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How to hire staff the right way

If you are struggling for cost effective solutions to hiring staff, invest a few minutes in viewing, reading or listening to this great interview with Bruce Miller from Alexander Porter to find out how to hire staff the right way!

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Special Offer: mention you are a client of Scott Partners and we will happy to offer 10% discount on our services.


SCOTT: Hello and welcome to the Small Business Heroes show, where we talk about everything to help your business grow and prosper. I’m your host, Scott Trevethan, and today I’m talking to Bruce Miller from Alexander Porter.

Bruce is the Managing Director of Alexander Porter, a boutique recruitment firm he founded in 2008. He is also the Chair of the Alumni Advisory Group for Victoria University. Prior to launching Alexander Porter, Bruce established and grew the national recruitment practice for a high-end project management consultancy, and has worked in national and boutique recruitment firms since 2000. Bruce has worked with a wide range of clients and industries, engaged with thousands of clients, and has successfully recruited at all levels and roles.

Bruce Miller, welcome to the Small Business Heroes show.

BRUCE: Hi Scott, and hello to all your viewers that watch this down the track.

SCOTT: We’ve just introduced you to everyone, so tell us a little bit about what you do.

BRUCE: All right, thank you for that. I run a recruitment practice. It’s geared towards providing quality, not the quantity of service. We tend to work on a model of more relational-driven rather than transactional. So the types of companies we work with do range from large to small, but we think there’s a growing need and opportunity to work with the SME market, where there’s pressures to find good staff, but they don’t generally have the time, skill, or budget to go to the normal recruitment model. We think there’s a real opportunity that we can help assist that, and that’s becoming our growing focus.

SCOTT: Do you think there’s a real problem in the small business side of things? People just advertising on SEEK and getting hundreds of CVs and trying to wade through them, and then getting the wrong people? Do you think that cost-saving versus practicality of the recruitment process is really driving what you’re talking about?

BRUCE: Yeah, exactly. It’s easier to run an ad on SEEK, and typically you get 100 to 200, sometimes even more, candidates applying – depending on the level of the role and the nature of the job. And that’s really hard, for someone who’s not experienced in knowing what to look for on a resume and how the whole picture works, to work through that.

Now, most people that are going to be listening to this are business owners or managers; they’ve got their own responsibilities and challenges to do. Recruitment on top of that is an added burden, and I don’t think they have the time or really the expertise to do it themselves. So what we feel is there’s an opportunity to help work through that process and find them a good shortlist of candidates at a much reduced expense that they can then make a value decision and get someone good into their team.

I tend to use a fishing analogy that perhaps sums it up quite easily: anyone can throw a rod in the water and hope that the right candidate jumps on the end of it. We’ll call this the SEEK model, where you throw an ad up on SEEK, any job board, and you’re just hoping that out of the 200, you get the right candidate.

But then how do you now that that’s the right person? How do you know that you’ve actually used the right bait, which is how you attract them in the first place? Are you actually looking in the right areas? Is it SEEK, is it LinkedIn, is it work forums? How do you know where to look? How do you know how to then engage with the candidates to bring them along the journey, to ultimately identify the right candidate and that becomes your next star employee?

There’s a lot of nuances that are involved in this, and I don’t think most small business owners have the time or the appreciation to do that. But they certainly don’t have the budget to go to a large firm, so they’re in a quandary. Do they do it themselves and hope for the best? But six months, twelve months down the line, quite often the person they thought was the right fit has failed, and they’re back to square one. And that’s sad. It’s an issue, and I know that from a small business perspective myself.

SCOTT: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more there. It’s interesting, you talk about the relational versus transactional focus that you have. Do you think it’s very appropriate or important to understand the client, their culture, so that you can get the person who’s the best fit for the business? And do you think that maybe the larger, transactional-based firms may fail to do that?

BRUCE: Exactly. I do work with larger firms, and I’m on the panel of a couple of AS6 [00:03:48] companies, so I understand how it works at that end of town, and I think that behavior filters down to when recruiters are dealing with small businesses. It tends to be transactional, it tends to be a footrace. We’ll put an ad on SEEK, you look at the first couple of candidates that come through, send them to the client and say, “Here you go. Here’s the best in the market.”

And that’s not actually providing good value. That’s just allowing candidates to self-select in, the recruiter going, “Well, their resume looks like the position description, so I’ll put them forward,” and then hope that the client sees something there and hires them. That’s dealing with a really shallow group of candidates.

What you need to be able to do is identify, through other sources as well, who is the best candidate? And they may not necessarily be the ones madly applying for every job, but rather more proactive in their career, and therefore you’ve got to be a bit more subtle in how you deal with them. So passive candidates can quite often be the best ones to hire, but generally you don’t know how to find them or how to engage with them, and you don’t have that as an option.

SCOTT: What’s your view on personality profiling and that type of qualitative or quantitative testing or psychometrical testing for candidates? Is it worthwhile doing? Should it be done through an expert?

BRUCE: There’s mixed reviews on that. I think the jury’s out on how accurate it is. I think for some roles, it can have some value. It tends to be used more where there’s a sales component. I think they really want to dig down into how you think and act and how far you’re willing to go from a sales perspective.

In most other roles, it rarely gets used, and I think it’s had mixed results as to how suitable it is. I think you need to look at the whole picture, so look at the cultural fit of the team, look at the values of the individual. Some of these tests can have value, but again, I’m not sure in isolation you’d make a hiring decision based on that. So it can be just a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that you use in your final decision, but there’s a lot of other steps involved that I think can also identify good candidates, with or without the need of spending the money on some sort of psych testing.

SCOTT: Right. Does that come down to your experience? Can you look at two people who look identical on paper and realize which one will be better for a business than the other?

BRUCE: There’s lots of intuitive signs, I guess, that we take. You can have two almost identical resumes, but there’ll be subtle differences. Maybe you look at their education; one might have high grades, one might not have such high grades, so on the surface you’d take the candidate with the higher grades.

But then when you dig a little deeper – which you only get through conversations, which is what we have the time to do and what we’re best at – you find out that the candidate with the high grades, particularly if you’re looking at entry-level graduate roles, if they were living at home with their parents and all they had to do is university, then they should have high grades. When you have someone who’s moved out of home, maybe has a family, has other responsibilities and he’s juggling work and study, their grades might not be as high, but they’ve got some life experiences. And I think that has a value that quite often doesn’t get attributed to them.


So there’s little subtleties like that that can be missed when you’re just comparing two resumes on paper. The organizations they work for, some have a better reputation. So we know some companies, if you’ve worked for that organization, they’re quite stringent in who they hire. So if you’ve worked there and you’ve been there for a period of time, then you must be quite a good worker. Gaps in employment, what people have done in their personal time. There’s a lot of things that create the larger picture that we look at. It’s not just one or two things in isolation.

SCOTT: Fair enough. What’s your thoughts about the – I don’t know if it’s an emerging trend, or is it an emerging trend for internships? We seem to get approached as an accounting firm quite often for people who just want to get something on their CV and will work for free. We always say there’s a bit more of a disruption than the actual ability – and we don’t like that whole thought that people wouldn’t get paid for working. But is there more of a growing and emerging trend in things like internships?

BRUCE: I tend not to operate so much at that level; I tend to be more with more experienced and senior people generally. But my thoughts on internship, it’s an equation between cost and value. Now, the cost is quite low, but I’m not sure the value is necessarily there. As you say, you might have some disruption in your organization. You might actually find someone who’s quite a good candidate, but they then move on because they have other opportunities. There’s not a commitment either way.

So my view of it would be, try to find an opportunity for the right person and reward them, and they’ll hopefully grow with your organization. So my gut feel would be probably not so much on internship, unless it was a really small opportunity.

SCOTT: Fair enough. One of the reasons that small businesses are heroes, and why we call them that on our Small Business Heroes show, is because small businesses are the largest employer of the Australian working population, I believe. Throughout Australia, in any case. They’re unsung heroes because they don’t often have the resources of the large firms for recruitment and for HR management in general.

Have you got any tips or suggestions or advice for our Small Business Hero audience on how they should go about recruiting and then managing staff?

BRUCE: Understanding the organization they represent, what the values are. It’s almost a SWOT analysis, I guess, that a small business should do. What do they need as far as technical skills, perhaps cultural fit in the team, what is the growth opportunities? It’s a two-way equation now. So if you’re looking to hire someone, not only are you looking for the best candidate, the candidate themselves are looking for a good career and a good opportunity. So you need to understand what it is you offer, what it is you need, and then try and find that in candidates.

Now, there are several ways that you can go about doing that. As we’ve spoken about, you can throw an ad on SEEK. You can have a look through LinkedIn. That depends on how your networks are and how well-versed you are at driving LinkedIn. But there are certainly many ways that you can go find a candidate.

I think if you’re going down that path of doing it yourself, you need to have a clear idea of what it is the candidate you want looks like, and how you can then pitch that opportunity to them and try and get a mutual match.

SCOTT: Do you think candidates discriminate against those potential employers that do go direct as opposed through agencies? Or does the candidate not care?

BRUCE: I think the better candidates care. This is my view. The candidates that are trying to manage their career and are conscious about what they’re doing, they’re the ones that you want to hire, because they’re a little bit more thoughtful. They’re the ones that may self-select out.

So if you put an ad on SEEK, as an example, they look up the size of your organization or where it’s based – quite often a lot of the SMEs are based in the suburbs – and they may decide that’s not what they wanted. They wanted to work in the CBD or they wanted to work for a large firm. So they may self-select out, and hence they won’t apply. So you’ll never know the caliber of candidate that you’ve missed out on, and you’re only left with the candidates that did apply. And quite often, the candidates that are actively looking and applying will apply to quite a range of jobs. So they’re not as selective themselves, so you might not get the best pool of candidates to deal with.

The advantage of going through a recruiter or hiding who you are is that you can engage with a candidate, find out what their drivers are, what they’re looking for from a career perspective, and then you can convey the opportunities that your organization, or in my case my clients, what they offer. So there is an advantage to hiring through a recruitment firm, where we can engage the candidates before disclosing who the client is and understand what their career aspirations are and where our clients can meet that. Often that doesn’t happen if they go direct.

SCOTT: Multi-listing. Sounds like a bad idea every single time, whether it’s a house you’re selling or certainly a job you’re advertising for. What’s your views on multi-listing?

BRUCE: I’m quite passionate about this one, and I’ve actually turned down work where a client has been unsure of how they want to handle it. I understand the logic of it, that if you have three or four recruiters working for you, or real estate agents, that you’re going to have three or four times the effort.

The reality is, you get the opposite. Everybody knows that it’s often you who’s going to be successful, so no one really invests as much time into that opportunity. So from a recruiting point of view, we know if there’s three or four other recruiters out there, everyone’s scrambling on SEEK. It’s a transactional mindset, and nobody really invests any time, because there’s no guarantee of revenue at the end of it.

I’m strongly of the view that if you find a recruiter you like, have a relationship with them. They will work twice as hard for you because there’s a much higher probability of success. We’ve always worked on the model that if you’re working on 10 jobs at any one point and it’s all contingent, so it’s multi-listed, if you’re good at your job, you might get 3 out of 10. But you don’t know which three that’ll be. So you spend 10% of your day on each job and hope that you strike it with one of them. If we work on three jobs only where we’re exclusive, then we can spend 33% of our day, so three times as much time and effort, and therefore the client gets a better outcome. And so do we.

SCOTT: Totally agree, totally agree. Tell me, what sort of clients is Alexander Porter working with right now?

BRUCE: Historically it’s been more the corporates, the large end of town. They tend to be the ones that like the recruitment process, where they give us a role and then we just do our thing. At the end of the day they hire someone and they pay a fee, and they’re happy with that model.

What I’m finding more recently – and I’ve got a developing interest in the small-to-medium market – is there’s a real opportunity, I think, to create value for small businesses, where they get some expertise that they can’t afford normally, and we work on selective roles, but we’re working on an exclusive basis. So we know that our work is rewarded, and therefore we can invest more time. Even though the fee structure is completely different, but our time is actually valued, and we get rewarded for that.

I think I get a personal satisfaction on identifying some really good staff members for small businesses, because a small company – their staff make or break, quite often, their growth and their success. So if we can get you the right person that you wouldn’t get otherwise, then you’re happy, the candidate’s happy, we get another happy customer and another referral. So it’s a real interest for me now.

SCOTT: I’d almost love to see a situation where you had an upfront fee and then a retainer for every year that the team member continued to be a valued team member for the small business. It would be an interesting concept to explore.

BRUCE: [Inaudible 00:14:14].

SCOTT: Look, mate, thank you so much for talking to our Small Business Heroes audience today. If anyone’s interested in connecting with yourself or Alexander Porter, what’s the best way to do that?

BRUCE: There’s a couple of options. Email for me is [email protected]. Phone number is 1-300-APJOBS, which is 1-300-275-627. You can find me on LinkedIn under Bruce Miller, or if you look at my tag, it’s Talent Identification. Any of those options will find me, and happy to engage at any level.

We’ll throw this out, too: anyone who happens to watch this, anyone who’s a client of Scott Partners, just mention the fact if you do want to talk to us and engage with us, and we’ll work out a discount on our fees, just to support the small business community and your client base.

SCOTT: That’s beautiful. Thank you so much for that, Bruce. All of those details will be down underneath this video. We’ll make sure that people don’t have to rewind and listen to all those things again. They’ll be all listed down below. Thank you so much for coming on today.

I’m Scott Trevethan, host of the Small Business Heroes show. You can find out a bit more about me at our Small Business Heroes Facebook page on Facebook and our Facebook group called Small Business Heroes. Also Scott Partners, if you’d like to like us on Facebook, that would be great. You can catch us on I’m Scott Trevethan, your host, and look forward to catching up with all you small business heroes next time.

Thanks very much, Bruce.


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