The Impossible Job

people holding up question marks

The Impossible Job

By the time you read this Sam Allardyce will have presented to the media as the next Manager of the England football team, in what is often referred to as “the Impossible Job”.

While succeeding in the England job can certainly seem impossible, recruiting someone who wants to do it isn’t. Despite the pressure of carrying the expectations of a nation on your shoulders, trying to manage the egos of 23+ prima donnas, the continual media onslau
ght and millions of people dissecting your professional competence on a daily basis, someone always takes the job not long after it becomes vacant. A salary of £3.5m probably helps.

Yet the same cannot be said if you are recruiting senior management roles in the infrastructure, rail and transport sectors, with many businesses often struggling to fill a role within three months when a senior employee leaves.

poll published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills earlier this year found that 34% of roles in the infrastructure sector were classified by the employer as “difficult to fill” because it couldn’t find “applicants with the appropriate skills, qualifications or experience”.

So what do you do if you have a very demanding, senior position to fill and you don’t have a multi-million salary to offer like the FA?

Leaving senior roles open like this can be catastrophic. Another senior employee is often informally covering the role, desperately trying to do two jobs simultaneously and struggling to give either the attention it needs. This can lead to them getting burnt out, long-term decisions may well be put off, opportunities missed, team morale hit, and customers lost.

Often leaving a senior role vacant for a long period of time can lead to those at the rung below becoming disgruntled at the lack of certainty and long-term direction.

The urgency to hire is high but companies are wisely unwilling to hire a sub-optimal candidate just because they are available.

So what can you do to stop the process grinding to a halt?

A major infrastructure business recently contacted us with a senior vacancy that had been open for nine months. Another search company had been commissioned to headhunt for the role eight months previously and had failed to fill it. The business had been recommended to us by another client as head-hunters that like a challenge. The successful candidate from our search has just started and the client is relieved that the problem role was solved for them within eight weeks of appointing us.

We don’t claim to have a magic wand – just plenty of market experience and a practical approach to solving recruitment problems in the rail, aviation, power and infrastructure sectors.

The best approach when faced with an “Impossible Job” is to focus on the following steps

1. The Job Spec

The first thing is to look through the job specification, particularly the person specification to see what it’s asking for. How realistic is it? Is it what they really need? Or just some compilation of the individual wishlists of several of the stakeholders that hasn’t been sense checked.

It boils down to finding someone who ticks three boxes – they can do the job; they are motivated to do the job; and they fit with the culture of the organisation. All too often companies focus on the first and third of these aims and forget about the middle one, with predictable results. The key is to take each required criteria and decide if it is essential or desirable, which should result in a realistic job specification.

2. Compare the Market

Look at the salary, benefits package, location, appeal of the role, employment brand of the company and current competition/availability for someone with the required skills and experience. Can it be done for that salary and in that location? If so how can it be done and if not what needs to be flexed in order to recruit the role? The FA’s appointment panel were widely reported to have done this early on; comparing the salary required to attract a top manager from overseas (c£5m per annum) with the salary needed to attract the strongest available English manager (c£3.5m per annum), which led them to decide a home-grown appointment was the best option.

While money is rarely the most important factor for senior candidates when considering a job move, it has to be right. If you are offering well below the market rate for the experience and capability you’re seeking, filling the job is never going to happen. We can offer market based evidence of the going rate that you need to offer to attract their target candidate.

If pay isn’t the issue, then greater flexibility on location may help. A company may be asking for current competitor experience but be based nowhere near the majority of firms in their sector. What are the allied sectors that are more local to you? Another option is to look at the extent to which you could accommodate someone working from home or another regional office for part of the week, which may make the role more manageable for some candidates.

3. Past History

What’s been done so far to fill the role? Has another search company worked on it, have an internal recruitment team (if you have one) been working on it etc? By reviewing the work done previously by others you can see if there are gaps that were missed. Were the right businesses targeted? This review allows you to plan the right approach this time around.

4. Be Prepared

What are the selling points of the role and its potential career path within the company? This can make the difference when face to face with the dream candidate who ticks all the boxes, but who is well looked after by his current employer and weighing up if they wish to take it forward. We also prepare an in-depth candidate brief to share with candidates to sell the role that they can read at their leisure.

5. Agree a Plan

If everyone involved within the employer and the search company has a project plan, showing which days they will be required for interviews etc, the search can be concluded in a much quicker time frame.

By marrying the company’s expectations with the job it is offering, we always back ourselves to crack even the hardest to fill role in transport and infrastructure. With the number of major projects on the horizon, and the skills shortages that are predicted, it’s not going to get any easier to attract the top talent in the market.

If you have an “Impossible Job” to recruit we can provide you with a consultation as above to ensure your process leads to success.

To book a call please click here

Author: Jim Newsom

Jim Newsom

Managing Director