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Ask the Expert - Rob Steed

by Rob Steed 06/10/2015

What advice would you give a social enterprise looking to recruit to a high level position? 

Be positive about your business. It may sound like an obvious thing to say, but so few social enterprise businesses make enough "fuss" about themselves, either because they use high street recruiters to find people (who almost always work anonymously) or because they underestimate how exciting they would be to a potential candidate. If you are going to outsource the recruitment, make sure you have the right relationship with your recruiter. The "employer brand" is so important, and your recruiter needs to get that spot on. If you work with a typical external recruiter, they are only paid on placement, which often means they are competing with you and other agencies. They therefore tend to do everything anonymously (or risk a candidate approaching you directly).  It's a candidate-market, so you need to get your name out there and make it as visible as possible. Be proud.

What difficulties do you think social enterprises have in recruiting that other business types do not experience? 

None. Lots of businesses have difficulties recruiting, especially in certain geographical locations, and for certain roles. There are clearly still some misunderstandings about what "social enterprise" means to candidates from outside the sector, but if you get your messaging right you can get around that, and there are also lots of positives. Just focus on the good stuff.

Have you noticed any trends in the recruitments you have been a part of since working with Stepping Out?  

I've been surprised at the number of candidates from totally different sectors who are really excited about the roles Stepping Out has worked on. Creating that enthusiasm is something we try to do during the recruitment process through a great advert and comprehensive job pack, but it's also a sign that there is lots of excitement about social enterprise at the moment.

Are there any real positives in recruiting for a social enterprise? 

Absolutely. Most people would like to work for a company which "does good". However, that shouldn't be an excuse to under-pay or expect any less credibility than in any other sector. A lot of social enterprises that we work with have recently stepped out of the public sector, so they retain a lot of the procedural expertise and HR positives without some of the more notorious aspects, like endless red tape and cumbersome bureaucracy. There’s a real shift in the market towards ethical employers so social enterprise is a really attractive prospect for a lot of people, and they can attract really great candidates. You often find the people in social enterprise are particularly driven and passionate about what they do as well, and that enthusiasm can be really infectious, so they’re good places to work.

What are the most common mistakes you tend to see? 

Not agreeing and documenting up front all of the key criteria you require in a candidate. It's so important to understand what you want in your ideal candidate. It has a direct effect on everything else we do in the process, from the writing of the job advert, to shortlisting. If something in the person specification isn't critical make sure you say so, but if something else really is critical, make sure you're completely clear on it. It's better to get a smaller number of great candidates than a long list of unsuitable ones.

Why use a specialist recruiter? 

I break down recruitment into three main sections: Attraction, Assessment and Engagement, i.e. finding people, making sure they're the right people, and getting them on board. The "Attraction" bit has changed drastically over the last decade with the huge growth of job boards, social media and news ways of networking. It's critical to get details of your role to as many of the right people as possible, and that differs by sector, specialism, location, and lots more. A specialist recruiter will know how to get the message out to the right people, in the right places. It probably doesn't include the local paper any more. Getting the branding right and taking the time to really get to grips with what sort of candidate each role needs is also really important, and it makes the assessment part a lot easier as applicants tend to be more relevant. You get a more personalised service which really shouts about what your company has to offer, and one that really understands what you need and how to get it.

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