Knowing when you need help is the key

EVERY employer who has a job opening hopes to find the perfect employee to fill it. With so much on the line in recruitment decisions, particularly higher up in the food chain, do companies get better results by relying on their own search resources, or by using a human resources firm?

EVERY employer who has a job opening hopes to find the perfect employee to fill it. With so much on the line in recruitment decisions, particularly higher up in the food chain, do companies get better results by relying on their own search resources, or by using a human resources firm?

HR agencies say there is no general rule for when to do it yourself and when to turn to external HR professionals.

Ingrid Grebecová, executive director of Trenkwalder Management Partners, said companies doing mass recruiting are often better off using an HR agency, many of which "have rich know-how in this area".

She added that an HR agency can also help if a company's HR department is not big enough to perform common recruiting activities or if it needs a specialized service such as a psychological profile of a candidate.

Reinhold Hofmann, general manager of HIC Slovakia, also said that HR agencies are valuable if a company expects many responses from possible candidates and consequently a lot of assessment and selection work.

On the other hand, Gerard Koolen, a managing partner with Lugera & Makler, said that companies should first try to use their own databases of candidates. "Many companies receive spontaneous applications. If I were in their position I would always invite all the applicants myself and see if I could hire people from this source. The moment I found I didn't have suitable people in my own database I would ask an agency for help."

Executive search, in which the targets are candidates to fill top positions in a company, is another ideal area for HR firms. "Here you don't expect candidates to apply, but instead to go after them. The market of executive candidates in a given field is not large, and a good recruiter will know them all," Hofmann told The Slovak Spectator.

Newcomers to the market usually use recruitment companies as well, as they tend to need a lot of HR information on salary levels and labour contracts, as well as assistance in the search and selection process. Many foreign companies setting up in Slovakia also need recruitment companies to help them evaluate candidates and avoid mistakes due to cultural differences.

HR agencies are sometimes criticised for following strict recruiting criteria while failing to understand the position that is to be filled. For example, an HR firm might overlook a candidate with long experience in a slightly different field who could be suitable with minimal training.

To avoid this danger, HR companies advocate long-term relationships and regular contacts with clients.

"Professional consultants are more or less in daily contact, and they always discuss such cases with their clients. We often check on the possibility of employing even a total outsider - someone who does not have relevant professional experience but who is suited to the company's culture. Such candidates very often win the positions," said Mariana Turanová, a managing consultant with Target Future Slovakia.

Hofmann said quality recruiters made fewer mistakes. "I have made some of my best matches for challenging management jobs with people who initially had little functional knowledge because they had a totally different background. For example, I once had a geologist apply for a management job with an IT network company. I asked him for an interview because his CV was so out of the ordinary that I was just interested to see what he was like. He got the job."

Cooperation with specialists from the IT, finance, sales, engineering and other sectors also helped to eliminate cases of "overlooked" candidates, Koolen said.

"All of our consultants have worked in these fields previously. Furthermore, we regularly use external experts in IT, engineering etc. to teach our consultants the ins and outs. Furthermore, if a consultant works in a specialized field and does hundreds of interviews with engineers, programmers, software designers, or accountants, he gains in-depth information and would be unlikely to overlook good candidates."

Radomír Mako, a managing partner with Amrop Jenewein Group, said that external consultants should not just wait for contracts but should know his clients' businesses and continually identify possible talents for them.

"This is a key aspect of whether an external consultant can be a benefit. While on-going "mining of the market [for talent]" can be a part of any contract, if a recruiter is a professional a consultant may feel obliged to do this even if the contract does not include it," Mako said.

HR experts say that companies should pay great attention to references when choosing their HR agency.

According to Koolen, companies should ask several basic questions of potential recruiters: "Show me your recruitment software - if they don't have professional recruitment software, you'd better forget them. Show me your search plan, let me talk to the consultant who will do the search - ask this person what experience they have. Show me your customer list - if they are secretive about it, run away from them."

On the other hand, HR experts say their clients should be prepared for the possible departure of their key manager and maintain a database of possible replacements.

"As a manager responsible for delivering a specific product or service, I would always want some aces up my sleeve. In this way, an unexpected event, such as a key person quitting, would not take me by surprise. However, I believe this is not a corporate HR measure but the responsibility of each manager," Hofmann said.

The rules of the recruiting process

HR professionals say that while each job interview and selection process has specific features, there are certain rules that every well conducted recruitment must observe to be successful:

Reinhold Hofmann, general manager of HIC Slovakia: Take a balanced approach. Invite the "paper tigers" (people who can sell themselves), the "grey mice" (people who cannot sell themselves), and the "exotics" (people who don't fit the picture). Use standard and non-standard selection tools. Remember, the "paper tigers" might already know your assessment tools. They will perform well - you can tick off all the required boxes - but they might only be good at helping themselves, not the customer.

Gerard Koolen, managing partner of Lugera & Makler: The main rule is that the consultant does not judge the candidate but describes the candidate. Judgement involves a subjective personal view that is only valid for the person who is judging; it has little practical value in a good selection process. Further, the interviewer must feel equal to the candidate (neither superior nor inferior), and must have a completely open attitude without strong expectations. Third, the interviewer must have an unconditional respect for his or her candidates. Fourth, they must have a helpful attitude.

Radomír Mako, managing partner of AJG-Amrop Jenewein Group: When we talk about filling a position the basic rule is to know what we want. This means having a clear profile of the ideal candidate, including responsibilities, professional abilities, prospects, room for negotiation, and flexibility to respond to possible requirements. The selection process should be conducted seriously, should be not too lengthy, and we should use a win-win strategy. We should communicate with all the parties. The job interview should be structured and prepared in advance.

Mariana Turanová, managing consultant of Target Future Slovakia: I'm afraid there's no general recipe. There are various approaches to job interviews. Some agencies and clients have tried and tested questions, verification of references, assessment centres and psychological tests. However, I also know the general director of one international company who accepted three new colleagues after an interview lasting 15 minutes. He relied upon his personal feeling. By the way, after four years the three candidates are still with the company in managerial positions.

Ingrid Grebecová, executive director of Trenkwalder Management Partners:A detailed knowledge of the position and the client's expectations, a structured interview focused on the specifics of the field, a complex picture of each candidate in terms of the position and a more general point of view, the ability to assess the information acquired, as well as an experienced and empathetic recruiter.

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