Fascinating insights into how hiring managers can revive career-break talents who are apprehensive about rejoining the workforce have emerged from accounting software company Sage.
In a recent column for Personnel Today,  Sage chief people officer Amanda Cusdin outlined the thinking behind the firm’s Pathways initiative, launched to draw in skilled workers from areas of the talent pool that many organisations ignore.
Cusdin explained that people who have taken time away from employment – often to manage family obligations – tend to think that “their experience is outdated, that they won’t present well in interviews, and that companies will look unfavourably at the gap in their CV. They don’t believe they could juggle their personal commitments with a work schedule. They don’t think they’re relevant in the workplace anymore”.
She went on: “At Sage, we thought hard about Office for National Statistics figures around this untapped resource. About 85% of people seeking to return to work in the North are women, 94% of returners want to refresh their skills, and 93% would like to return to work part-time. But, less than 12% of jobs offer flexible working patterns. Diverse backgrounds, including career breaks, develop innovative thinking, which is highly attractive to us. We needed to let this group of people know how valuable their experiences are.”
As such, the firm hatched a clever strategy to spark the interest of the people whose skills it wanted to harness. “Apprehensive returners are not looking at job boards; they don’t think those ads apply to them,” Cusdin wrote. “This means the normal routes to attracting talent won’t work. We needed friends and relatives to learn about the opportunities and encourage our target audience to come forward.”
To that end, Sage deployed newspaper articles, radio interviews and Facebook ads to seed awareness of the programme. The firm also invited interested candidates to an open day at Sage’s Newcastle HQ, and provided emotional and soft-skills support to help them manage issues such as imposter syndrome and personal branding. In addition, it secured the help of local women’s and veterans’ charities to provide ongoing, independent advice.
Shaping an effective recruitment process is one of the greatest leadership challenges that organisations face. So what can HR chiefs learn from Sage’s thoughtful and sensitive approach to reawakening dormant talent?
Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Sage’s programme is clearly conveying that if you want to widen your talent pool – and if you yourself have recently awoken to the benefits of attracting the sorts of people you traditionally haven’t – then you really need to rethink your recruitment strategy. How are you going to speak to these people? How are you going to access them in ways that they will understand? And how are you going to make your organisation look and feel like an attractive place to work?”
She notes: “It’s not enough to put up a sign saying ‘We’re hiring!’ in whatever digital or physical form you would normally do so. It’s about incorporating that additional message – which Sage appears to have done very well – on why, after the point of accepting a job offer, a candidate will find your organisation a great place to be. Hiring managers tend to think about closing a vacancy as quickly as possible. Of course, on the other side of that, standard induction procedures will kick in to help the new employee acclimatise. But a quick close and standard onboarding process are, by themselves, insufficient.
“If an organisation can say to a particular audience, ‘People like you work for us, and this is how we’re going to prove it,’ that’s a far more reassuring and effective approach. It means that when jobseekers hear about the opportunities that are available at your firm, they will be inspired with the confidence to think, ‘Yes – that’s me they’re looking for.’ The feeling that you already belong somewhere is a really important part of the recruitment process, in terms of galvanising interest. And ongoing support from independent, charity-based advisers will help make that feeling a reality.”
Cooper adds: “If we as organisations are serious about inclusive practices, then the way we do things has got to change. Merely recruiting people as swiftly as possible and then proceeding with the relationship on an implicit understanding that we treat everyone the same is not a convincing solution. We must maintain a recognition and appreciation of difference throughout our engagement with staff.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity
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