Blog post,  Communications professional

How to recruit the right person for your communications team

One of the hardest things when managing a team is finding the right people. It is so hard when you have someone who just doesn’t seem to “fit”. This could be for a range of reasons, but it can create huge issues in delivery and team culture.

As a Manager in the public service, I spent a great deal of my time recruiting for my team or someone else’s. I spent more hours than I can count reading selection criteria and sitting in interviews. This gave me a lot of experience in recruitment, so I wanted to share my lessons in this space.

In my team, we had a few rules for recruitment (over and above the official public service recruitment rules) that we instilled over the years. We went out looking for people with the rights skills, experience and qualifications for the position we were looking to fill but we also looked for other qualities as well like the cultural and environmental fit.

So here are my tips for recruiting the right person for your communications team.

Cultural fit is just as important as skills

We had a strong team culture and that was an extremely important part of what made us successful. I had a close-knit team, who worked together and worked hard. We looked for people that would fit into that culture. People that were willing to go the extra mile, willing to lend a hand, willing to do more than the bare basics, someone who would go above and beyond. This was extremely important to our team as we spent a lot of hours in the week together. But it was hard to identify in an interview so primarily this was based on gut instinct – was this one of our people?

Make sure the person understands the environment they are walking into

We worked in a crazy environment. Probably not unlike many other government departments we had endless demands on our time and a never-ending workload. We also worked in a controversial policy space that was often criticised in the media. Our policy framework changed with each election cycle meaning things you spend years building often got shutdown just as quickly. This meant we needed people that were resilient to criticism and agile to change.

We often started interviews with a simple question “What kind of environment do you enjoy working in?”. Anyone who talked about being able to tick off to do lists or working on a policy that they were personally really passionate about – we knew would struggle in our operating environment. It was just the reality of where we worked.

We were also very open and honest in interviews. I believe an interview is as much about the candidate interviewing us, as it was about us interviewing them. So, we explained what our team was like and what it was like to work in our agency. We wanted them to know what they were in for and make the right choice.

It was important to me that we didn’t put people into a position where they would struggle not because of a lack of skills but just because it was the wrong fit.

If you can’t find the right person, don’t hire anyone

After a few poor recruitment choices (not because the person was terrible just the wrong fit) we decided it was less disruptive to the team and less work overall to recruit no one, rather than recruit the wrong person. This is hard because you still need to get the work done and can be a scary prospect but trust me it will be worse in the long run to have the wrong person for the job. I am guilty of feeling pressured to have someone in the role and getting the wrong person, only to spend more time with them trying to sort out the issues than getting work done.

Remember there are a few options other than just the standard APS recruitment. In the scenarios when you can’t find the right person, or you just aren’t sure:

  • offer a non-ongoing position/secondment so both sides can “try before you buy”
  • consider hiring temporary contractors or consultants to fill the void until you get the “right person”
  • offer a junior member of staff an acting opportunity and backfill them, it can be surprising who steps-up when given the chance
  • worst case scenario, you just survive!

Admit when there are problems and have an honest conversation

Finally, when you have made a bad recruitment choice admit it and have an honest conversation with the person. You don’t seem to be fitting in with the team, what is going on? You are struggling to keep up with the workload in this environment, why do you think that is?

At times when you ask people outright “How do you think you are going?” you will find they will open up and share that they are struggling as much as you think they are. This may lead to you helping them find another role that fits them better, starting formal performance monitoring or mutually deciding to end their contract. It could also be the conversation that turns the relationship around – you identify the issue and get them back on track! Either way, it is better to be clear and honest so that they know where they stand and you understanding their perspective.

 

Recruitment is hard. I think anyone who has done it knows that. But getting the right people together to form a team is critical to success. Don’t under-estimate how much time you will need to allocate to this as a manager and why you should prioritise this over other activities.

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