there is a high chance they will enjoy a long and varied career with us.”
With cultural fit and purpose becoming more important in job specs, technology companies have started trying to divine ways of quantifying the likelihood that a particular candidate will be a good fit for a prospective employer.
If this sounds like a fanciful idea, it’s not. Relationships within teams or a lack of opportunity to grow are two of the three biggest factors in convincing employees to jump ship. Meanwhile, Oxford Economics calculates the average fee for replacing an exiting staff member is more than £30,000 a pop.
Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Samar Birwadker decided to act when he switched jobs from one ad agency to another, only to find the new place was completely wrong for his sense of direction.
“I was moving into a more creative role, which was fantastic. Like any reasonably intelligent person I did my research about the new company, and did a bunch of interviews with the senior team and everything seemed good,” he explains.
“Then I jumped only discover within about six weeks that it was a terrible fit for me. I realised that if I could make this mistake, a lot of other people do as well. The company had spent a lot of money hiring me and they would lose a lot if I quit.”
His idea was to create an app that would appeal to Millennials with social sharing and gamification, but at its core was a scientific method for discovering what drives people. Candidates could check their own attributes and marry these to the culture at employers by generating a “fit score”.
“Careers change every two or three years because people want to keep learning and growing. But that’s not necessarily represented in the way we communicate about companies and their cultures,” says Birwadker, who founded Good.co in 2012. It was acquired by jobs board business StepStone in 2016.
“In the pre-internet days it was easier because decisions where based more on personalities and discussions. Now you get 2,000 applicants for an admin assistant and recruiters spend 90% of their time trying to whittle that down into a smaller pool using CV data, which has no bearing on how successful someone would be in the role. What matters is how you get along with your immediate team.”
If company culture was once a nebulous idea, changing attitudes of working people are drawing it into sharper focus. Companies must consider what kind of organisation they are and correlate findings with the candidates they seek to attract.
At the end of the day it’s a numbers game. By recruiting relevant – not just qualified – people and furnishing them with the tools to make their working life an enjoyable challenge, businesses have the opportunity to boost profits. What could be more motivating than that?
Culture Club: Why Recruiters Must Think Beyond CVs