How do you get the right staff? Nic Paton says the key is to focus advertising on potential candidates, not self-promotion
As the top secret government communications centre, GCHQ faces a slight problem when it comes to recruitment. After all, it cannot really describe in detail any of the vacancies it may need to advertise because of national security.
Nevertheless, the centre still recruits about 300 graduates a year - largely by presenting itself as an employer of choice and using its name effectively. In other words, GCHQ has become a well-recognised employer brand.
For example, one recent campaign - designed by recruitment agency TMP Worldwide - included posters, a website, online postcards, a cassette and a career bag giveaway. GCHQ bosses were delighted, and say the number of applicants more than doubled as a result.
Should employers seeking IT talent adopt similar strategies? This year is no time for any firm looking to recruit IT staff to be complacent.
In many areas the market is still as tough as it has ever been, with Ovum Holway and AMR Research predicting zero growth in IT spending next year.
But there are other signs of tentative shoots of recovery. Last month, research by The Skills Market showed salaries for IT staff with key skills were beginning to rise, while a study by Computer Weekly and Kew Associates has predicted a rise of 10% in IT spending this year.
In other words, assuming you can sit back, put your feet on the desk, and wait for talent to walk in the door could be a big mistake. The people you need now or will want soon may not come knocking on your door.
"At the moment people are very uncomfortable about the prospect of changing employment. Job security is permanently on their minds," admits Peter Johnson, vice president of global resourcing for Accenture HR Services, the HR arm of the Accenture group.
So, if an employer is going to prise someone away from the safety blanket of their current position, it needs to do more than simply advertise a vacancy. "People have to be comforted that they are going to be employed by an organisation that is going to be able to give them what they want," he says.
"What is going to get an employer mileage is showing that people have developed and progressed. Employers have got to be more persuasive about the opportunities for their staff."
Candidates will quickly lose interest if you are vague in your promises or, once hired, your promises do not live up to the reality. And their feedback will rapidly filter back out into the job market.
In a tough economic environment, training and development is often one of the first budgets to get the red pen. But slashing away at this area can be short-sighted, as having a good programme can often be useful in attracting and retaining talent.
It is also important that there is a recognition from board or management level that even though the market is tough, recruitment and recruitment marketing and spending must not go by the wayside, unless the organisation wants to be left floundering in the future.
"If you do not have a business focus to your recruitment targets, you will fail. There has to be an environment of confidence, evaluation and dialogue with senior personnel," Johnson argues.
Presentation is key
Presenting yourself as an employer of choice is even more important if you are looking to headhunt talent from rivals, argues Zubia Miseljic, consulting director at IT recruitment consultant MSC.
"Companies spend a lot of time and money developing themselves as being unique to their marketplace. You need to feel that people are interested in coming to you, not just coming to a job. And that is particularly the case when someone is not actively looking to move," she says.
In such circumstances, having a strong employer brand, trustworthy credentials, and being able to offer something that goes beyond the strict job description is an increasingly attractive proposition.
Recruitment, of course, does not just mean external hires. Looking at the people you have got can be an extremely effective and cost-friendly way of bringing on talent.
Clues to how to do this are coming through from the rest of the business world. Two years ago clothing retailer Gap, for instance, introduced a raft of measures designed to help it sharpen up how it identified in-house talent.
This included replacing competency-based interviews with shop-floor assessments, introducing awareness exercises to test candidates' appreciation of the retail environment, and self-motivation and communication exercises.
The result was improving retention of staff from 32% to 80%, increased productivity, and the recruitment of 60% of its managers from shop-floor sales staff during 2001.
Last October, Ford launched an internal mentoring programme for students specifically designed to help the company recruit its next generation of top managers.
Organisations such as Halifax, BT and Syntegra are all currently presenting themselves as companies that value their people, and have been clearly trying to widen their appeal, says Jan Stevens, corporate services director of IT recruitment consultancy DP Connect, and a member of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
Syntegra's latest job ads, for instance, emphasise its work in delivering some of the largest IT transfer programmes in the UK. This is designed to make candidates see it as an employer they can trust not to leave them high and dry, she says.
Having a strong employer brand could turn out to be a vital retention and recruitment tool. The message is clear: you must persuade the market you are a good company to work for, as much as the other way around.
How to make your brand attract staff
- Don't be complacent that talent will come to you, even in a tough economy.
- Look at your brand. What does it say? Are you sure it says what you want?
- Offer opportunities, such as training and development, that go beyond the basic job description and recognise that money is not everything.
- Do what you say, deliver what you have promised.
- Focus your advertising on the candidate - what will they want to hear?
- Don't forget to bring on your internal talent.
- Get the board or management behind you.