‘Hires is all that counts’ – Demystifying misconceptions #5

Pre-conception #5: ‘Hires is all that counts’

A 6 part article series by Nicole van Haelst


It’s a super rewarding experience to see the flow of people come in, the numerous responses to the invitation to come work in ‘my’ city.  It never ever bores! Knowing how to reach out to people and make them choose a career in the region you’re working with is a true asset. You can do this in person by applying the skills gained from the many, many programs, projects, conferences and networking events aka drinks you probably also ‘endured’. Like I did. And, even more satisfying, you can do this digitally. To make numbers count. 

To have these large numbers of applicants show on your screen too, there are some do’s and don’ts to recognize and (mis)beliefs to address in order to maximise success. One of the purposes of this series is to share experiences so feel free to react and share your ideas!

We love helping governments help their employers get access to the people they need. This includes talent to grow and sustain business, as it’s a very scarce commodity these days. Some years ago we came up with a digital solution to attract talent and got hooked on applying it since then. The customer: places with a mission to help solve the talent gap by turning the strength of the place brand into a talent magnet. They engage in creating talent pools for the employers in their region to tap into. 


Creating talent pools in Collaboration

We call it ‘collaborative talent attraction’. And it’s definitely more than just an expensive name for inviting people to come live and work in city x. It builds on a totally new kind of collaboration between the public and private sector: the government makes the talent funnel wider at the top, adding the place brand to the employers’ brands. Not just generic place branding but one targeting a specific career and niche segment. She interests more people for a career in the region than a single employer could ever manage alone. And, she always and only does this for a collective of employers; those that are looking for the profiles that qualify as ‘most wanted’ according to labour market intelligence. Amongst them may be the more traditional local SME’s, innovative midcaps and the ‘usual suspects’, the known brands, often large multinationals. Size doesn’t matter.

The digital campaigns display on a silver platter professionals that are willing and able to fulfil urgent vacancies in the region. They confirm they are open to relocate and have the skills for the jobs we have on offer. The target group may be local talent from other parts in the country or international, knowledge workers or craftsmen alike. Think eg. software developers, data scientists, operators, nurses and more. (Educational) background doesn’t matter either.

It’s fascinating to do research into talent’s Drivers and Distractions. I ask them. ‘What really matters in your life and career?’ ‘What frustrates you in achieving your goals?’ And then figure out how to translate the insights of these talent studies into employers’ language. Because really, they speak two completely different languages. Language families even! I side with talent because a talent centred, data-driven approach does matter! 

Campaigning in order to create a talent pool is all about identifying typical traits of people that match the profiles the businesses are after, reach out ‘respecting how people relate in their world’ and filter out their hard and soft skills. The candidates will then be shared with the participating employers.  

→ Misconception: only when employers actually hire the candidates, these collaborative efforts are worth it.

No doubt, fulfilling vacancies is the grand prize. The more, the merrier. But the rewards of campaigning exceed hires. Not all people will move next week. Not all of them will be a match for current job openings but even the people that don’t find or accept a job offer immediately, are gold worth investing in! Probably half of the world is after them. Professional scouts (called job platforms nowadays) are hyper-active, 24/7. The talents that responded are candidates, (lead) consumers and ambassadors from the moment they show interest and their value will only grow towards the future. At least – if nurtured well. 

Additional / added value of a talent pool

The critical success factor for digital campaigns actually lies in the period following the campaign. My dear friends from Copenhagen Capacity, Alex in particular holds a strong opinion, supported by loads of experience and data:

“The nurture flow in our talent database is where most of our job candidates come from. People are not going be ready from day 1 to move across the world with a spouse and children. It takes time to make a really big decision like this. There are some, who are ready to make the decision within a campaign period. But we really focus on using that nursing flow to show them ongoing job opportunities.”

Alex Knowles, Digital Lead (Recruitment & Marketing), Copenhagen Capacity

Sharing interesting messages regarding living and working in the region with the people in your database is a must do. Make it informal and as personal as possible – eg. matching vacancies, events fit for the specific family composition –  it all has a positive effect on converting a candidate into an inhabitant and worker for the region. Monthly feeds. It sounds like a lot of work – which it definitely is – but far more rewarding and less costly than attracting without follow up (a huge reputation risk for that matter). If done well, the people in the pool turn into ambassadors even before they actually land in the region. They will share their experiences with look-alikes, friends that are similar to them. Using your talent pool for marketing and referral recruitment is a super powerful instrument with very impressive multiplier effects. A recent talent study shows that Berlin for example attracts over 60% of international workers via referrals.


‘We supply the system, you supply the sound’

The idea that the government should not be involved in recruitment has been classified as ‘misconception’ in an earlier episode but to change a mindset, repetition is key. The actual selection and hiring process is out of scope of local government. Always. Not their authority, not their expertise (unless in their role as ‘employer’, of course). The employers – HR and the business leads – have the qualifying monopoly, it’s their thumbs going up or down. Talent pools created by the city is a kind offer, it complements the corporate efforts and provides just another channel to source the talent funnel. A kind of ‘we supply the system, you supply the sound’.

→ Misconception: ‘Hiring internationals is not for small and midsize enterprises (SME’s): ‘it’s too expensive, complex and we only have a few positions for highly educated people’. 

To make a long story short, the above statements are mere opinions and false, in part for sure. Fact is that a considerable number of companies don’t open up to non-nationals. Why? Lack of information or experience or confidence or all of the above. Being Dutch myself I know that we score top in the world on the scale of ‘uncertainty avoidance’ in terms of ‘The Business of Culture’ by Fons Trompenaar. We just do not like to be taken out of our comfort zone. I dare to say that on average it’s us – the locals – that don’t like to speak another language at work. And yes, I fully agree that internationals should learn the local language, in particular to have a great social life! But that’s not the idea under discussion here.

Collaborative talent attraction is only for ‘the brave’. A wise thing to do is start with companies that breathe a sense of urgency – management really lies awake because of the workforce shortages – and are comfortable to add non-dutch talent to their local teams. The open, international culture of innovative midcap companies has proven the best basis to start with. ‘The usual suspects’ – the larger, known brands – and the more traditional, local enterprises will follow…. With levels of urgency rising. To speed up this process, invest in creating more awareness of the added value of hiring internationals – including academic and vocationally trained people, both in numbers and quality. At the same time, prepare the local enterprises for all things related to onboarding talent from abroad. Information on demand about rules and regulations, customised  support services, on- and offline. Brainport Eindhoven is a good practice in this regard, with their suite of on- and offline services for capacity building amongst SME’s.


Wrong principles lead to wrong design

Pre- and misconceptions in particular can have unpleasant consequences. If we keep acting on faulty beliefs we risk to never close the talent gap. Tragic transitions and a drop on the scales of international competitiveness will be amongst the results. That’s not what we want.  

Be aware of your ideas. Test if they are true or false. Facts or fears? Do so before you start campaigning…. Or any other activity to attract or retain talent for that matter. Exchange your perceptions with peers in other regions; it is a fun and functional way to do so.


Read part 1 of the series here: ‘Talent = Student or Top Performer’

Read part 2 of the series here: ‘Employers are the demand side’

Read part 3 of the series here: ‘We know best why we are an attractive place’

Read part 4 of the series here: ‘Government & Talent Agenda: They shouldn’t, they couldn’t’

Read part 5 of the series here: ‘Hires is all that counts’

Read part 6 of the series here: ‘Place is less relevant’


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