May 5, 2021

Talking to David Smith about the perfect hiring process

David is the UK’s top speaker on People Engagement and business performance. We spoke with him about our recent survey of 6,500 candidates.
10 min read
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Jeremy Bourhis
Demand Generation Manager
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David Smith is the UK’s number one speaker on People Engagement and business performance.

In light of our recent survey of 6,500 candidates about their expectations, we wanted to talk to him about our findings and more. Read on for the full conversation below.

What was your initial reaction to the research?

I think one of the things that particularly senior employers forget is that when you’re in a hiring process, you’ve got to spend a proportion of your time wooing people.

Recruitment is partly about assessing whether people fit and whether they’re competent and so on, but the other half is attracting them. And part of the attraction is speed – the speed at which you respond to the first touch, the second touch, the third and so on.

That’s particularly relevant if you have a process where a candidate is interviewing with a number of executives. If candidates need to see a certain number of people as part of the process, it’s got to be sleek and quick.

Otherwise the good candidates quickly get frustrated and think, “Oh, this is just such a pain it’s taking too long” and off they go because the best people always have connections anyway.

The wooing is clearly important – but how do you make that scalable?

Well, I suppose at one time it was all about somebody who held the process for you within the organization. It may have been an HR person or a PA or some key person who linked everybody together and went and made sur people were available when they needed to.

Today this process has to be electronic, hasn’t it. CVs are no longer on paper, they’re all online, the process is online and it simply has to work.

One of the things that impressed me most recently is the whole vaccination process. Before it started, I thought to myself: this is going to be a nightmare. You won’t be able to get onto the site and when you do, it’ll crash and when you try and book it, it’ll throw you out.

But it works absolutely perfectly. And I think you need a front end to the process that feels like your company culture – efficient, friendly, speedy.

Why isn’t use of tech like this more common? Sometimes people reference the idea of not wanting to lose the “human touch”, what do you think of that?

Let me make a comparison. After much resistance, I recently moved to Xero for accounting and actually it just works. What used to take me three hours of completely terrible jobs now takes 10 minutes. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner.

And I think the issue for executives is that I’m not sure that they’ve thought about how they can streamline some of this stuff. There’s an arrogance that says, well, we’re a great company, we have a great culture, a great image – so people must want to come work for us.

But the part of your culture and your image is what the individual experiences. So if they experience a brick wall, they’re going to walk away and you might have a brilliant culture and be a brilliant company. But if your front end is not up to these standards, it’s not going to work.

The human touch is what happens when the appointment has been booked, isn’t it? So if it’s easy to book those three or four sessions with the various executives, that’s what the human touch is. People have actually read your CV, they know who’s coming and they know what time you’re turning up. And there they are, ready to receive you, and they welcome you.

That’s the human touch. I don’t think people expect you to have a phone call with them to book an appointment. That’s a waste of time.

When people insist on speaking to you about everything: you know, they’ll say, when are you available? I’m available in the morning. No, I’m not available the morning I’m available in the afternoon. No, I’m not available. And on it goes and I’m sat thinking, “well, what you’re going to tell me in that conversation, I already know” – but you feel you’ve got to have a conversation.

I think we could have dealt with this much quicker, and we could have had the proper conversation down the line, which is what we’re going to do anyway. So to me, I think streamlining a process and then being really human and friendly at the end when they get to the real interaction is what it should look like.

What else is key to that “wooing”?

Well, I think people have got to know at the start what the components are. When will they get an answer because most good candidates who are in the superstar bracket will be playing with two or three options.

Sometimes there’s a sort of pseudo-confidentiality about the process, where we don’t tell the candidate that they’re one of three, or then down to the last two or it’s neck and neck. And why don’t we tell them that?

Because it would be advantageous for them to know, when instead, during those days when they don’t hear anything, they think: what’s happening, what’s gone wrong? Have they lost interest in me? And that can be the day before you have another phone call that says: what about this?

If there is some delay, the smart people find some way of filling it with something. So maybe it’s a visit to a site or place of production. Maybe it’s a visit to a key client or a customer. Keeping people warm is a crucial part of the process.

You know, I used to regularly take people out for dinner because not many people do that. And when someone says: come and see us at the weekend and I’ll show you the area if they’re moving somewhere or let’s go out for dinner to a nice restaurant, it is a point of difference. And you’re behaving like a human being as opposed to an employer,

If this was a friend of the family you would stretch yourself around to try and make it work. So to be human rather than professional is a subtle change of mindset.

What else struck you from the research?

I thought the difference between genders was interesting – because you’re basically saying that this affects women in the US even more.

I can’t say I’ve noticed that before but it illustrates that there is a statistical difference. Therefore, if you’re in a situation where you are trying to redress your balance of employees, if your process is turning off a particular category of person then the message is writ larger, isn’t it.

When I looked at the statistics and saw women in the US were more likely to kick out because of inconvenience, you begin to think, well, is it because they’re juggling with kids? Is it because they’re the one who picks them up from school rather than the father? I don’t know.

I mean, there’s all sorts of mixtures nowadays of how that happens, but your recruitment process needs to say: if you need to work around the habits and routines of children, then we’ll work around that. So I think it’s about how is your recruitment process family friendly?

I guess it’s not something that most employers would come out with, is it really, it’s not a natural sentence.

One of the things that has come out of COVID is that so many more people have now revealed that they’ve had a break at lunch to eat with the family or they’ve dipped into homeschooling. Normal life has gone on alongside work life.

And I’m hearing loud and clear that in the brave new world afterwards, there will be a hybrid model where there’ll be some working in an office and some not. There’ll be some home time and some not. And I think there’ll be some family flexibility time that wasn’t there before.

The smart people are already all over it and realize it’s a point of difference. And I think it needs applying to the recruitment process too.

And what about the differences between regions?

I think there are real country differences that are about country culture. One of the best books I’ve ever read on countries is Riding the Waves of Culture, which graphs how people behave in different places. It’s hilariously funny, but so true.

How you approach it depends whether you’re a global business or a national business. If you’re a global business then you have to perform to the standard of the highest expectations. If you’re purely recruiting domestically and I would build something that fits your own country.

What else would you recommend to people looking to improve in this area?

Well, I think one of the things that I would recommend any company is that the mindset must come from the CEO.

The CEO needs to tell everyone: I expect that everybody who books an interview will not cancel. And if they do, I will want a personal report.

So if you think about making this a fully computerized process, if somebody doesn’t carry through an interview, I would want a report on my desk. Because this elevates it to the point of “Hey, the CEO thinks this is important” because otherwise I think the mindset says that whatever’s urgent and important inside the business takes priority over hiring.

Another one is that hiring is part of your brand. I think people see brand in terms of marketing, they see it in terms of culture, but they don’t always align it to how they hire.

I think getting people to understand that hiring is part of your brand, I think is a key.

What the research said to me was that people who jump out of the process because they are frustrated, will trash your brand verbally and say, “well, don’t apply to them because they were a pain in the…”

We know that a bad story travels a lot faster than a good one. That’s just the nature of life.

We recently surveyed 6,500 candidates in the US, UK, France and Germany. Read our report on how interview scheduling impacts candidate experience and a business’ ability to hire.