How to attract the right talent for your business - and hang on to them

In chapter 28 of #FuturePRoof, learn how to achieve a clearly defined recruitment strategy and the processes needed in order to attract, hire and hold onto the cream of the PR professional crop.

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You’ll learn:

• The blueprint for excellent job performance
• How to identify high performers at the interview stage
• Ways to engage with employees in order to retain them

The success of your business depends entirely on your ability to attract and hire great people. Having a thorough and well thought out hiring process is the only way you can guarantee finding, keeping and developing top performing employees. 

So where does the search for top talent begin?

Under pressure to fill an empty seat, too many businesses neglect the highly accurate and extremely useful process of job benchmarking in their search for new talent. Big mistake! 
Start by speaking to the recruitment professionals who are specialists within the sector so that they can help you clearly define the position and salary and identify its key requirements.

Rank the identified requirements in order of importance to elicit the competencies, values and behaviours that the candidate will need in order to perform the job at the highest possible level.  

With the job benchmark in place, and by spending time writing a job brief and establishing who the candidate needs to be in order to meet – and ideally exceed – those expectations, you effectively begin with the end in mind and therefore do a better job of hiring and retaining the right people.

How do you go about benchmarking salaries?

By offering a position with a salary range that’s completely misaligned with the rest of the market, you risk missing out on the best talent not to mention looking rather foolish.  Salary benchmarking is vitally important to the hiring process, employee engagement and ultimately the long-term success of your business.

Always refer to a recent reputable salary survey for a detailed insight into salaries, bonuses and benefits and speak to an expert recruiter to ascertain if you are paying your team what they are worth.  Do this every time you make a new hire and update your team’s salaries every 6-12 months as the market changes rapidly and figures will soon go out of date.

When you spend time benchmarking as well as preparing a detailed job brief, giving thought to the behaviours required and what’s important, the pay-offs are invaluable. You are highly likely to have found the perfect fit for your team. 

What is the blueprint for excellent performance?

Truly great job performance requires a mix of behaviour, attitude and action so a structured recruitment process with set questions around the key areas that are important to your business is an absolute must.  

Assume nothing and formulate questions around the traits and behaviours that will work well with your team and are aligned with your company values.  Invest time putting together questions that are unique to your business needs and you’ll get the best people. 

The PR industry falls down by frequently hiring around skills, relevant experience and performance only.  The model below shows the six areas that you need to test in order to find a high performer.  Don’t be tempted to cherry pick certain areas under the assumption that you are already sold on a candidate’s level of intelligence or motivation. 

There are no exceptions – you need to measure all of these areas every time you interview as some are really hard to change.  Intellectual horsepower, values and motivations are the hardest to change so questioning and testing thoroughly around these areas are vital.  

In short, if you understand what’s important to someone in their career and what gets them out of bed in the morning, you are more likely to secure a better fit for the role.  

While you can formulate questions to address each of these areas directly, intelligence and motivation can also be assessed via psychometric testing.  A psychometric test will provide measurable, objective data that can give you a better all-round view of a candidate’s suitability as it uncovers hardwiring that cannot be gauged in an interview situation.

The PR industry could use tests much more.  For example, verbal and numerical testing will give a good indication of a candidate’s ability to process information while working to a time limit.   

How do you identify the high performers?

You have set the benchmarks for the role, the salary and identified the traits and behaviours that will bring in a high performer.  You’ve carried out various tests to measure intelligence, and questioned around values and motivations.  But it’s still vital to assess a candidate’s skills.

While most employers can assess skills fairly accurately, this is by no means an excuse to throw together a few tasks for the candidate moments before the interview, or think that because you are interviewing a senior-level person, you don’t need to set them a practical task. 

To assess skills and experience successfully, writing tests and presentation tasks that are appropriate to the role will help you gauge future performance.  And remember – these are fundamental at every level. 

What kind of questions will measure these all-important areas?

For senior PR roles, questions that measure levels of influence, solutions focus, motivation, relationship building skills and taking ownership are crucial to the hiring process. 

Example questions: 

Please can you tell me about a time at work when someone said no to something you wanted? 

Solution focused
Please can you give me a recent example of a campaign that did not go to plan?

Relationship building skills
Please tell me how you get to know your internal/external stakeholders.

Describe a time in your career when you worked the hardest and felt the greatest sense of achievement.

Taking ownership
Please could you tell me about a time you handled something at work that’s not normally part of your role?

Interview questions should be created prior to the interview and never forget to grade the answers. This helps remove subjectivity and focuses only on the answer and not how likeable the person in front of you is. The same questions should be used each time. 

Once you’ve built a really solid team, how do make sure they stay on board?

After going to considerable trouble and expense to identify, interview and hire the best possible people, you want to make sure you retain them.  You need to make it a priority to understand what engages employees during all stages of the employment cycle – from recruitment to training to performance assessment and beyond. 

Carry out an employee engagement survey at least once a year – this will tell you if employees are happy and provide valuable feedback about the core issues within the team.  

Career progression is key to job satisfaction and often the number one reason why people move on, so give your employees a crystal clear career path.  If they are aware of what they need to do in order to move up, they will stick around. Empower all employees to do their very best by giving them opportunities to take ownership of their roles. 

There should also be a mutual understanding of values – talk about this every six months and be sure to ask employees what you, as an employer, can do to help them in their job.

Don’t neglect the office culture – a happy team equals better levels of productivity and great results.  Nurture an environment in which the team reward and praise each other.  Employees who have a purpose and feel valued will promote retention.

Ultimately, savvy Global Heads of Comms and Agency CEOs know that success begins with the right people in the right roles.  The single most important thing they will do at work is hiring those people.  By dedicating time, effort and consideration to the hiring process, the team and the company culture, the result is a happier and highly productive workforce with eyes on moving the business forward.  


Sarah Leembruggen (MD) is an Executive Search Consultant and owner of The Works Search.  The business is 18 years old, specialises in PR and corporate communications and is one of the leading players in the market.  Sarah places the most senior comms professionals in-house, conducts a well-respected annual salary survey and supports some of the biggest brands in the industry with team benchmarking and interview coaching.  She actively supports Smart Works, a charity helping low-income or disadvantaged women secure employment.  

Twitter: @SLeembruggen