Have we reached a candidate crisis point in the house building sector?

So many companies are looking to recruit but struggling to find people to even interview let alone offer a job to.

I was recently in touch with a land manager who was forced onto the job market because his employer went into administration. Within three days he had received 25 approaches about similar jobs with other businesses!

That’s how imbalanced the jobs and available candidates relationship currently is. There simply aren’t enough experienced people to fulfill the sector’s expansion plans. Just look how much effort companies put into trying to keep people at resignation knowing how hard they are to replace.

So how can you respond as a hiring manager with a vacancy in your team?

In essence, you need to identify someone who could do the job you have vacant rather than someone who is doing the job right now.

There are two alternative ways of doing this:

  1. Firstly, look for someone in your competitors who is ready to step up to your job, for example, a really good Sales Manager who wants to be a Sales Director. You are offering a new challenge, a better salary and career progression. You are appealing to anyone with career ambition.

  2. Secondly, look for someone outside of house building but in a related sector. They could be in a planning consultancy, a main contractor, a ground worker, local authority, the list goes on. You are offering a new challenge, a different environment, and in many cases, a better salary.

With either of these options you need to think more about skills and less about experience. Start by identifying the skills of high performers doing the job you’re looking to fill. What is it that makes them good at what they do? Now construct interview questions which test candidates on these competencies. 

The extra time and effort at this stage will be rewarded with fewer open vacancies and better performing new starters as you recruit more people from less obvious sources.

Two trends for 2022

We are three months into 2022 and two things have really stood out to me in the world of housebuilding recruitment.

Let’s start with salaries. And it’s probably not what you are expecting.

The last three people I have placed had an average uplift in basic salary of 4.4% as a result of their new jobs. Hardly budget-busting in our inflationary world and somewhat counterintuitive in an ultra-competitive staffing market.

So given the modest increases in basic salaries what motivated these candidates to make a move?

There were no dysfunctional relationships with their managers or job insecurity to precipitate a move. It came down to the following factors:

Better benefits: The basic salary increment was small but when combined with better car allowances and more aggressive bonus schemes the maths stacked up to a significantly more attractive overall package.

Greater opportunity: An uninhibited path to the next rung on the promotional ladder, greater number of projects to work on, the challenge of turning around an underperforming business. The key here is the opportunities were real and specific, not vague and generic. 

So the takeaways are: Have you benchmarked your benefits package recently and is it genuinely competitive or is it holding you back in recruitment and retention? And are you able to offer a new employee a fast path or exciting projects to enhance career development?   

The second notable is flexible working.

If you are going to be competitive in recruiting staff this is no longer a luxury, but an absolute necessity.

Senior candidates have withdrawn from interviews when they have considered the real impact of relinquishing working from home two or three days a week to go full-time in the office with a new employer. 

Covid working practices have completely reformed people’s expectations in our industry. We simply can’t push the toothpaste back into the tube. For businesses that insist on five days in the office recruiting will be hard and retention will be harder. The effects will be a slow and painful drain on the company’s talent.

Five Ideas for Better Onboarding in a WFH/Hybrid Environment

Speaking to a number of house building MDs over the past few weeks a common theme has come up: onboarding of new recruits.

This is proving a challenge as many people are working from home to a far greater degree than ever before. It’s just harder to recreate the informal ‘welcome to the firm’ experience with a half empty office and reduced time for new employees to spend directly with colleagues and their manager.

So here are five ideas to help you adapt to the present (and maybe future) working arrangements:

1.Create plenty of post-offer touchpoints with new recruits

Forming a positive working relationship with your new employee before they start is more important than ever. Use the time they are serving notice elsewhere to arrange to meet up, chat on the phone, or have a video call to talk informally. Do this multiple times.

Focus your conversations around how their first few days and weeks will look and who they will be working with most closely. Give them plenty of opportunity to ask questions and signpost them to people in the business who can help them with their settling in period.

2.Encourage a collaborative effort to welcome a new starter

Get your colleagues to take joint responsibility for welcoming your new starter. Task them with coming up with ideas to help your new employee find their feet. This could be anything from showing them around the office to organizing a zoom lunch for the whole team. This way there will always be someone in the office who is helping the new starter bed in and will demonstrate that everyone is invested in them being a success.

3.Establish two way feedback early and often

Create a regular confidential process which allows you to both provide and receive feedback from your new employee. You won’t have as much opportunity to pick up on the informal signals from your team or the individual as to how the first few weeks are going so having a clear, discrete process that creates a new channel for feedback is crucial.

If there are any problems you will be able to respond before it’s too late. Keep in mind a new starter may be reluctant to speak up about concerns so creating the right environment for them to do so is critical.

4.Trust the abilities of your new starters and build their confidence

House building is a traditional industry which offered very little remote working before the pandemic. For that reason many senior managers have been on a journey of developing trust in employees they are no longer sharing an office with for five days a week. It’s crucial that this trust is extended to new starters. Remember why you hired them and what they bring to the business.

Avoid the temptation to micromanage and, instead, focus on building up their confidence to work autonomously and take ownership of their workload. Be clear and realistic about what you expect from them over an initial time period. Their path to productivity will be much quicker as a result.

5.Create a well-documented remote onboarding process

Formalise your onboarding changes into a universally agreed upon process which is clearly documented. Make it part of your company culture and a consistent set of action points that give every new employee a great start to working from your company whether they are in the office, working remotely or a hybrid.

I hope these points give you some ideas on how to improve your onboarding process for your new colleagues. 

If you have any questions or suggestions not mentioned here I would love to hear them. Feel free to email me or give me a call on 07946 577145.

Simon Edbury

Boris Bounce

Savills share price jumped 7% on an announcement that they expect 2020 housing transaction results to be at the top end of expectations. “Looking to the year ahead, increased political stability in the UK should maintain improved sentiment in real estate markets” was their summary to investors.

Many residential agents are reporting the “Boris Bounce” following the general election result with increasing transaction levels. A good year for house sales will only intensify competition for senior staff in house building.

Last year I shot three two minute videos each focusing on a tip to help you maximise your chances of making the best possible hire you can in our candidate short market.

The need to embrace this advice is likely to increase over the next few months as pent up demand for new homes hits the market. So to get the new year off to a great start I have attached links for all three.

I know the content will help housebuilders successfully compete for the staff they need.

If you want further advice on salaries, benefits or anything else recruitment related reply to this email or call me on 0161 924 2384.

Don’t slip into this trap

From time to time I work with house builders who have a senior level vacancy but get caught in the trap of an ad hoc recruitment process. 

Typically, they are receiving CVs of potential candidates from multiple sources on a drip feed basis. When someone catches their eye they will interview them. When that candidate proves not to be the right person for the job they go back to reviewing CVs as and when and from wherever they emerge. 

The problem is ad hoc recruitment processes aren’t really a process at all.

Here’s why doing it this way feels like a good idea:

  1. It’s not taking up too much time. If you just review the odd CV and perform the occasional interview it’s not a distraction from the day job.
  2. If multiple recruiters are working on it then all prospective candidates will be covered and you will get the right person.

Here’s why, in reality, it’s a bad idea:

  1. Before you know it months will have drifted by and you still haven’t appointed. You will constantly be going back to square one. Each time you interview a candidate and they are not right you are back to hoping the next CV you receive is a good one. 
  2. You aren’t making any meaningful comparisons between possible candidates. If there is more than a couple of days between interviews your ability to make objective comparisons becomes significantly reduced. Do you end up picking the best candidate?
  3. As the weeks slip by, you subconsciously lower the bar in a bid to get the position filled. Your expectations change with time. There’s a very real chance you employ a candidate who is not as good as someone you discounted a couple of months ago.

So, in summary, decide which recruiter you are engaging with, set timeframes for CVs and interviews, all of which will enable you to hire the best candidate in a sensible amount of time.

The 8 differences between ‘Good’ and ‘Great’

Good recruitment gets a reasonable performer into the business in a timescale that was probably a little longer than expected.

Great recruitment gets a top performer in a specific time frame.

So how do you go from good to great?

Here is a checklist for you to use. You need 100% if you are going to run a great process!

  1. You have clearly identified the key traits of a high performer in your vacant job. You will need these to structure your interview questions.
  2. You have thought carefully about why your company is a more attractive employer than others in your sector. You will need to articulate this to candidates during the interview process.
  3. You have properly benchmarked your target salary. Is it sufficient to get the skills and experience you want?
  4. You have prioritised this recruitment process. In other words, you don’t allow other commitments to result in cancelled interviews, slow feedback and poor communication.
  5. You have already consulted colleagues who may be involved in interviewing about their availability over the course of the process. Are you familiar with the internal sign off process on a job offer?
  6. You understand that good candidates have other employment options including staying where they are. You are ready to sell the benefits of your opportunity.
  7. You take personal responsibility for negotiating the offer with the candidate and gaining their commitment to accept.
  8. Your working relationship with the candidate starts the moment they accept your offer. Ensure you invest in that relationship before they start through regular contact.

In summary, get yourself prepared for every stage, become an ambassador for your company and don’t let your core job derail the process.

The reward is a better employee joining in a quicker time frame and that always reflects well on you.

Eggs in one basket?

When interviewing several candidates for a job there is often a bias towards one candidate. In fact, there should be! After all, you need to pick just one person to offer the position to at the end of the process. But it’s those last few words that get can be overlooked and prove costly: “…at the end of the process”

On numerous occasions, I have seen recruiting companies try to shortcut the process to reach a conclusion more quickly. Feeling that recruiting someone is a distraction from the day to day activity and needing to get someone in quickly, the hiring manager decides who their preferred candidate is at first interview and only brings back that person for a second meeting usually caveated with something along the lines of “we’ll just keep candidate B warm in case things don’t work out with candidate A”  

This is a poorly judged gamble. If the company isn’t successful in hiring candidate A and they want to go back to B they will encounter the following problems:

  • Delay of appointment: Having spent aborted time with candidate A they now have to go back to candidate B and will add at least a couple of weeks by restarting the second interview with B. 
  • Back to square one: Feeling second best, candidate B has withdrawn their interest or been offered a job elsewhere. The company may be looking at starting their recruitment from scratch with no viable candidates in the pipeline.
  • Increased salary cost: Candidate B now knows that their negotiating position re salary has considerably strengthened given the hiring company’s lack of alternatives and possibly B having established an alternative job offer in the interim period.

So what is the cost of mitigating all of this risk?

An hour of your time.

That’s all it takes to bring candidate B in for a second interview at the same time as A and make sure your process is completed before making a decision. If you need to revert to candidate B you won’t face the difficulties outlined above if you have moved swiftly in switching your job offer from A to B.

Why Exclusivity Benefits You

It amazes me how many companies still think giving vacancy exclusivity to a recruitment consultant is to their detriment and only benefits the recruiter.

Their thinking typically goes along the line of ‘more recruiters means more candidate coverage equals a better shortlist’.

In a vast candidate market where industry-specific skills are not being sought that logic would be fairly robust, for example, if the business was seeking an Admin Manager.

However, house building recruitment is diametrically opposite in its characteristics. Supply of experienced candidates is very limited and industry experience is normally a prerequisite.

So here’s what happens when multiple recruiters get instructed on the same vacancy in house building:

  1. The recruiters know there are only a handful of potentially suitable and interested candidates so it becomes a race to get to them first and claim the introduction. This will always be at the cost of a thorough search of the candidate market and a full explanation of the house builder’s vacancy requirements to any prospective candidates. 
  2. Inevitably in a tight-knit industry, the recruiters will cross paths by calling the same candidates. Those candidates will be put off by recruiters competing for their attention on the same job. The last thing you want to do in a ‘skills short’ market is create barriers to potential candidates. 
  3. The recruiters will prioritise work they have exclusively over vacancies where they are competing at their own risk for a fee. The impact is time slips by as recruiters focus on another house builder’s vacancy first, leaving you with little or no progress on your recruitment.

So if you want to get the best from a recruiter, to fully search the market and maximise candidate interest, invest the time in selecting and engaging a consultant you really believe in. Then give them the work exclusively.