How to bowl over your preferred candidate

Securing Preferred Candidates - Thinkstock

With the economic recovery continuing to strengthen, there are plenty of opportunities for commercial growth in the current market. Organisations are looking to build up their teams, ensuring they have greater capacity to handle increased workloads.

Employers recognise that they need more staff to capitalise on the current economic climate, but they can't just employ anybody. Hiring managers are looking for skilled and experienced professionals to fill niche roles - individuals who can add real value to their organisation going forwards. However, there are a number of challenges.

  • Difficulties securing top talent

Firstly, because so many businesses and organisations are looking to hire, there is simply not enough talent to go around. Employers are being forced to compete for the same candidates, the result being that some are failing to hire their preferred option.

With demand for professional expertise exceeding supply, pay inflation is inevitable. Organisations are having to pay more to secure the most in-demand professionals. Unless they are willing to offer a premium for talent, the best candidates are likely to choose a different employer.

At the same time, organisations risk losing their best people to rival organisations. Because salaries are rising, many employees are taking the view that they can secure a better deal if they move. In a study conducted by Robert Half, 49 per cent of employers said they had witnessed an increase in voluntary turnover - a trend that is harming companies' workforces.

Employers face the dual challenge of attracting professionals who are capable of taking their organisation forward, while keeping hold of their best people. In order to compete effectively for the top talent, they need to offer something extra-special - whether this is in pecuniary terms, career progression, or other benefits.

  • Candidate selection is just the first step

During the application and interview process, it may be apparent that there are one or two candidates that stand out from the rest. It could be that their CV is fantastic, they have significant experience in your field, or they simply understand what needs doing and how to deliver on the front line.

But identifying the best person for the role is just the first step towards employing them. While the candidate has expressed an interest in working for your organisation - given that they have applied for the job in the first place - it could be that they are attending multiple interviews.

Top candidates know they will be in-demand among potential employers, and in this sense, they may be assessing prospective employers as much as they are being assessed. In order to secure their services, organisations need to make as positive an impression as possible.

If candidates are underwhelmed by what they see at interview - whether in terms of the professionalism of your organisation, facilities and resources, location, job conditions or remuneration - this may be the last you will see of them. Regardless of whether they are the preferred candidate or not, they won't be joining your organisation.

When dealing with preferred candidates, hiring managers need to ensure they represent their organisation in the best possible light, and fully communicate the benefits of working there. Professionals may be interested to know about the company mission, culture and values, opportunities for progression, and any exciting plans for the future. The way the organisation is marketed could potentially make a difference.

  • Making a swift decision

Hiring managers who are able to make quick decisions about prospective candidates may also be at an advantage in terms of recruitment. If there is a significant time gap between the interview and the final decision, it could easy jeopardise the hire.

Firstly, the candidate may become frustrated with the employer, and question why it is taking so long to make a decision. Will this also be the case in future when key business decisions need to be made? Secondly, they may start to wonder how much the organisation actually wants them to join. If the job offer comes a week or two after the interview, is it because other candidates have already been approached and turned down the role?

Thirdly, on a more practical level, delaying can allow other organisations to step in with a job offer first. If your preferred candidate has been going to multiple interviews, then it might be that they have more than one option. In this scenario, moving quickly and demonstrating how much you want them to join could be essential.

  • Be wary of counter offers

If your organisation is set to hire a skilled and experienced candidate, it means another employer is about to lose one of their valued people. Understandably, they will not be pleased about this. In all likelihood, they won't allow their talent to leave without putting up a fight.

It could be that your preferred candidate is made a counter-offer by their existing employer in a bid to keep hold of their services. This could blow your original pay and benefits offer out of the water, creating something of a dilemma for the hiring manager. Is it worth countering the counter-offer, or should you look elsewhere?

Ideally, you don't want to get played off against another employer by a candidate - this raises questions about their main motivations and desire to work for you. But equally, if you need high calibre people to join your organisation, it may be possible to pay something of a premium. Candidates cannot be blamed for trying to secure the best possible deal.

Acting quickly, by making a firm, attractive offer to a preferred candidate, may persuade them that yours is the organisation they want to work for. As long as you can afford the enhanced pay and benefits package, it may be worth it - this can minimise the threat posed by a counter-offer, and by other organisations targeting the same individual.

  • Making an attractive offer

The last thing you want when trying to recruit a skilled professional is for them to be underwhelmed by your initial pay and benefits offer. It is important to have some insight into candidate expectations, and gauge what sort of package it may take to secure their services. Otherwise there is a risk of the whole process stalling.

Consulting pay benchmarking resources such as the Robert Half Salary Guides can help organisations make a suitable offer. The guides estimate the average salaries paid to skilled professionals across a number of sectors, and compare them to the wages paid in the previous year.

In order to recruit the best people, it may be necessary to pitch an offer at the higher end of the earnings bracket. High salaries are by no means a guarantee of securing a hire, but they do put organisations in a stronger position, particularly where multiple employers are competing for the same candidates.

Ideally, hiring managers should know how much individual professionals are currently earning, as well as also how much they are looking for. Sometimes candidates are required to disclose this information on their application form, to ensure they meet the qualification criteria for the role. There is nothing worse for employer and candidate than reaching the final interview stage only to discover there is a significant expectation gap.

  • Tailoring the remuneration package

At times, it may be necessary to negotiate with preferred candidates in order to secure their services. Hiring managers need to judge each case on its merits, but be mindful of the need to work within the confines of their recruitment budget. Ultimately it comes down to just how much the organisation wants and needs to employ a certain individual. The shorter the supply of viable candidates, the more they may need to offer.

Employers also need to think about offering a rounded benefits package, with an attractive pension, generous annual leave entitlement, and other employee perks. If the preferred candidate has a young family, they may be interested in flexible working - allowing them to spend more time at home than would normally be possible.

Talented professionals will always be eager to know about professional development and career progression opportunities, so organisations need to have a plan in place for training, coaching and mentoring. It may even be that they set time aside for independent learning and study towards qualifications - this could appeal to some candidates depending on the nature of the role.