Stop scaring away talent with tests and get to know them instead
A view from Andrew Smylie

Stop scaring away talent with tests and get to know them instead

Andrew Smylie, global brand lead for Xbox at Microsoft and Power 100 Next Generation 2015 alumnus, shares his lessons from the ladder.

Attracting the best of talent these days can be an arduous task. There are more choices than ever before, especially to those coming out of university. The industry fights against law, accounting, medicine, engineering and a variety of other sectors, each of which offer better stock and cash rewards than our own. However, few other industries come close to offering the level of variety in day-to-day life that you get with a career in advertising and marketing.

I am sure many reading this will recall moments where they have had the opportunity to do something a bit out of the ordinary, and have had an experience that others would wish for. The very nature of our industry is unique; it allows us to be at the bleeding edge of technology, consumer behaviour, trends and culture to gain better insights to enable us to have a conversation. If there is one industry that is on the front line when it comes to operating in real-time and staying ahead of the curve, it’s this one.

So how do you attract the right people? In my own experience, there are a handful of brilliant minds that truly understand the beauty and elegance of writing and dissecting a creative brief, and then there are even fewer who know how to apply it to recruitment to find the ‘best of the best’.

I believe you must start there. What does that brief look like for the position you are trying to hire? What’s the reason you exist as a business, and what are you trying to bring to the world? How do you attract the right person for the job? Be creative, be bold, be enticing. Be noticeable, but don’t exaggerate or overdo it.

HR doesn’t have to be templated. It should be different, and you should screen and select candidates from a variety of sources. Both the ordinary and the extraordinary. Oxbridge or not. Go and reach potential candidates in places where they can be found more naturally. If someone isn’t looking for a career change, they’ll never see what a career in advertising and marketing is about.

What sort of conversation would you like to have with someone? During my time at university, I attended a WPP lecture by Jon Steel who was ‘pitching’ for people to come and apply for the WPP fellowship program. Nine years later, it was probably one of the most thought-provoking application forms I ever did.

I learnt a few things through the process. The first was that they really wanted to just "get to know me". They wanted to understand what made me tick, why I did things the way I did them. They wanted to know more about my curiosity in life, my interests and my hobbies. The second was that it was less about what I had done, but more about what I was capable of doing.

WPP and many other companies, including my current employer (Microsoft) look at "potential" in their recruitment process and it’s a key quality that I think we should examine more closely. If we want to attract the best people in the industry, we need to move away from "tests" and instead take the time to get to know someone better. Work out what fire they have inside them to get the work done in the industry they want to be a part of.

I truly believe that our industry has the opportunity to disrupt the status-quo on attracting talent. We’re the leaders in shifting perceptions and persuading people to choose and the leaders in conversation. Why should this be anything different?

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