How to attract the candidates who don’t think you need them

Software company Sage needed to expand its candidate pool for a slew of new roles. Reaching out to groups who feel they may no longer be relevant in the workplace has been a success, according to Amanda Cusdin.

There’s a pool of talent in the UK with great skills to offer – but who don’t believe we want them. They may have taken a career break of two years or more, often to manage family obligations.

Now they think their experience is outdated, that they won’t present well in interviews, and that companies will look unfavourably at the gap in their CV. They don’t believe they could juggle their personal commitments with a work schedule. They don’t think they’re relevant in the workplace anymore.

At Sage, we thought hard about Office for National Statistics figures around this untapped resource. About 85% of people seeking to return to work in the North are women, 94% of returners want to refresh their skills, and 93% would like to return to work part-time. But, less than 12% of jobs offer flexible working patterns.

Diverse backgrounds, including career breaks, develop innovative thinking, which is highly attractive to us. We needed to let this group of people know how valuable their experiences are.

Programme pilot

So we launched a special pilot that would uncover this talent and help candidates back into their careers, called Pathways. Already the signs are that we are on the right track – twice as many candidates as expected have come forward. We’ll have to make more supported roles available than we’d planned, but now we are urging other employers to offer similarly supported roles for the wealth of talent we’ve found.

One hundred candidates registered for the open day we held this month in our Newcastle HQ. This was the first step in the journey back to work that we developed. By September, our first roles will be filled, and we will continue campaigning for pathways such as ours to be rolled out across the UK.

How can more employers benefit from reaching out to these untapped (or unaware) pools of talent? Here’s what we’ve learnt.

The personal touch
Apprehensive returners are not looking at job boards, they don’t think those ads apply to them. This means the normal routes to attracting talent won’t work. We needed friends and relatives to learn about the opportunities and encourage our target audience to come forward.

Local newspaper articles and radio interviews seeded awareness in the community. We followed that up with Facebook ads, targeted at key local areas. We wanted mothers, uncles, siblings or offspring to respond and urge those brilliant but reticent candidates to give it a go. Then we followed up every application and inquiry with a phone call and a personal email.

Open your doors
Our open day was an opportunity to invite candidates in to meet us and look around. Colleagues were able to share their own stories about taking time out of the workplace, how they use flexible working hours and mentoring, and their continued career progression.

We wanted candidates to see themselves in our work environment, to demystify our practices and undo preconceptions about corporate life being intimidating.

Provide practical and emotional support
As well as information about our own Pathways recruitment process, we wanted to address confidence issues around softer skills. We hosted talks about managing emotional issues such as imposter syndrome and how to enhance your personal brand.

Signpost to ongoing support
On leaving our open day we wanted candidates to feel recruitment ready – confident and looking forward to taking their first steps back into work. But that can’t be where the support stops for them.

We invited local charities who help women and veterans into work , including Smart Works, the Millin Charity and Forward Assist. We introduced them to our candidates and let them know they would be able to provide independent, ongoing help.

Keep an open mind
We will be open minded about all the roles we have open – not just our initial Pathways roles. If candidates strike us having great potential, we’ll map their skillsets and strengths across all of our vacancies. There’s a strong chance we will be able to provide flexible working, training and mentoring in those roles too.

Provide support for the challenge of transition
Once our candidates are in post, we will provide a focused programme of support for at least one year. Ongoing training to update skillsets, one-to-one mentoring, and a flexible approach to hours will help our candidates juggle their obligations, ease into our company, and find their feet with us.

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Amanda Cusdin

About Amanda Cusdin

Amanda Cusdin is chief people office of Sage
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