The first spurt of expansion finds us in a heady rush of adrenaline, welcoming applicants with over excited naivety. A little further down the line the grim reality sets in; we know we cannot grow our businesses without the right people, and reality means it is both a struggle to find them, and our new hires turn bad at an alarming rate of 1:2 or 1:3 at best. At this point, we may well be consulting HR companies for the first time. They know a sucker when they see one and will have you convinced in no time that your recruitment processes are dire, the way you handle staff are worse and for a not so small fee they can solve all these problems. Recruitment companies, always outstanding at acquiring personal email addresses, bombard you with a mix of their dream candidates and their apparently peerless ability to solve your recruitment issues. Both are remarkably good at making you overlook the fact they couldn’t give a monkey’s about you or your business and are simply there to sell their services. Having become disenchanted with both myself, I have subsequently been on hordes of courses and to myriad business discussions on the subject of perfect recruitment. From the better ones, I have come out believing that I have actually acquired some sort of holy grail that is going to solve this issue of recruiting staff for the growing business. There isn’t one. First and foremost, no business is the same. The skill sets needed, the demography, and the geography – not to mention the owner’s style and business culture. There are the increasing complications from additional HR legislation, a wider labour market across the EU. At the bottom end of the market, advertising for unskilled labour is eye opening. In sunny East Anglia, the quickest way to whittle down the applicants is one email question (something simple like are you still looking for a job) as perhaps 80 per cent won’t reply – because they aren’t, they never were. They are also from all over Britain, with the will not relocate box firmly ticked on their CV. However, the benefits system insists that they apply to get their money and therefore we have to plough through them. In this sea of applicants, the small business all too easily fails to reply to everyone – and this soon becomes another nightmare as you find the local populace spitting blood about the dreadful company that never replied and your brand name locally has deteriorated dramatically from failing to cope with the dole acquiring influx. The fancy courses on recruitment will gee you up to interview with strange psychologically probing questions. New fashionable ones range from the “if you were a car/animal/bird – which one would you be?” to “explain the process questions of some particular unsolvable question” and dislocating strange demands for irrelevant information from the names of the seven dwarfs onwards. All have been carefully thought out by some psychology graduate somewhere to reveal the applicant’s inner self. Sadly, the average entrepreneur has not studied the same subject and therefore is not helped by the respective merits of applicants who wish to be a Ford Focus or a Vauxhall Astra. Nor do the high majority of EU applicants completely grasp the subtleties of the questions and the interview can soon dissolve into a Basil Fawlty to Manuel exchange The other huge factor is the business owner themselves. We entrepreneurs know who we like and we are pretty fast at forming judgements. Assuming the candidates have been well whittled down on skills sets prior to coming near you, however many fancy questions we have taught ourselves to ask – if we were really, really honest, we have made up our minds about 90% of the applicants before the first handshake. Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company
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