Attracting the best: An evidence-based approach to recruitment – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Attracting the best: An evidence-based approach to recruitment

A very successful Public Service Career Day was recently held on Queen’s University’s campus, with representatives from a variety of government departments looking to hire soon-to-be graduates. This event led us to consider some of the factors associated with attracting the best and brightest to work for Canada’s public service. As in any industry, attracting a large and qualified pool of applicants allows employers to be selective, maximizing the likelihood of choosing the best person for the job. However, it is not always easy to gain the attention and interest of top candidates. We suggest an evidence-based approach to employee recruitment can maximize results.

Think big, work smart

Often, decisions about how to recruit are made based on habit – doing what the organization has always done without much consideration of unique job requirements or labor market conditions. Of course, such an approach may not be the best way to get quality applicants in the door. While a variety of recruitment and advertising strategies may be at the employer’s disposal (e.g., print, television/radio and internet ads; employee referrals), ultimately, the best strategy is likely to be one that is multi-pronged. A multi-method approach maximizes the likelihood an employer will reach those who possess the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for each position. This is an important consideration when seeking a geographically, demographically and economically diverse applicant pool. 

In addition to targeting individuals who meet basic job requirements, assessment of a potential fit between the applicant’s and organization’s work-related values should not be ignored. Government employers might, for example, benefit by relying on recruitment methods that inspire those who identify with the values associated with public service work (e.g., pursuing those who “think globally but act locally”). So, while thinking big is a commendable goal, it remains important to work smart in order to reach people that are best qualified for available positions.   

More information up-front

While a large applicant pool maximizes the employer’s ability to be selective, too many applicants may put excessive strain on the resources needed to screen candidates. To avoid this scenario, hiring organizations are well-advised to craft detailed job descriptions, providing specific information about the prerequisites needed to be successful on the job. Management scholars Timothy Judge and Robert Bretz also suggest that recruitment materials should highlight organizational values, particularly those related to fairness, concern for others, and employee achievement.

Specific, evidence-based information is also beneficial. For example, a study by Scott Highouse and colleagues showed that recruitment materials that provide statistical evidence summarizing organizational values and climate (e.g., “a recent employee poll shows X% of our employees are satisfied and would recommend this employer to their friends”), are seen by potential job candidates as more convincing than those that rely on unsubstantiated mission statements, fuzzy goals, or general testimonials (e.g., “a great place to work!”). Providing detailed evidence about the workplace and its’ climate allows job seekers to assess their own fit and remain or withdraw. This ultimately reduces the number of unqualified applicants in the pool.  

Play up your perks 

The ability to highlight the subtle and less-tangible benefits often associated with public sector jobs (pensions, holidays, cross-training, job security, work-life balance, task and skill variety, etc.) is critical to recruitment success. This is particularly the case when recruiting for positions where financial rewards may be lower than what is offered by private-sector organizations. Nevertheless, it is important to be honest with candidates about what they can expect in terms of compensation, perks and workload. Over-emphasizing the positive attributes of a job can contribute to unrealistic expectations, potentially fueling negative attitudes and behaviours down the road. Providing information that permits job seekers to accurately evaluate job responsibilities, as well as the features of an organization’s culture and climate, is a first step in establishing positive relationships with future employees. 

Move quickly

Once potential candidates have been identified through a rigorous recruiting and screening process, it is important to move quickly. Significant lag times between the recruitment, application, interview, and hiring phases may push the best candidates to accept competing offers. As we mentioned previously, one way to decrease time spent screening applicants is to provide them with useful, detailed information from the get-go. The odds of keeping top-candidates “on the hook” are maximized when the hiring process is made as transparent and expedient as possible.

Retain talent you recruit 

Of course, recruiting and hiring highly qualified individuals reflects only half of the story. It is imperative that employers take steps to retain those they attract and hire. Developing comprehensive socialization programs that ensure newcomers have the physical resources (e.g., equipment) and emotional support (e.g., senior mentor) they need to begin their employment on a positive note is critical. Finally, management strategies that boost employee satisfaction and commitment include involving employees in decisions that affect them and investing in high-performance work systems such as training, development, and performance management programs.

Check yourself and adapt

Ultimately, it is important that employer

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