Beaming with pride for her little brother and flashing me a toothless smile, my six-year old daughter exclaimed: ‘He did it his-sen, how abart that mummy?’ I immediately corrected her; ‘The words are “himself” and “about” not “hissen” and “abart”’. But why was I so quick to quash her thick Yorkshire twang? Well, rightly or wrongly, we know things such as accents impact heavily on both employability and credibility in the workplace. As a recruitment professional, this exchange got me thinking about how we can remain authentic and still be successful in a recruitment process.
The concept of authenticity in the workplace has received a significant amount of attention recently as people search for meaning and happiness, particularly in their work lives. But what does it really mean to be authentic in a world where everyone has an opinion on how things should be done? Often, I get interview feedback from hiring managers stating that the candidates were ‘playing a part’ and they couldn’t get a sense of who they were or how they would ‘fi t’ in their organisation.
The importance of fi t between candidate and organisation can’t be underestimated and when it’s achieved, all parties benefit. Not every corporate culture will be a fit for every applicant, but getting that chemistry right results in not only people being happy and productive, but also being willing to go the extra mile to make things work. Even though we are all from the same sector, no two local authorities are the same when it comes to culture, outlook or approach.
Organisational culture is not something that can be hidden; discussed internally behind closed doors, remaining the secret of those people working within it. In the age of social media, culture is openly discussed, meaning full visibility for any potential employees – particularly those who do their due diligence. With platforms such as Glassdoor available to candidates to evidence how a company functions, you can be sure that a positive culture will not only attract but retain great talent. According to a 2018 global survey from recruiter Robert Half, more than eight in ten HR decision-makers have admitted to making a bad recruitment decision, and with the national press recently reporting that recruitment and re-training costs the UK circa £4bn a year, ultimately it pays to get it right first time.
I am a true believer in the power of authenticity but I also recognise the many struggles candidates go through to stay true to their own character in the face of external pressures. Often sat opposite a large panel of interviewers, where each member has their own sense of the ‘perfect candidate’ and their own biases to contend with, it can become a real battle to showcase their professional knowledge, skillset and experience, at the same time as conveying their personality. How do you balance being transparent about your spirit, ideas, norms, values and interactions with others, without oversharing? How do you demonstrate your abilities without sounding like a show-off? How do you talk about your development areas but stop short of showcasing your flaws?
Some of my clients are absolutely clear they don’t see value in the monotone, robotic manner some candidates display when they focus only on professionalism. Often clients feel they can’t ‘buy into’ a candidate if they don’t get a sense of who they really are. Equally, I have experienced exactly the opposite situation where candidates have been too open about their personal motivations and drivers or their personal sense of style. The different candidate approaches yielded the same result and therein lays the challenge faced by candidates in today’s job market – where do you pitch yourself when first impressions count for so much?
The key to achieving authenticity in interview situations is being aware of an organisation’s culture and getting the match right. Simply acting in a way you think the employer wants you to may lead to employers having difficulty in seeing your personality and buying into you as a credible candidate, or worse still might end up in a wrong hire. Behave as you would behave if you got the job, with confidence. An act would be unsustainable; you would end up miserable trying to maintain the charade and you will get found out eventually!
On the flip side of this, often it is expected that being authentic in recruitment is solely focused on the candidates but I argue that the responsibility lies with the hiring organisation also. They need to be aware there is no easy way to remain authentic in a recruitment process. Successfully achieving the right cultural fi t requires a multifaceted approach. It is absolutely key in sourcing the right candidates that you are open and honest about the type of organisation you are, what the aspirations are for the future and what issues you are facing. Be clear about the role, the responsibilities, the challenges and the benefits. That requires a degree of confidence, too.
Employee engagement starts at the recruitment stage, so how you communicate now will set the tone for the employee experience you are offering. Absolutely share what is great about your organisation but be careful about falling prey to current trends that don’t really work for you. Agile working might be all the rage at the moment but if you need an onsite resource nine-to-five, five days a week and remote working isn’t going to be part of the offer, don’t hint that it might be. This doesn’t have to be a negative; it just ensures you are inviting applications from the right candidates. In local government today we accept we are facing challenging times and removing the filter doesn’t always make for the prettiest picture, but that’s okay. Good recruitment isn’t about the best, most attractive campaign to market your organisation. It’s about finding the right people, for the right roles, at the right time.
The good news for both candidates and organisations is that if you succeed in becoming truly and fully authentic, you won’t need to discuss your values, as people will see you living them. One thing is for sure – when the time comes and my own daughter is making her way into the workplace, while I won’t be encouraging her to drop any ‘Eeee Byyyyee Gumms’ I will certainly be advising her to remember the words of Oscar Wilde: ‘Be yourself; everyone else is taken.
Nicola Chiverton is assistant consultant at Solace