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5 Things We Talked about at #FIRMday

Posted by Clair Bush

21-May-2014 11:24:00


Yesterday I joined the Broadbean team at the latest conference to be held by the Forum for In-house Recruitment Managers - a 5,000+ international membership group of in-house recruiters. It was their 21st UK conference and was packed with presentations, case studies and insights from a wide range of businesses drawn from the technology, testing. selection, recruitment and the talent management sectors.

The overall theme was resourcing strategy and amongst the sessions there was time for a rousing presentation about positive psychology and roundtable discussions in which recruiters could share their current issues and priorities. There was a good buzz and energy about the event with attendees looking to share experiences and discuss challenges.

So what were some of the key talking points?

Dinosaurs & Natives

The opening session was from graduate recruitment outsourcing specialists Gradweb, and they talked about ATS dinosaurs and digital natives. Much of their content was sourced from research that they had done around recent graduates. There was predictable talk around them being digital natives and having high expectations of the recruitment process, but such generalisations often miss the point that the vast majority of job seekers are now digitally aware and expect a seamless application experience from first discovering the vacancy to either being hired or rejected. Applicants of all ages and skill sets will be using their mobiles to hunt and will want more than a standard email bounce back when applying. The dinosaur ATS needs to evolve!

We also found out that 2014's crop of graduates like pre-screening assessments and are very happy for some of that to encompass gamification. One statistic that surprised many was that only 1.2% of those surveyed referenced social media as the source of their job application, however company reputation was the source for 11.4%. There were encouraging signs that applications for STEM disciplines had been increasing, although gender diversity would still appear to be some way off, with financial services, automotive, energy, logistics and technology sectors all attracting at least twice as many applications from males as females.


If company reputation can inspire graduate applications then it is clearly something that cannot be ignored, nor left to marketing. Tom Chesterton of brand consultancy Tonic urged recruiters to think like brand marketers during his presentation. He talked about the importance of reaching out to candidates and treating them as individuals, engaging with them about things they are interested in and not just the messages that you want them to hear.

Employer branding was mentioned a few times during the roundtable sessions as a priority for recruiters. During a presentation on the challenges faced by the recruitment team at CERN their head of talent said that it is a great place to work but that sometimes the job descriptions could make it sound dull.

The importance of illustrating culture, telling the stories that give an insight to the business and bringing job adverts to life in an interesting way are all now important parts of the in-house recruiters skill sets.

Getting the Right Fit

Amanda Davies of online skills testing company ISV Software presented on using skills testing to identify top talent. She used a group exercise to show how prone we are to make assumptions about people based on only partial information and challenged us to stop thinking 'can they do the job' and start thinking 'how will they do the job' when approaching assessments. Interaction is still important and assessment testing should never replace human contact, and it should always be used to ensure that we avoid making assumptions.

During the afternoon we had a powerful presentation from OD specialist Sukh Pabial on positive psychology. Unlike positive thinking (which is about changing how you think) this is about defining the behaviours to increase a person's wellbeing to a positive and vibrant state. Sukh asked us when we last felt vibrant, and urged us to reflect each evening on the 3 Good Things that had happened to us during the day - no matter how trivial, they will all impact our sense of wellbeing. Importantly he also asked if when we hire new people for our organisations are we letting them use their strengths or are we merely choosing people who fulfil criteria on a job description.

Internal talent pipelining, and the need to hire people who demonstrate resilience, adaptability and creativity, were issues that cropped up in other presentations, and were all flagged as current priorities for recruiters. Maybe it's time to change the way we assess and select, and challenge the assumptions we make about suitability.

Candidate Experience

Is there ever a recruitment conference nowadays - agency or in-house - where this isn't discussed? Nick Thompson of Thames Water gave a well received presentation on how he had overhauled their recruitment processes on a shoestring. "You can't put a price on candidate experience" he said from the outset, linking the experience to brand advocacy with "most candidates are going to be customers". The relationship between being a candidate and a customer has long been discussed but not always taken in to account so it was refreshing to hear a major brand talk openly about it. And to admit that, despite the cost, you can't put a price on the benefits.

Certainly when the priorities and issues were discussed during the conference, candidate experience featured heavily. It was there in the background of most presentations, whether we were discussing disjointed application processes failing to meet expectations, lack of feedback or how to differentiate your brand in the recruitment marketplace.

Hiring Managers

All presentations featuring successful case studies will usually allude to the important part that hiring managers play in the recruitment process. The in-house recruiter needs to be a partner and trusted advisor, not purely a supplier, to line managers and help them get the people they want by making sure they have the capabilities to interview effectively, give feedback, select and make decisions.

The hiring manager experience was mentioned a few times during the day, both as an issue and a priority, with a sense that their expectations of available talent, timeframes and the actual recruitment process, were sometimes unrealistic. Application volumes can seem overwhelming with many candidates appearing interchangeable in terms of skillets and background. The briefing, expectation management and up-skilling of line managers has become a key part of the in-house recruiters remit.

The conference closed with Emma Mirrington, on of the FIRMs founders, presenting the results of their annual membership survey - which always an interesting snapshot of the state of the in-house recruitment and talent acquisition. I'll look at some of the key findings in my next blog…