The HR World Interview with Ross Crook
“You might not be Google or Apple - but you can attract the best emerging talent”
Whether it’s their culture – or reputation – some businesses are ahead of the pack when it comes to recruiting emerging talent. So how do you compete?
Generation Z. They’re a tricky lot. They can feel like a different species at times. They just want so…. much.
Or do they?
Those of us in senior management are hearing a lot of this kind of thing right now. And it’s certainly true that the fundamental dynamic in the employer/employee relationship has shifted unrecognisably during our working lives.
But it’s time to put the scepticism to bed.
Because only by understanding and embracing the world that younger people are now living in, will we attract them to jobs with our businesses and, crucially, retain them.
The good news is that you don’t need to have ‘campuses’ or be a tech start-up to attract emerging talent. Looking closely at your EVP processes and tailoring both your recruitment and retention strategies to today’s market will allow you to compete to attract the most valuable hires.
Generation Z are the largest generation - yes even outranking Millennials. They are educated, skilled, socially conscious and, after everything they have been through in recent times, surprisingly resilient.
But they are working in a very different emotional landscape to older generations. At a time of rocketing inflation for instance, work for many is only just going to cover the bills, let alone allow them to save for a house deposit or fund a comfortable lifestyle.
Salary is no longer the motivator it once was. This generation needs other things from work. And that means they are super alert to how they want to be treated and whom they identify with.
It’s time to think deeply about what your brand offers them. It’s no longer enough to simply write a CSR page for your website. This digital generation is alert to every touchpoint.
As one Gen Z-er said: "Even surface-level elements were important when I was looking at company websites. I wanted to see photos of people with tattoos and piercings, people who felt comfortable displaying their personality. If I saw people in suits, or a lot of Times New Roman, I started to wonder if the company would let me bring my authentic self to work."
So it’s time to build – or rebuild – your brand.
Purpose is key. Businesses today that don’t understand – or communicate – this will be left behind. What are you in the world to do?
Your mission as a waste collection business for instance might be to efficiently pick up and dispose of rubbish. Your vision however is to create a cleaner, greener, world. By communicating that you will connect with Gen Z values.
If you’re a huge heritage business, you’re never going to attract those looking for the energy – and explosive, but risky, potential – of a start-up. But by communicating your pedigree and solidity you will certainly attract the highest calibre, less risk averse, candidates.
Consider the multiple potential expressions of your purpose. What is your policy on diversity? Your graduate/non graduate ratio? Are you looking beyond academic metrics to recruit?
Externally marketing all these internal decisions and processes is key.
How is your brand communicated on your website and via social media? What is your reputation on review sites like? Internal weaknesses can now be very publically communicated to those looking at you as an employer so if your Glass Door reviews or reputation are poor, you will certainly need to address this internally. But externally too, you can start to dismantle this perception by engaging with reviews and responding thoughtfully with even the negative ones.
Another area of rapid change is the recruitment process. Gen Z is used to the world moving at lightening technological speed: use tech to make the application process fun, engaging and worthwhile. Show them you’re not just about the CV – but potential too.
Gamification will also increasingly revolutionise hiring processes - both engaging candidates and allowing you to assess a whole range of criteria beyond academic performance.
Also, pay close attention to the time demands of your recruitment processes. It may seem counter intuitive but as much as young people want to know all about the people element of your business, they don’t want extensive human interaction to slow down the recruitment process. It needs to feel clean and efficient so once again use tech to provide a seamless transition from application to job offer. For high volume roles, you can speed up the process even further.
Given the war on talent, creative thinking is also key. Graduates are leaving university in significant debt for instance. Is it time to reimagine your apprenticeship scheme to offer white-collar programmes that offer young people the chance to work, earn and learn at the same time? In competitive spaces like tech for instance, this could give you the cutting edge.
The traditional view is that this is an expensive way to hire involving L&D training, HR functions and increased line management.
But if you have an emerging talent programme of say ten hires, you can be sure that three or four of them will stay 3/4 will stay and move up the chain. It’s good for your business: internally you are retaining the knowledge, reputationally you are seen as an employer that people want to work for. By investing people at the start of their career there might also be boomerang hires further down the line.
Resource rich recruitment programmes must certainly make sense but don’t rush to cut them during economic times such as these. It’s a short-term financial solution that will not pay you back further down the line. Cut now and in five years time, you will not have invested in the people who are going to rise within your business. You’ll have blocked a critical part of your talent pipeline.
Retaining Gen Z is once again all about carefully considering their experience. An annual pay rise and chat with a line manager doesn’t cut it anymore.
Once again, purpose is critical and must be fostered in the everyday work of your business. Do you encourage freedom of thought and are diversity and inclusion a part of your everyday conversation? All these show that you translate thoughts into action.
The key is this: emerging talent today demands almost constant interaction to keep them loyal. So think as carefully about your retention as your recruitment.
How are the first few days in post for a new hire? And months? Gen Z want to feel like part of something. And if they’re excluded, or not heard, there is always someone else who will promise this. Give them chances to learn and develop. It will keep them feeling as if they are progressing but also foster the emotional sense that you are investing in them.
And we also need to redefine expectations on what retention really means in today’s market.
We cannot expect to keep people long-term anymore. Investment needs to be framed with the expectation of a five-year return these days. People will move on. That is simply a fact of working life now.
But you can certainly explore ways to maximise retention. It’s important to face into the challenge of people potentially leaving in advance of their resignation for instance. Quick turnover is a reality and we can’t continue to sweep it under the carpet.
Think about your internal mobility and strategic planning options in order to nip dissatisfaction in the bud. Offer progression or lateral movement, create dialogue with employees and invite them to take on new challenges.
If you can identify mobility opportunities, deploy people into different roles and give them new opportunities. In essence, we must be far proactive now about retention than we ever have been.
Put all this together and one thing is clear: the HR demands of your organisation have never been more complex or layered. But make no mistake: there are multiple levels on which everyone can compete for the best emerging talent. Whether you have a campus – or not.