What recruiters know

by Kara Kuryllowicz

Despite the fact Canada is in a technical recession recruiters are scrambling to fill key managerial and executive positions across the supply chain.

Pent-up demand and replacement due to moves and retirement are the key drivers. Following the 2008 recession and consolidation across multiple industries, many firms waited to fill open positions.

And now they’re finally hiring. They may be blending positions and asking one individual to fill what was once three roles, but they’re ready for growth.

As well, in today’s economic environment and competitive marketplace, key managers and executives stay with one firm just four to seven years rather than the 15- to 20-year cycle that was once common.

“They’re more career-minded and looking further ahead—they’re not willing to wait to take that next step,” says Ross Reimer, president of Reimer Associates in Milton, Ontario, whose summer of 2015 was the busiest in years. “There is less loyalty, particularly as employees advance their careers and companies look out for their own bottom line and growth.”

To grow in the near and distant future, employers are seeking exceptional individuals who will evolve into senior, managerial roles from their initial positions as inventory analysts and planners.

“The succession planning now starts early on, with firms looking for the soft skills required to influence people and behaviour well before they’re promoted,” says Tom Pauls, managing director of SCL Search Consultants, based Mississauga, Ontario.

While the skills are generally transferable across industries—say from the chemical to automotive or pharmaceutical sectors—most employers still prefer candidates with a track record in their particular vertical, although it does vary and depends on the specific role.

“Sometimes, it’s good to go beyond sectors to bring perspective,” says Pamela Ruebusch, CEO of TSI Group Inc, in Mississauga.

“At times, employers are missing opportunities when they don’t bring people in from other industries who can have a significant, positive impact,” Reimer adds.

Naturally, there are regional and sectoral variations, particularly in Alberta, where the hard-hit oil industry is having a ripple effect, but in other locations—southern Ontario, for example—opportunities abound around automotive and construction.

As Tracy Clayson, managing partner at Mississauga-based In Transit Personnel, sees it, the volume of components and materials required to feed southern Ontario auto plants and the Greater Toronto area’s condo boom is creating a need from the bottom up.

Evidently there is a continuing need for talent with supply chain knowledge and competencies, although there is also a heightened focus on specialized process and analytical skills. On-the-job experience is still crucial and logistics professionals continue to back that up with formal education and training via certification and accreditation with professional associations and supply-chain oriented programs at post-secondary institutions such as University of Windsor, McGill University, Wilfred Laurier University and Humber College.

Experience, hard skills and the APICS Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) program or Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) program, CITT’s CITT-Certified Logistics Professional (CCLP) designation, and SCMA’s Supply Chain Management Professional (SCMP) designation all matter, but how candidates work is equally important.

In today’s competitive environment, where everyone must accomplish far more with much less, project management skills, experience and training as well as one’s ability to lead and motivate team members are of paramount importance. Candidates can certainly talk about how they handled a particular scenario, but behavioural tools will also provide the facts without the personal spin.

The more difficult the job will be to fill, the more likely employers are to outsource the search. Across the board, recruiters note that the longer the list of must-haves and the more specific and unusual the job requirements—a bilingual inventory analyst who has SAP experience and has managed 5,000+ SKUs, for example—the greater the challenge. “If filling that particular role were easy, the companies would be doing it themselves,” says Pauls.

When someone tells Ruebusch to “go find a director of sales”, she often creates highly detailed, updated job descriptions to clarify the client’s needs and ensure there is a compelling story that will attract candidates who hadn’t been considering a move. It must speak to the firm’s values and include who the candidate would report to, goals for the next six to 12 months and the top three to five targets.

“The job description has to be a living document and in many cases, they haven’t updated it since they last hired for that role,” says Ruebusch. “Whether we’re beefing it up or starting from scratch, I’d rather spend the time clarifying the client’s needs up front.”

Sales and business development is always a challenge and as Canadians face economic uncertainty, maintaining the status quo, let alone achieving growth, will be harder than ever. Many sales professionals—lots of whom fell into the role—lack the formal training that would hone their skills and abilities and increase their understanding of the sales position and its requirements.

Only the biggest firms provide either in-house or third-party sales-specific training, and sales professionals who commit to self-improvement are advised to ensure the providers are credible. Any sales person who has taken the long view and invested significant time and money in the best programs would be sure to get Reimer’s attention.

“We know who and where they are, but the highly competent sales people are so rare, the successful ones are being very well looked after,” he says.

Once the candidates with the necessary skills and experience have been identified, it’s important to focus on the cultural fit. For example, Reimer would be careful about recommending a candidate whose experience is primarily with publicly-held multinationals for a role with a smaller, entrepreneurial firm, and vice-versa. A firm that requires a home-based vice-president in Western Canada needs to be sure the winning candidate is self-directed, highly motivated and comfortable with walking across the hall to work day after day.

“In sales, we’re seeing a real move to home offices because logistically it makes more sense to be on the road to a customer or prospect than driving into the office just to make an appearance,” says Reimer, who makes sure the candidates who make big claims can explain exactly what they did to achieve those results.

Hiring is costly and time consuming, but since terminating a bad hire can be even more expensive and disruptive, due diligence is as thorough as ever, with four to six interviews, including panel sessions, and multiple reference and background checks. In fact, TSI Group reports that the number of clients requiring such checks has quadrupled over the past few years.

“Turnover is so costly and it doesn’t look good on anybody—the recruiter, the hire or the company,” says Reimer.

A candidate’s formal education and job experience are frequently verified and background checks typically include criminal and credit. Although issues are very rare, candidates will generally forewarn the recruiters and can often explain a minor past incident. So why bother with such checks? It’s better to know up front about a personal bankruptcy or criminal record if that employee will need a personal credit card when travelling or have to visit US clients.

More than ever, background checks include references that go well beyond conversations with the “boss” to include colleagues, direct reports and customers. According to Ruebusch, employers appreciate the different points of view that come with the complete 360-degree perspective. She will pay particular attention if a customer’s comments are markedly different from a colleague’s.

Panel interviews are still common. However, a conversation with four or more interviewers may illustrate how the candidate will react under stress, while diluting the interview to the point interviewers actually see less of the person. Behavioural profiles remain important because, as Ruebusch points out, the interview is unlikely to reveal the candidate’s authentic self and the “best interview is not always the best hire”.

Technology certainly plays a role in both the search and hiring process, but recruiters still rely most on their extended, carefully cultivated personal networks and the industry associations that help grow and maintain them.

“Individuals are more inclined to consider an opportunity that I present if they’ve come to know and trust me over time,” says Reimer.

Certainly, established relationships and face-to-face interaction remain of paramount importance, but tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, as well as Monster and Workopolis, can extend a recruiter’s reach. Pauls, who finds up to 40 percent of his candidates through LinkedIn, notes that not even Skype can replace the connections that are made and the non-verbal cues that are revealed through real-life contact.

Finally, with Canada in a technical recession, even those who are perfectly content in their current positions may be looking for work six to 12 months from now. That’s exactly why recruiters and those they recruit need to treat every bridge they’ve ever built with care and consideration.

Be open to opportunities. See what’s out there, gather competitive intelligence and practice the interview process. Pauls fully supports and even encourages that approach and is baffled at how often candidates express interest, go through phone and face-to-face interviews with the recruiter, then ignore email, text and phone attempts to set up the next interview with the employer.

“Respond. Don’t just disappear, because a good recruiter is like a good lawyer–at some point you are likely to need us,” says Pauls.