How to build relationships with highly skilled candidates
The impact of COVID-19 on the job market has left many Australians understandably cautious and reluctant to change roles.

In the midst of the pandemic, job security has become a priority for many people. In fact, for 2 out of 3 candidates, job security is now more important than salary, research conducted for SEEK shows.

If highly skilled potential candidates want to hunker down and stay where they are, you may face extra challenges when hiring or recruiting.

Here are some tips on building relationships with highly skilled candidates to entice them to take on your opportunity.

Focus on the candidate experience

In cities that have experienced months of lockdowns due to COVID-19 restrictions, many candidates are extremely hesitant about looking for a new role, says James Brown, Recruiting Lead at DoorDash.

"We've been going through long cycles of lockdowns, especially in Victoria, and some candidates are saying, 'the last thing I want to be doing is changing jobs right now'."

That’s why it’s important to focus on the candidate experience right from the start through to onboarding, Brown says.

A great candidate experience is fundamental when you're trying to build a relationship with a highly skilled candidate. That’s especially the case if they may be talking to other companies, or are risk-averse and hesitant to change jobs.

As well, look at your own employee value proposition to help you communicate these key points:

  • Why would a candidate want to join you?
  • How are you going to set them up for success during onboarding?
  • If you’re onboarding remotely, how can you smooth the process when a candidate joins a team they haven’t met in person?

Communicate and be transparent

Good communication is key to building relationships with candidates during the hiring process. At DoorDash over the past six months, effectively communicating with candidates has been an even more important part of recruiting, Brown says.

"We set clear timelines on how our recruitment process will unfold, what each step will involve and when candidates can expect to hear back from us with feedback."

Be upfront and honest with expectations right from the start, Brown says. “If you’re operating remotely, outline the things you’re doing to help smooth out the risk of not being able to interact in person, such as having more team catchups.”

As well, communicate how the business is supporting employees, Brown says. “How will you set people up for success when working from home, rather than just sending them a laptop and expecting them to be able to do everything from day one?”

For example, DoorDash has repurposed employee benefits, giving employees benefits such as work-from-home stipends.

Get to know candidates

Highly skilled candidates tend to already be in good roles, says Matthew Hodder, recruiter and director of Syncarpia Recruitment and Executive Search in Sydney.

And while traditionally high-value candidates might have been motivated by a pay rise, that’s not necessarily the case in a COVID environment, Hodder says.

“People are saying: ‘Why would I go and leave a company in the middle of a pandemic, and go from something I know to something I don't?’”

That’s why it’s important that the aspirations and interests of the candidate align with the role and the organisation. Get to know what would make the candidate move roles, and how the new role fits into their career path. Understanding this can be solid ground for building a good relationship.

Ask the right questions

For highly skilled candidates, get to know the individual and their aspirations before selecting them for a role, Hodder says. He suggests asking open questions such as:

  • Where is your career at?
  • What’s not currently working for you?
  • Why would you consider a move?
  • What are your career aspirations?
  • How does this new role fit?
  • What are you looking for?
  • What are the things that your current organisation is not providing that are relevant to you?
  • What attracts you to a role?
  • Would you consider a move?

Asking these questions can help to give you the insight you need to build relationships.

Ease the stress technology might add

Relationship building is a little different when technology is involved. If you need to hire remotely, focus on how technology can be used well when physically meeting candidates isn’t possible.

When you can’t interact with candidates in person, Brown suggests making more effort to help candidates feel comfortable – because online interviews can still be nerve-racking.

For instance, focus on opening up the conversation at the start to help candidates become more comfortable, and come up with some great icebreakers.

At DoorDash, they’ve also sent out fun backgrounds for Zoom interviews, Brown says.

Build relationships with more than one candidate

Focusing on the quality of the relationship you build with candidates is important. Putting in the time to ask the right questions to ensure that there’s alignment between the candidate’s aspirations and the role will reduce the risk that they reject the offer.

But quantity still matters – don’t put all your eggs in one basket by focussing on just one candidate. Highly qualified candidates may be so risk averse that some get to the end of the recruitment process and still reject the offer, Hodder says.

“You've got to have two or three very high-quality people to make sure you're going to get that outcome, as opposed to just one person,” Hodder says.

Building relationships reaps rewards

Such deep changes to the recruitment process could result in even better outcomes, Brown says.

“Hopefully coming out of this, candidate experiences will be even better than in the past, given how much people have needed to focus on that to get the right talent into their businesses.”

Building relationships with highly skilled talent takes time, but is worth the effort. Communicate openly, ask the right questions, and focus on the whole candidate experience from start to finish.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published November 2020.

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