Our Co-Founder and Agency expert, Léon Milns, joined GYDA’s Robert Craven to co-host a Q&A on tackling key challenges around recruitment and retention.
Two years ago, the pandemic threw us all into a state of chaos. For 12 months, hiring went on hold. In 2021, to make up for lost time, many companies crammed two years of growth into one. Anyone who had come onto the market, or was interested in moving, snapped up a role. The result? A perfect storm of talent shortage and hiring boom.
So where does that leave us in 2022?
People aren’t leaving roles. There’s a record high of 1.3 million vacancies in the UK. Meanwhile, unemployment rates fell to 3.9% - that’s higher than pre-pandemic levels. It’s certainly not a challenge that is unique to the agency world, but there are certain nuances that compound the issue for our industry.
It helps if we first look at *why* employment is so high. Older generations are leaving the workforce by choice. A year ago, we looked at the impending talent shortage and saw upskilling older workers as a possible solution. But as it turns out, they’re actively choosing to leave the workplace in droves thanks to early retirement. This is one of the biggest factors contributing to a sharp rise in economic inactivity – people not in a job, but not looking for work – along with circumstances such as injury or illness and care responsibilities. We’ll discuss a shift in priorities for working aged people later in the article, but we imagine few people accounted for this trend.
Problem number two: a lack of training. For years, young people have struggled to get their first break in the industry. Why hire green when you can get someone with a couple of years’ experience, right? Combine this attitude with a general lack of awareness of roles in the agency world, and we’re looking at a catastrophic skills shortage.
It’s not all doom and gloom though.
In our recent salary survey, we found that 75% of respondents are either actively seeking or considering a new role in 2022. The difficulty is making sure your business is the one who snags them.
Léon and Robert tried to get under the skin of the issue in a recent webinar. The most common question is always…
“How do I get people?”
Rule number one; Always be hiring. Léon describes it as a pseudo treadmill of potential employees; a network of warm contacts you can tap into to ascertain who and what is available in the marketplace at any given time. A recruiter can be this for you, or you can build a series of connections directly.
We believe the best approach to recruitment is to maximise both your network and a recruiter. By utilising all avenues, you’re opening yourself up to a larger number of conversations. And if the right person comes via a third party, of course there will be a fee to pay. The important thing to remember is to keep track of the ROI in that scenario.
Remember: always keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground.
“How do I stand out?”
We all talk about going the extra mile, the importance of diversity and have our values on the wall. So how do you entice and seduce people? Parties, cool board rooms, beer fridges and bean bags aren’t enough. But honestly, there’s no silver bullet for this challenge.
A much-touted trend for 2022 is some form of flexible working. Put bluntly, working from home is not a talent attraction piece anymore. It’s a given. Gen X are asking about it right off the bat and, while it might not make sense to older business owners, people’s priorities have changed. Most candidates, from all generations, are looking for 2 or 3 days remote … and aren’t interested without it.
Popular in the agency world, offering a 4-day week could be a viable alternative. It’s certainly attractive on paper, but rests on what you’re expected to do in those 4 days. Is it based on compressed hours, for example? In which case, there’s a high possibility for burnout, leading to reduced capacity and productivity across the whole team.
Another benefit popular in this industry is unlimited holidays. Sometimes described as a gimmick, there are definitely pros and cons here. Great for the people who utilise it as intended, but hard to manage if you have a) underachievers who are taking advantage and b) overachievers who always forget to take holiday. It can unearth all kinds of potential HR headaches, so be sure it’s a policy that won’t disrupt the operation of your business before implementing.
In our view, an adult, flexible culture – one that is based on outcomes rather than hours at the desk – is more important and more attractive. We have a substantial portion of working mothers who are on 4 days, and they are our highest achievers. It’s all about the right people in the right seats.
“So, what does matter?”
Purpose. Vision. Values.
Yes, there are those buzzwords again. But it’s true. Purpose matters. People want to make a meaningful contribution, and working on projects or with clients that they connect with is vital to job satisfaction. Creating a culture of trust and autonomy goes a long way here but there are other ways you can demonstrate purpose. For example, what niche does your business tap in to? It doesn’t have to be glamourous, just unique enough to grab their attention.
Candidates want to know that your values align with theirs. Shared values foster an exceptional culture, increase job satisfaction and employee retention. Fluffy though it may seem, it’s an essential part of the employee lifecycle. It gives companies like BCorps a significant advantage over others, but not everyone is looking for social and environmental responsibility. Your values might be ‘a constant pursuit of excellence’ or ‘be bold, be passionate, be determined.’ Nail those values, and you’ll attract the right people for your business.
Léon’s last point was around articulating your vision. Where will you be in 18 months? In 3 years? Across every agency niche, the recurring theme we’re seeing from candidates is the desire to see strong, inspiring leadership with a clear direction of travel.
One thing to bear in mind with talent attraction in 2022 – it’s a sellers’ market. The power isn’t with you (the buyer), the candidates hold all the cards. And they know it.
One attendee said a candidate they interviewed recently wrapped up with “thank you very much. I’m seeing a few agencies and I’ll be back to you in a few weeks to let you know if I’ll be taking your role.”
“We’re getting to be a part of the beauty parade, selling our opportunity, and hoping we’re lucky enough to secure the top talent. But we’ve had to condense our process; we’re cutting corners to avoid missing out. How can we find a better balance?”
The concept of hire slowly, fire fast is dead in the water. A dynamic turnaround is crucial for hiring in 2022. Léon suggests responding to new CVs the same day and setting up a first stage interview inside the first 48 hours to get yourself ahead of the pack. Your quick reactions send buying signals to the candidate, showing that you value the potential contribution they could bring to your business.
The first interview is about selling your opportunity and business. Inject personality and be authentic. Why not get more people involved? Ones who live and breathe the culture and can talk passionately about their experiences. The team on the ground often resonate better with potential employees and can in turn notice things around culture add that you might miss in the competency interview.
However, while speed is essential, quality is key. Avoid desperate hiring – that’s when you make errors and hire the wrong people. Skip the due diligence or take shortcuts in the process, and you’ll end up with cataclysmic mistakes.
Rather than conducting less interviews, simply reduce the timescales in between each stage. Give prospective employees an outline of the process up front, including dates where possible. Don’t be afraid to interview remotely to allow candidates to fit it in to their working day to accommodate a quick turnaround.
Robust questioning is as vital as ever. Use a second stage to get into the nitty gritty with them, making the most of every tool available to you. Competency based interview questions are great for proving softer skills while technical tests and presentations are ideal for scrutinising qualifications. Candidates may question your credibility if you don’t dig into things with them, so never neglect this step.
Another approach is to ask them to complete a personality quiz before their interview. We provide this to clients at no additional fee via a service called Thomas International. It’s a quick questionnaire that supplies insights into an individuals’ working style and provides a great base for a second interview.
“We all have different views of what a compelling culture consists of, but what are the key ingredients and how do we demonstrate it through the recruitment process?”
Firstly, there’s no one size fits all answer to this, as each business will have its own unique challenges. For Léon, the key ingredients are:
WFH and/or flexibility is an absolute must
All talented individuals want to be empowered to do the job their way
Kill of micromanagement (if people are delivering the required outcomes)
Embrace async communication but never assume everyone has picked it up. Poor comms is the killer of a great culture.
Share challenges as well as successes. Nothing is perfect, and authenticity trumps all.
Foster an inclusive culture. No ‘them’ and ‘us.’ No cliques. Everyone can contribute.
Treat your people like adults. Trust is paramount.
Give reward and recognition serious thought beyond just financial. People want to know their contribution is seen and appreciated.
That’s the culture part nailed. How do you demonstrate it?
Treat your role like a product, and your business like a client. There’s the old adage – people buy from people. We’ve become more conscious consumers, so why would choosing our next role be any different? It’s all about the humans beneath the business façade.
As with any campaign, you should build a structure. Creating employee-focused content, scheduling activity, and ensuring consistency in your ‘shop window’ is important. But don’t get bogged down in it all. Something out there is better than nothing at all. Got a big announcement to make, but it doesn’t fit in with your strategy? Don’t hold back. Ultimately it will drive curiosity. What’s the worst that can happen? You end up with a few potential new employees knocking at your door!
Ways to promote your employer brand:
Have a dedicated page on your website.
Use social media for behind-the-scenes content. We’ve authored a separate article on using Instagram as a talent attraction tool.
Attend industry events and networking opportunities.
It’s amazingly easy to neglect your own marketing but you are experts at this! Apply your creative, commercial brilliance to your own brand –both for business development and talent attraction – and you’re bound to draw a crowd.
“Is the tide changing a little?”
The short answer is not really.
Léon says, in his experience at least, there are more people presenting themselves, or open to a conversation in 2022. But there is still hesitancy, and a small simmering of candidates are being cautious considering world events. The cost-of-living crisis is forcing many to stay put rather than seek a higher salary – better the devil you know, as they say. The pandemic era fear of ‘last in first out’ is as relevant today as ever.
Yet, people are slowly coming out of career hibernation. And once one person moves, it triggers a domino effect of movement through the agency world. While it’s starting to bubble under the surface with employees, employers are still very gung ho about hiring, so overall we would say macro events aren’t affecting hiring at this stage.
To lure people from their slumber, tech giants like Google and Meta are throwing around significant cash to secure top talent. Last year we wrote a piece for BIMA on why we believe it’s a bad idea to simply hike up salaries. That being said, we’ve seen a typical pay rise of 10-15% depending on sector as people move from one business to another. Our recruiters have some absolutely mind blowing examples of inflated salaries – one person negotiated their way from £40k up to £70k p.a!
It's certainly a viable short term solution if you have deep coffers. But bear in mind that the increase in wage bill will not miraculously bring in an increase of knowledge and experience. That candidate, now on £70k, still has the overall experience of someone who, by earlier standards, earned around £45-50k.If you opt for this approach, you should proceed with caution. Such a significant salary hike comes with major expectations, and sadly, we’re already seeing people underperform and return to the market within months.
As Léon said, “I’ve been in the industry 20 years, and I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. I’m not sure what will make the bubble burst, but we need to. It’s unsustainable at this level.”
Unfortunately, the one trend we don’t see slowing down in the short term is the number of opportunities available to candidates. Anyone looking for an agency role currently will have 4 or 5 businesses to choose from. Thanks to the rapid growth of 2021, there’s a substantial backlog of vacancies that needs to be washed up before we encounter a buyer’s market again.
“It feels like there just aren’t enough people. Do we have ourselves to blame?”
Whilst we only have qualitive data on this, we believe that bigger agencies are turning to hiring trainees, apprentices, and recent graduates to plug gaps. Those who can afford to, are investing in training.
Lots of smaller agencies feel they don’t have the cash to follow suit. Training is expensive, and a costly mistake if the person leaves for a bigger business. But there’s an argument to say that if you get the other bits right – culture, remuneration, personal development, career progression –you’ll retain the junior employees as they move through the ranks.
However, a challenge of remote first is the difficulty in training. Collectively, we’re searching for best practice and engaging ideas when it comes to going digital for traditionally in-person activities and training is no exception. The consensus of our delegates was that remote is hindering the growth of the next generation as there is no incidental learning. Regardless of how much formal training is put in place, new employees aren’t getting up to speed. The general feel is that there is simply no replacement for being in the room and learning from senior people.
Is that because there is no viable alternative, or are we scared to look for one? Anecdotally, it appears that while Millennials and Gen Z have fully embraced the digital world, Gen X find video calls transactionally valuable, but void of any nuance. Or perhaps it is closer tied to personality types, the extrovert versus introvert conversation. Regardless of the reasons, leaders are currently in limbo and are hoping a solution shows itself soon.
“What are the key takeaways?”
Recruitment. Hiring. Talent attraction. Whatever you call it, it takes time and dedication.
You cannot stop for a second. Keep a constant stream of talent flowing, exactly like you do with business development. The New Biz pipeline and the talent pipeline should be given equal care and attention, otherwise you risk winning business that your current team can’t fulfil.
There’s a smorgasbord of tools needed to attract and retain people. The good news is, as marketers, you have them all in your arsenal already. You just need to be disciplined about using them.
And finally, don’t forget the value of your existing employees – you don’t want to neglect them and leak people out the bottom of the funnel.
If you have a tricky role to fill and need some advice, pick up the phone and give us a call. Our recruitment consultants will be happy to help!
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