Strategic recruitment 101: Is your firm struggling to find the right people?

by NZ Lawyer18 Jun 2014
Recruitment in many pockets of New Zealand business, including the legal profession, has been mistakenly side-lined as an administration function, according to recruitment agency virtualRPO managing director, David Gordon.

Gordon says viewing recruitment this way makes it process-driven and too “reactive”. His message to the legal recruitment sector: It’s time to rethink your strategy.

“You need to elevate the recruitment conversation to being a strategic conversation,” says Gordon. “What we’d ideally like to see for the legal sector is a shift in thinking and action, turning recruitment and staffing from a reactive, business-as-usual practice to a proactive, competitive business advantage.”

He says firms know where their strong points and weak points are, whether that be commercial law, M&A, litigation, etc. Therefore, they need to also be considering how they can proactively find the lawyers that will best be able to meet demand when those projects, deals, or cases come to bear.

“Very rarely does the Government come out and say we’ll change a law tomorrow, or this field needs more resource: therefore, there really is no excuse for not knowing where your talent needs are and where the gaps are in your own firm - and most importantly from our perspective, how you are going to fill them.

“To borrow from The Art of War: Use speed and preparation to swiftly overcome the competition. Preparation and forward planning are invaluable, particularly in a fiercely competitive environment like legal.”

Gordon’s advice to law firms of all sizes is to sit down and take a hard look at where their gaps are from an experience perspective and to map out the people in that space, right across New Zealand.

 “Finding a specialist lawyer in Wellington and relocating them to Auckland may be a reasonably large expense initially, but if you are hiring one of the best in their field, that investment will be returned to you (and then some) in the mid to long term.”

Here are Gordon’s top tips for firms wanting to revamp their recruitment strategies:

Recognise your pull factor: “It’s all well and good building a pipeline or list of talent, but you also need to figure out what your pull factor is. And by that I mean: what attracts people to your firm? A key question we see firms struggling to answer is this: Why would I want to work here? If you can’t answer that question then you will always struggle to attract and retain high calibre people. 

“Think about workplace flexibility, clearer progressions and pathways for your employees to become partner, and what about those in your firm that do know want to be on the partner track and so on - which is a whole different approach and one that we have seen in the pages of industry publications more frequently than ever before – and for good reason.

Look to other sectors for recruitment approaches: There are several sectors outside legal that are adopting innovative, effective methods of recruiting staff, mapping talent and resourcing specific projects.

“For example, we’re currently seeing some of the more progressive construction firms thinking about their people and resource component very early on in the bid/tender process, whereas in the past they might have been satisfied to put together something of a ‘phantom’ team that often didn’t materialise come project time. It puts more credibility and surety behind your pitch for tender, and that’s an approach we think could be particularly applicable for the legal sector too.”

“Similarly, and as readers are likely aware, we’re in the middle of a technology boom for several small to medium, high growth tech businesses in New Zealand - a number of which are competing for exactly the same skill set. As such, those tech firms are being forced to think very proactively with regards to their workforce planning.

“We have been working with a number of these high-growth businesses recently, by providing on demand recruiters to find a niche skill set so that when that firm is ready to hire, over the course of the next twelve months, they already have a solid point from which to begin their search – as opposed to slapping a job ad out and hoping to attract the right person for the job.”

Recognise that we’re re-entering the war for talent: “We are re-entering the war for talent, which we haven’t seen since 2006/2007. Firms had to be at the top of their game to attract the best people and what is more, employees were loyal because firms were looking after them. Then of course we entered the financial crisis and whatever sector you were in, there was a big shift

“We’re pulling out of that era really firmly now - the fact is that we are now in a world where there is no ‘job for life’. However, I have to say the way most firms still hire is the way they always have – rather than adapting to the new realities of the world of work. Firms must act today if they are going to win the battle for the best people.”

Know that dynamics are changing: “All the dynamics of the workplace have changed. Employee expectations have shifted and yet the way legal firms recruit hasn’t adapted to reflect or suit the new reality of the job market.

“Firms that hire right are financially better off, because they are able to make the smart, strategic decisions. At the end of the day, that’s what we are talking about when we refer to what’s ‘right’ or what’s ‘wrong’ with how any given sector recruits its people.

“Ask any high performing business and they will tell you that the success of any firm is driven by the people who work there. Whether it’s taking a new app to market, or launching a competitive M & A deal, the people working inside and on the business are the most critical factor in whether your next move, new market, product, service or idea is a standout success or a dismal failure.”

“The firm that builds a compelling, engaging story for their staff will win the war for talent – and if you want a different result, you simply must take a different approach.”