Steven Mugglestone

The more I learn, the less I know

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Recruitment is Like Choosing an Accountant, it’s no Joke!

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Recruitment is Like Choosing an Accountant, it’s no Joke!

A man has died and is standing at the gates of heaven in front of Saint Peter.  He moves forward and Saint Peter welcomes him to the gates of heaven and tells him that he is a chosen one, someone who has lead an exemplary life, someone who has contributed so much to the world when alive that on his death he is now able to choose whether he would like to spend the rest of eternity in heaven or hell.

“But how will I be able to decide,” the man says.

“Well,” says Saint Peter, “I will grant you a day in each, for you to see which one suits you, but remember, when you come back to me, you must decide and your decision will last for ever.”

“OK,” says the man, “that sounds fine, where do I go first.” “Your choice,” replies Saint Peter.

“Fine, I’ll try hell.”  At that moment a lift door opens and the man walks in, waits for the lift to arrive at its destination and walks out into a beautiful Caribbean beach setting with a beach party, music and groups of beautiful people dancing and having a fantastic time.  The man stood admiring the scene, when the devil walks past with two beautiful bikini clad women on each arm.  The devil stops in front of the man and asks the two women to look after the man for the day.  Needless to say, he has a great time.

On returning to the lift at the start of the second day, the man enters heaven. Heaven is serene, quite, with the gentle sound of angels singing, but, the man thinks, generally boring.

After the second day, the man returns to the gates of heaven, for Saint Peter to stand in front of him and ask, “Well, you have seen both heaven and hell and you have experienced what they both have to offer, you now must decide, but remember your decision will be eternity, for ever.”

“I have made up my mind,” says the man. “Are you sure?” says Saint Peter, “As I said, this decision will be for eternity, there will be no going back.”

“Yes,” says the man.  “Where is it to be then,” replies Saint Peter.  “I want to go to hell. This is my decision.”

On that, the lift door opens again, the man enters, but when the doors open again he is confronted with a desolate waste land of fire, sulphur and lava, with the sounds of incessant screaming ringing in his ears.

As the man stands in disbelief, the devil walks past him again and the man stops him and asks, “erm.…, where is the beach, the party, the music, the girls.”

“Oh, sorry,” says the devil, “you were here the other day weren’t you.  Well that was recruitment day, you work for me now.”

Recruitment is no joke

There are a number of versions of the above joke, known as the recruitment day joke.  It is as relevant to the employer as the potential employee, yet still do we take recruitment as seriously as we should.

Employment of any staff is important and, obviously, senior leadership and director level appointments even more so.  They can either add to the success or contribute to the failure of an organisation, more than any other of your team.  Yet again do we take enough time and effort to select and choose the appropriate person or do we leave it to someone else.

I have been involved in my fair share of recruitment, on both sides of the desk, but as an employer, I have recruited graduates for an international accountancy practice, recruited accounting staff for clients, recruited chief executives for a public company and even recruiting head teachers for schools.

The Recruitment Pitfalls

Are you really qualified or do you need support

Everyone believes that they can recruit.  A recruitment agency provides a short list and you only have to choose, but have you really given enough consideration of the strengths, skills and experience that are required for the role.  I have seen instances of a senior position being recruited and appropriate skills and experience matrix being created only for the selection and decision makers concentrate on one area and ignore the rest.  Why go through all of the time and trouble to have the matrix prepared and considered, only to disregard it.  The result was the person just did not have the relevant experience for the large organisation and floundered from the start.  The recruitment agent should have picked it up, but did not and the recruitment group and interviewing committee, in this instance a school, did not have the experience to review and make the right judgement.  In this environment when the leader is key, the recruitment is even more so.

Missing the evidence

Possibly the number one mistake.  If you are going to review a CV and a major success stands out as a key draw, do not just rely on it, ask and find out more.  This seems obvious really, but again, I have seen examples of where just a little more background either from an interview or finding external evidence exposes a rather different story and claims of success that have actually been due to the work of others.

The advice from others

A very senior managing director/chief executive role for an MBO team is an important recruitment decision.  The individual is being recruited to work with and lead the others in the team.  A CV and interview will help to provide some of the support and answers but for a position like this a written reference may not either be available (or if the individual has been subject to a compromise agreement from a previous position, this reference will be sterile and very carefully worded).

In a role where management style is paramount, I have seen a business recruit this position and only afterwards when speaking to their former colleagues it was ascertained that their style of management was divisive, convincing one of the team was a weak link and needed to be removed, while saying the same thing to the others individually.  Childish, selfish, petty and divisive.  The same situation happened in the new team as in the last.  To find out you only had to ask and listen to a number of the former colleagues.

Experience and age are strengths not weaknesses

What an individual has done over the last year or two is important, but so is what an individual has done over the last 20 years.  Experience and age are strengths and not a weakness and too many times there are examples of employers (and recruitment agents) selecting the recent experience of younger candidates rather than considering the values of older and more experienced individuals.  I am still not convinced that I understand why age is an issue and not a key strength.  Perhaps the recruitment consultant is looking for a life-long candidate and contact; perhaps I am getting older myself.

If you don’t have references ensure you have controls

Obvious I know, but I have seen a number of examples where the new company bookkeeper, financial controller and even the FD has been caught with their hands in the till.  Cash expenses, personal cheques paid to the individual and posted in the books against old creditor balances that are not being chased, these are the obvious frauds.  If you are not going to find out more from other sources, either written or verbal, at least have the controls in place to ensure that one individual cannot carry out these obvious and easy ways of extracting money from a business undetected.  If they are single signatories, ensure that there is a system of matching payments with invoices; ensure that larger payments require more than one signatory.

This is not a full and comprehensive list, only some observations and lessons from actual experiences from real life situations and pitfalls and hopefully the lessons to be learnt from them.

On a positive and practical note perhaps I can list some other helpful tips;

Practical recruitment tips

  • Plan ahead…..what does your production schedule and work-planner tell you for the year ahead? When are you likely to need new people especially when you consider your marketing plan and winning additional work targets.
  • Nurture recruitment agency contacts. Meet with them so they can see your firm and know your business. Have an ‘on-going’ recruitment policy and see good quality candidates as they become available. Don’t just look to recruit when you have a gap to fill. The most successful businesses I know recruit good quality people and make a role for them. This always proves successful in the longer term and businesses find they have no problem in finding work to keep them busy.
  • What can you offer as an employer that will make people want to work with you? Do you share your business plan with your team so they know where they fit in and what the future holds for them?
  • Do you regularly survey your team, get feedback and report back to them on how you have taken their issues on board and what you have done about it. This may sound a bit ‘fluffy’ and in the territory of what only larger corporate businesses do. However, smaller businesses that do this report that the business plan progresses much more effectively and it sets them apart as a successful company.
  • Do you have a system of communicating regularly with your team so they feel involved in the business?
  • Do you have a simple system in place to measure how existing team members feel? This really does help you to retain good people. How often has someone handed in their notice and when asked why they are leaving you say ‘If only you had told me….I could have done something about it?’ Again, measuring staff happiness really does help to retain those you want to keep within your business and proves that you are different as an employer.
  • When interviewing do you have a set list of questions that you always ask people? Don’t just focus on technical matters- you want to assess an individuals’ attitude and personality. Also, everyone is human. How often have you conducted an interview that is different depending on your mood or the time of day? With a system in place you can ask the same questions every time and ensure every candidate receives the same information and impression of the firm.
  • A great interview question to really get under someone’s skin is to ask them to choose a friend or close colleague to describe, ask them what they like and admire about them, what they value about them and also what they dislike about them.  Then ask how their friend would describe them and their strengths and weaknesses.  Another way of articulating strengths and weaknesses but one that helps to ensure that the candidate talks openly and honestly.
  • Get your team involved in the interview and recruitment process. Second interviews are often best conducted when they are held by a member of the team and not you. If the team is involved in the process then a new recruit will be much more likely to have a clearer picture of what it is like to work for you and will settle in better.
  • Do you have clear written roles and responsibilities for everyone in your company? This simple ‘booklet’ is easy to produce and should be shared with candidates and existing employees. Again, this makes it clear how existing team members and new recruits fit in to the big picture. People like clarity and the sense of security of what part they have to play in the development of the business and its plans.
  • Do you have a comprehensive job offer letter which includes what the induction progress will be and how a new recruit will be trained on what to do?
  • When someone leaves or joins do ensure that everyone else in your firm knows about it. I have often seen a new team member join a company with no one knowing who they are or where they will even sit! Ask yourself what kind of impression this makes and is it any wonder that people then chose to move on in a short time to another job?
  • Many firms now offer ‘working second interviews’ whereby a candidate come back for half a day and is ‘tested’ on  a piece of work so you can assess their technical competence. This can prove very effective.
  • Accept that not everyone wants to progress in the company. Such people can still be a valuable asset – make sure they know that.
  • Do you have a visible training plan for all your team? For people to want to work and stay with you they need to know how you will train them, give them feedback and offer skills development. This is also necessary for you as an employer in order to people to become more competent and valuable to the development of your business plan.
  • What do you have in place to ensure people feel valued in your organisation and how do you reward them? Reward does not mean just financial. Have a flexible package of rewards as time off may be more important to some whereas others are target and financial driven or put a greater value on a social day or evening out.
  • When a new recruit starts working for you ensure you meet with them weekly for the first 3 months to give and receive feedback. Many times I have listened to employers say ‘Oh- they were useless and had to leave within 3 months and it has cost me a fortune!’ When I dig a little deeper I find that the new recruit had no opportunity to see the management team and had no idea what their role was or what exactly they were meant to be doing other than be given a box of records and told to get on with it! No feedback on jobs is given and no opportunity to learn from mistakes. Often, they didn’t even know who their ‘mentor’ was who they could go to and seek guidance or training from.

Recruitment is no joke for either the candidate or the employer, whilst it may not be a decision that lasts for eternity it is pretty important to both parties and as such both parties should take is seriously.

Steven Mugglestone BA FCA,
McGregors Corporate, Entrepreneurial Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers
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