How to build relationships with highly skilled candidates
The impact of COVID-19 on the job market has left many Kiwis understandably cautious and reluctant to change roles.

With such far-reaching consequences of the pandemic, job security has become a priority many people. In fact, for 2 out of 3 candidates, job security has become more important than salary, research conducted for SEEK shows.

If highly skilled potential candidates want to hunker down and stay where they are, you may face extra challenges when hiring or recruiting.

Here’s some tips on building relationships with highly skilled candidates to take on your opportunity.

Be clear about your strategy

The disruption of COVID-19 means many employees are constantly reassessing whether they’re in the right role, says Roman Rogers, Hudson New Zealand’s Regional General Manager based in Auckland.

That’s due to job security and the stability of an organisation, as well as how organisations are responding to COVID and adopting a new way of working.

“Highly skilled people are interested in the extent to which their skillset is aligned with the strategy of the organisation to grow or bounce back from a recessionary market,” Rogers says.

“If highly skilled people can see that there's strong alignment between their skillset and the business strategy, they feel more engaged and arguably safer. It's when highly skilled or senior people don't see that alignment that they start contemplating change.”

Organisations that are really clear about their strategy, purpose and motivation give all talent – not just senior or highly skilled – a greater sense that it’s the right place to be, he says. Focusing on this from the start in your communication can help you to build strong relationships with candidates.

Be open to maintaining flexibility

Work-life balance has always been important, but COVID has pushed it to the fore, forcing organisations to be more flexible and enabling staff to work from home.

“There will be an ongoing expectation from talent across the board, including senior and hard to fill roles, that organisations maintain this flexibility to enable them to be more in control of not just what they do for a job, but where they choose to do it from. And that will be particularly important for the time to come,” Rogers says.

Communicating around flexibility with candidates, and getting a sense of how it would matter to or benefit them individually, can help to strengthen the relationship you build.

Prepare candidates for change

A key part of the relationship you build with candidates during the hiring process should be centred on guiding them through change. A candidate who is unhappy in their role might have thought about the pros and cons of leaving their organisation for several months.

“They already started working on the parameters of what they're looking for, so they'll be open to opportunities that align to that,” Rogers says.

Candidates who are happy in their current role and are head hunted need to be taken through that journey and given time to process the idea of change. Otherwise, they may back out at the last minute, Rogers says.

Guide them to think through the practicalities of the role, such as staff development, flexible work options, travel times, what their family thinks.

“If organisations don't go through that process first of getting someone ready to contemplate change before you start talking about the opportunity, you might get a rude awakening at the 11th hour because you haven't done that initial groundwork.”

Structure your onboarding process

Relationship building can look a little different when technology is involved. During lockdown, some organisations were reluctant to onboard staff virtually, with concerns about the employee experience, equipping them with technology, training in different locations and assimilating with their peer group, Rogers says.

Yet organisations that get better at onboarding virtually will have a competitive advantage. They’ll be able to attract talent that they wouldn’t normally have access to, such as candidates in different locations.

If you’re onboarding remotely, rather than trying to replicate the face-to-face onboarding process, have a structured, well thought-out virtual onboarding process, he suggests.

These initiatives can help new employees connect before they start:

  • Provision of core technology, training and full access to core systems
  • Planned events to meet the team – group and one-on-one
  • Regular check-ins. “When you're in a virtual world, you don't get to bump into each other, so you need to replace that with something else.”
  • Bringing the company culture, values and mission to life so people get a sense of where the business is going
  • Access to a buddy and internal subject matter experts
  • Defining success and how to measure it, so they can self-manage while working remotely
  • Planned and considered training program
  • Ensuring the manager has a strong understanding of the onboarding program and that they take ownership

That last point is most important of all, Rogers says. “The onboarding program is a way of strengthening the relationship with the manager and the new employee, which is arguably the most important thing when it comes to someone's engagement and retention.”

And of course, if you’re not onboarding remotely – many of these initiatives are still essential.

Effort reaps rewards

Building relationships with highly skilled talent takes time, but it’s achievable through clear, open communication, asking the right questions, and focussing on the whole candidate experience from start to finish.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published November 2020.

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