Looking back – and forward

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With another year (and decade) behind us, now feels like a good time to look back at what has changed in local government executive recruitment, and what we can expect over the coming years. 

Candidate attraction techniques are becoming increasingly sophisticated

The explosion of digital and social media, not to mention the increasing sophistication of smart devices that ensure we are connected virtually 24/7 has transformed recruitment communication. Contrary to speculation about the death of advertising two decades ago, however, the media world is still very much alive but a more complex beast to tackle. Audiences are at once both selective in their content consumption while being more available and trackable than ever with their online footprint. The resulting media fragmentation has meant that recruiters have to work much harder to target their audience and harder still to keep them engaged.  Using a single advert as an information download is becoming increasingly obsolete. Instead a variety of touchpoints can be used to maximise the frequency of opportunities to engage and break through the white noise.

Local Government is lucky in having a strong, topical and inclusive title in the MJ and its online counterpart LocalGov to extend reach as well as an effective email strategy. In a world of hype and fake news, executive candidates will increasingly rely upon a smaller pool of quality, authentic titles.

LinkedIn and referral groups are becoming more important

That is not to downplay the role of social media and personal networks, however. Increasingly, word of mouth is having significant sway on potential candidates as opportunities are promoted, liked or shared. For some roles, 15% of candidates will have first heard about a role from a colleague, friend or someone in their network. It’s also interesting to look at how different demographic groups behave. We know from our extensive data, for example, that candidates from BAME communities appear to have smaller referral networks. Instead, for those not ‘headhunted’ online searches become more important in finding opportunities

LinkedIn, meanwhile, provides a beguiling mix of professional and personal information, plus the ease of finding and contacting individuals directly makes it a great headhunting tool. Over subscription can be the problem here so effective filtering is often needed to help candidates self -select themselves out of a process in the early stages.   

Better understand audience behaviour and building integrated campaigns that reflect that behaviour is the route ahead in 2020, rather than simply posting a job and hoping for the best. 

Behaviours and fit are increasingly vital

This is a huge trend for us as executive recruiters.  Increasingly, when taking a brief from the client, we are being told that ‘fit’ is in some ways more important than experience.  Basic professional competency can be developed with support and training – but if a candidate’s approach and attitude is wrong, the appointment will not work out in the medium to long term.  The potential issue is that ‘fit’ is a two-way street, and therefore any good recruitment process needs to be genuinely two way, and candidates need the time and space to understand and buy into the client’s culture and approach.  In addition, a candidate’s ‘true’ personality and approach is not always easy to ascertain from an interview.  Hence, our approach to this has been changing and aside from the usual suite of on line psychometric profiling, we can use panel interviews, meetings with staff and role plays as further tools to use when getting under the skin of a candidate.   Most importantly, going forward we expect that we will increasingly integrate the client’s corporate values and behaviours into the recruitment process and any psychometric profiling, creating a bespoke approach.

Commercial skills are still at a premium

With no signs of abating, everyone is still agreed that local government (and indeed other areas of the public sector) needs to become more commercially savvy.  The issue is that at times the term ‘commercial’ means different things to different people, and gaining a clear and mutual understanding is not always easy. It can refer to being more efficient, generating income, or managing risk. Or is the focus developing JVs or trading companies, overseeing an increasingly complex portfolio of assets, better procurement or contract management etc? The sector will need to continue to seek commercially sound candidates but be more specific about what this looks like.  In addition, if local government seeks these skills from outside the sector, and particularly the private sector, there is a price to pay in terms of a candidate’s understanding of some of the intricacies of local government (particularly the political interface) – and hence there is a unavoidable learning curve. 

Clients want a ‘mix and match’ approach

While we largely manage ‘end to end’ recruitment projects, some clients increasingly seek a more bespoke service, to fit in with their own in house capacity and expertise.   This means providing a flexible service while ensuring that the experience for the candidate is seamless and high quality. If it isn’t, it can have a hugely detrimental impact on the retention of good candidates and their perceptions of the recruiting organisation. Given how stretched officers can be in some authorities, there is a point at which this trend will become untenable. Again, our candidate feedback tells us that failure to communicate effectively, offer feedback and support or administer a process effectively can result in much poorer outcomes.   In our view, the search element of the process is still as important as ever, particularly in building more diverse talent pools. A recent survey showed that just 36% of candidates actively searched for new jobs – meaning that most candidates still need to be proactively approached via search or direct targeting.

The importance of ‘on boarding’

We support our clients when finding the right new employee, but it is increasingly important to support that person once they have been appointed; new joiners talk about the frustration of lost momentum through a lack of preparedness.  Chairs and Chief Executives, across sectors, have also cited failures of senior hires to transition into role quickly enough.  In 2019 we therefore introduced a new service offering on boarding and transition support for new appointees from confirmation right through to their first six months in role, ensuring they are up and running quicker and ready to implement change.  This includes a 360 degree feedback exercise once in post, as well as a top team analysis tool.   We see this as an increasingly important service as we move into the new decade, allowing us to further support our clients and candidates as they help define the future of the public sector.