Stephen Veness, Group Manager of Projects & Operations with Davidson discusses a pitfall of the skills shortage.

Panic hiring against cultural fit.

While we find ourselves seeking candidates in a market where there is a marked lack of quantity, it is imperative to ensure this doesn’t panic employers into settling for a lack of quality in who they hire. By quality, I don’t just mean the calibre of a candidate’s qualifications and experience; I also mean making sure an integral part of the recruitment process continues to be hiring for cultural fit.

Once an organisation lets the bar slip on a candidate being the right cultural fit, it has all manner of short, medium and long term impacts on the team they join and, by extension, the company as a whole. In an ideal world, we would have our pick of candidates, but now candidates have their pick of employers, companies desperate to fill roles may be tempted to go with a candidate they would not normally have chosen.

Where you have candidates with skillsets which are in high demand, notably technical and critical roles, senior positions and project delivery, the temptation to hire someone out of a very limited talent pool who doesn’t quite fit with the values and ethics of the company, can seem appealing.

This kind of hire may solve some short term problems allowing a business to bring a project to completion or delivering to timelines. But the question which needs to be asked is: at what cost?

No matter how hard or how much we may want or need them to, square pegs do not fit into round holes. Trying to force them to ends up being costly and sometimes unnecessarily painful for everyone. This is particularly true in collaborative environments and projects where there needs to be a high level of engagement and communication.

Many of our clients are large government departments undertaking ambitious and expensive infrastructure builds such as the Sydney Metro project where there are multiple departments, levels of management, compliance, contractors and sub-contractors. We have seen what happens when wrong hires are taken on for these projects which already carry enormous logistical issues and an extremely varied set of skilled staff: and we have seen what happens when teams work cohesively and collaboratively. The difference comes down to the recruitment process and how much of a focus there is on cultural fit.

More and more clients now almost take as a given, a candidate’s technical skills for a role they are shortlisted for. The qualities they are more likely to ask about are around the candidate’s communication skills, their attitude to teamwork and collaboration, and other soft skills. This means recruiters need to be asking the more insightful interview questions and using the tools at our disposal including psychometric testing to get under the bonnet of a person’s style and preferences.

When we are interviewing engineers now, we also test for verbal reasoning and personality. We already know they have the technical skills. We want to know if they have the soft skills. We have also found that having input from an organisation’s HR team during the recruitment and interview process can be invaluable because they are not looking so much for the technical skills, but more the candidate’s cultural fit within the organisation and team. 

Members of the HR team will ask non-technical questions, such as wanting an example of when a candidate demonstrated leadership and worked cohesively with a team and this is exactly the kind of necessary information the technically minded may not think to ask about.

Our clients don’t need recruiters to simply mark boxes on checklists and act as a CV screening service; they need genuine partners who understand the business, the culture and what is needed holistically. That means reminding them that the right talent can be found; it just takes time, diligence and appropriate process rather than accepting a candidate who will never fit in with their team.

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