Defining the ideal employee

Louise Moseley By Louise Moseley on 14.01.2016
Defining the perfect employee image

The first and arguably most important stage in your recruitment process should be to define what your ideal candidate looks like. Sound obvious? It is, however too many hiring managers and recruiters are still not paying enough attention to this vitally important stage of the recruitment process.

How often have you heard, "Oh I'll know the right person when I see them"? Or "Find me another Janet / Robert", or whoever they believe is their top performer.

Why is it so important to define your ideal candidate? 60 per cent of UK workers are not happy in their jobs

First and foremost, defining the ideal candidate and using this in your recruitment process gives you a much better chance of identifying the right candidate for the job. When a candidate is a perfect, or at the very least, a good fit for a role, they will be more productive, more quickly and less likely to move on after a few months.

According to research carried out by Investors in People, 60 per cent of UK workers are not happy in their jobs. Of these, a great many are simply not doing a job they enjoy.

Secondly, the time and cost of recruiting today is higher than ever. There are fewer candidates available in general and many industries are experiencing significant skills shortage. Can you really afford to hire on a hunch or gut feeling? The answer by the way is NO.

So below I've outlined a structured and strategic approach to defining what your ideal candidate looks like.

1. Define the role

Let's get started, firstly before you can start to define your ideal candidate, you need to define the role in detail. Assuming you have produced a detailed job description for the role, this can provide a good starting point.

However, your job description is fundamently an outward facing document, it's used to attract candidates to your role. As such, job descriptions tend to focus on the key features of the role, will often exaggerate the positives and gloss over the negatives.

For this purpose, the definition of the role needs to be a "warts and all" document. Using the job description, consider exactly what the job involves, what are the roles and responsibilities? You should also consider is the role going to change or evolve over time. Will the role look the same in 6, 12 or 24 months time?

As a recruiter or hiring manager, you may only have a partial understanding of exactly what the role involves on a day-to-day basis, or in "real life". It therefore makes sense to involve not just the line manager and HR, but also those currently in the job and those who report into the role. They will be able to give you a more rounded view of what the role really involves.

2. Understand your corporate culture

Corporate culture

You should be able to describe the "corporate culture" of your organisation in a few simple sentances. Maybe you're a young tech start up that's full of energy and encourages free thinking and risk taking.

Or, you may be a long established company where your culture is more conservative, professional and risk adverse.

Along with the established corporate culture for the organisation as a whole, you also need to consider the working environment and culture that exists within different group of employees, departments or offices which may be subtly or significantly different to that of the overall organisation.

The culture within the workplace can have a significant impact of how potential employees fit it, how they ultimately perform and whether or not they stay for the long term. Understanding the working culture that exists around a role is therefore important. Once again, a good way to achieve this is by engaging with those currently in the job, the line managers and those working closely with that team.

48.4 percent employee turnover for organisations with poor company culture

A Columbia University study shows that there is a significant difference in employee turnover at organisations with rich company culture, a mere 13.9 percent, compared with 48.4 percent for organisations with poor company cultures.

Another useful way to gauge what the working culture is like, is to review exit interviews conducted with leaving employees. If they tell you that the role was too pressured, or that they felt the role was too structured or restrictive, this can provide valuable insights into the actual day to day role.

Once you fully understand and appreciate the corporate culture and working environment, you can start to consider the preferred personal qualities, characteristics and values the candidates should ideally possess. In addition to listing these qualities, it is sensible to rate them in order of importance.

If you're looking for a sales person to work within a high pressure, competitive environment such as financial trading floor, then having a win at all costs attitude, being tenacious and being decisive may be considered as the most important characteristics you want to see in a candidate. However, it maybe equally important that they are accurate and disciplined, so deciding on the order of importance will vary from company to company.

3. What are your minimum requirements

For every job there will be a series of "must haves". These are skills, strengths or talents an employee needs to do the role. Often these will be defined as minimum qualifications, previous experience in a similar role, sector or vertical. They can also be strengths, characteristics and attitudes.

To be a door-to-door sales person, you need to be resilient and self-motivated, you don't need a degree in applied mathematics. In contrast, to be an airline pilot you must have the relevant pilots licence and experience of flying the planes your airline operates.

When listing or ranking the must haves, it is important to make the distinction between those attributes that can be taught or acquired easily and those that can't. If the role involves using a particular software program, ask whether this skill is actually a must have, or is it something that can be learnt relatively quickly. To become a surgeon will take years of training and a minimum level of education.

As well as skills and experience, increasingly employers are recognising that having the right personal strengths and attributes can be just as important to doing the role successfully. There has been a lot talked and written about the importance of nurses being naturally caring and compassionate. This is not a skill or talent that can be learned, it is an in built human characteristic that you either have or don't.

4. Team dynamics and diversity

Involve the whole team

Another very important consideration when defining the ideal candidate for a role is to look at the make up of the current team or department they will be working in. A common misconception is that you simply need to find an clone of the current top performer. This is not always the case.

Defining the role using post it notes

In fact, the strongest teams will bring varying perspectives from both professional and personal experiences. Why diversity matters is increasingly well known and understood. Even for roles such as in customer services, it is not always as simple as having employees who behave and conduct themselves exactly the same. Having a team with a diverse range of experiences and our outlooks, can help to build a more rounded and more effective team.

Once again, to gain a thorough understanding of the current team dynamic, where its' strengths lie and what its' weaknesses are, requires open and honest conversations with all stakeholders, both internally and ideally externally as well. Asking your customers what they like most about dealing with your team and where they feel you might be lacking can help to identify where the gaps are and the sort of candidates you need to fill them.

5. Career development

45 percent of employess leave due to lack of prospects

For many candidates the potential of career development will be an important consideration. Job Board Career Builder’s survey, covered in the Forbes Magazine article Why Your Top Talent Is Leaving In 2014, And What It'll Take To Retain Them listed nine reasons why people leave. For 45% of workers it was the lack of career advancement opportunities at current company which contributed most to them leaving.

Therefore, you need to understand and consider what the career development path looks like for the role. Potential career development can vary from one organisation to another and from role to role .

Professional services firms tend to have a clearly defined and in some cases, extremely dynamic career path for those entering the business. However, depending on what stage the candidate enters the organisation, this can vary significantly.

Other sectors may have slower, more structured career paths. Many traditional engineering firms for example, where promotion is based on length of service and experience.

Understanding the career development path the candidate can expect will help you to manage the candidates expectations for the role.

6. The main take aways

Defining your ideal candidate is not the work of a moment and depending on the type of role, can require a significant investment in time and effort. However, the value of doing this properly upfront will pay huge dividends later in the recruitment process and in years to come.

The key points to consider are:

  • Start with a well written job description
  • Engage with all stakeholders (HR, line managers, direct reports and top performers)
  • The overall company culture and local working environment
  • Define a list of must have skills, strengths and attributes
  • What skills can be taught quickly and easily
  • What is the career development path for the role?

If you take the time to fully define what the ideal candidate looks like, you are better able to create a recruitment process which will screen for the minimum requirements, skills and experience, identify the characteristics, strengths and values you know will be required for a candidate to be successful in the role.

If you have any questions about defining your ideal candidate and how to use this as part of your recruitment process, click below to schedule a call.

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