The Situation 

Our client was a government-backed start-up, created to lead and challenge the UK’s technology strategy in one of our most exciting industry sectors. Based in the East Midlands, the Institute's goal is to act as a catalyst across UK Plc, ensuring that the UK capitalises on its potential to be a world leader in its sector.

With a core team already in place, the next step was to find another 35 people within six months to fill the organisation. These were mainly technical and strategy specialists in the aerospace sector at varying levels of experience, from recent graduates to Directors. There were very few recruitment systems or processes in place and planning was at an early stage, which meant that job descriptions were in a state of flux and frequently changed as the business evolved very quickly. Candidates are hard to find and harder to attract in this industry of risk-averse engineers whose careers tend to span many years with an employer, who are in turn few in number.

Although the client was based in a wonderful location with a long history of innovation, it was many miles from the traditional heartlands for its sector. The business was keen to avoid selecting just from the main local industry player, which would have been the easiest option due to its proximity and internal networks. It was, therefore, important to thoroughly search all relevant businesses to ensure that any appointments we made for the right reasons.

As well as finding and attracting the right candidates, our challenge was to design and implement a thorough and robust end to end recruitment process which could handle high volume pressures with a great candidate experience and could be handed over at the end of the project, suitable for the needs of the business going forward.

 

The Solution

We designed the recruitment process around the company, implementing an Applicant Tracking System linked to the company’s website, creating a careers section and managing their LinkedIn and Twitter presences. We designed assignment briefs and advertising that reflected the company’s positioning, keeping the company’s distinct tone of voice. With very few people needing to interview a great number of candidates in a short space of time, the focus was on filtering out as much as possible to give a high interview to offer ratio.

It was important to stay flexible as the company still had some thinking to do around its internal structure. We developed a long list of target companies, both large and small, and contacted around a thousand individuals at a range of levels to introduce the concept of our client to them. We also worked with a number of trade and industry bodies, universities and industry outplacement services to dig out any likely candidates.

 

Challenges

The biggest challenge in this project has been the coming together of a very new, and very senior, leadership team. As a service provider, it is tempting to keep quiet and respond to whoever shouts loudest, but that isn’t always in the best interest of the client as a whole or the candidates who are being considered. As emotions run high, it is very easy to apportion blame without determining a better way forward. The candidate experience is absolutely crucial to a start-up, where the field of talent to choose from is already narrowed; when this happens, employees are made to feel very special when they join as they are so essential and hard to find, which often leads to organisational arrogance and a tendency to look for reasons not to hire rather than compromising. Passion and drive about the business internally is high, and external stakeholders/candidates may not have that same passion and enthusiasm.

Similarly, during set-up phase, a lot of things need doing that wouldn’t ordinarily be handled by the leadership team, such as website design, payroll process design and so on. Without the business in full delivery mode, there’s often not enough of a day job to do. Add this to a business and a cause that everyone feels passionate about, then involve highly intelligent, motivated and capable people, this can lead to interference rather than delegation.

 

Outcomes

Our recommendations and the calibre of candidates identified helped to reduce the headcount needed from 35 to 20 overall, significantly reducing headcount budget. The average time to hire was 34 days, including roles filled by executive search, often delayed by interviewing time constraints as our hiring managers were very stretched during this setup phase.

The Strategy team is of exceptional quality; there are some extremely strong MDc, PhD and EngD graduates in some of the more junior technical roles; some roles have been combined due to the strength of senior candidates; the profile and visibility of the company has been raised significantly through engaging with potential candidates; there are strong recruitment processes and onboarding programmes in place, with happy, engaged candidates; the technologist team is being built successfully despite geographical challenges.

One of the key aspects of this project has been maintaining positive engagement with the business, and in particular HR. The backing of HR is absolutely crucial in all projects, but never more so than in start-ups where emotions can often run high due to stress and lack of resources. No-one has enough time for interviewing as everyone is too busy doing their day jobs, but it is impossible to hire people without interviewing. This is further made difficult because teams are under-resourced, which would ease with more people in the team… the problem becomes circular and it is very easy to blame recruitment. Strong HR support helps the hiring teams to understand the process behind finding good people that it takes time and effort, and much work goes on beneath the surface. When everyone pulls together, great things can be achieved.

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