When I ask care providers about how they source their frontline care applicants, the most common answer I hear now is ‘Internet job boards’.
They may run an open day every so often, offer an employee referral scheme, occasionally place a local newspaper advert or two or even have a ‘We’re hiring!’ banner outside their care setting, but internet job boards now seem to be the go-to option for most social care recruiters.
I think this is a mistake. There is no denying the power of the leading job boards to deliver a relentless flow of applicants to your inbox, but they, like all ‘broadcast’ recruitment advertising, have one big overriding flaw. They only attract active job seekers – people consciously looking for a new job – and a certain kind of active job seeker at that.
Active versus passive job seekers
I think it is important to look more closely at who is an active job seeker and see how this fits with social care’s requirements.
What makes people look for a new job? There can be benign reasons – recently moved to the area, returning to work after children, seeking promotion and so on, but I am going to propose there are also a lot of potentially negative reasons too. Are they job-hoppers? Are they unemployable? Perhaps they feel underpaid? Could they be in dispute with their current employer or recently dismissed? Certainly a qualified frontline care or support worker who can’t readily find employment in the sector raises questions for me.
In my years of studying how the world’s best care organisations find new staff, I have found that the recruitment practice of these exemplar companies are weighted towards seeking out candidates using their clients, staff and local networks as well as specific referral methods.
Their tentacles run much deeper into the community than most care providers. They exploit these vibrant connections to find candidates that are unlikely to respond to their posted job ads. They are prioritising passive job seekers – people not actively looking for a job. Passive job seekers are those that would make high potential frontline staff but need to be approached. They probably do not have an up-to-date CV and are blissfully unaware of your job advert.
Who is searching for a job online?
Let’s return for a minute to the competitive and crowded world of online job searches, where our active job seekers can be mostly be found.
According to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) about 12% of the working population is looking for a job at any one time; females slightly less so. By only advertising to those actively looking for a job we are excluding around 90% of our female-weighted potential candidates. Of these job seekers the DWP says the majority, about 80%, will be searching internet job boards.
There is still a heavy bias towards younger job seekers on job boards, so in recently available Government data, 85% of 16 to 34 year olds used internet job search versus 59% of the 55 to 69 age range.
Where this leaves us is that an overreliance on online job posting is reaching a) a small section of potential future staff, b) a younger demographic and c) potentially the least suitable candidates.
Anecdotally, I regularly hear of fake contact phone numbers on online applications used by benefits-recipients needing to demonstrate some job-hunting effort, out-of-territory and even out-of-country applicants and a high percentage of interview ‘no-shows’.
The return on investment with online job board spend seems to be rarely measured but I would ask readers to gauge the success of their job board spend not by how many CVs fill their inboxes each day but by how many of these applicants have made it to be successful and loyal employees.
US research from Jobvite has found that after three years, only 14% of job board applicants will still be with your company, compared to 47% who were referred by a member of staff, for example.
A blended approach
Despite this I am not advocating to cease job board advertising in social care, rather I propose three actions that recruiters could take to improve their candidate intake for frontline care roles:
- Augment your ‘broadcast’ candidate attraction effort with proven community-centric referral methods as described below.
- Review and refine your online job advertisement wording to target the most suitable online job seekers.
- Ensure you are effectively pre-screening candidates as early as possible to reduce the dual burden of interview no-shows and clearly unsuitable candidates.
Here, I intend to focus on the first action as by doing that there will be less need to use online job boards.
Building your community referral network
One of the bad habits that the growth in Internet job boards has encouraged is what I term ‘armchair-recruiting’. Given the competing demands on a Registered Manager’s or recruiter’s time, it is enticing to click a button from the comfort of your desk and post jobs to an eager global audience of those seeking work.
But we know from extensive research that there are groups living around your care setting that have a high potential in a paid caring role, if only you reach out to them. These include the retired, those who are actively practising a faith, those who have experience caring for a loved one or have a family member or friend with a disability and those who volunteer. From my studies, it seems that the quality of those recommended to you by another person or organisation usually trumps the active job seeker who responds to your advertisement directly.
The three referral sources you must prioritise
As the Jobvite statistics above indicate, your employee referral scheme can be a very powerful recruiting ally if operated properly. This method is always most effective at the commencement of employment or even earlier, at application stage. This is when the employee or candidate is the most eager to please and when you first get access to their network. I recommend enquiring about the names of other suitable friends and contacts of every applicant as a matter of course. You can also ask their employment references for recommendations in some cases.
Secondly, the huge latent goodwill that you have generated amongst clients and their families over years of compassionate and reliable care delivery is all too often left to go fallow. Simply asking this group if they know anyone who would meet the standards you seek will generate recommendations. Referrals from this source are particularly valuable as they have direct or indirect experience of care and an insight into the requirements of the role.
Thirdly, do not turn your back on ‘good’ leavers. In US tests, up to 30% of this group have been found to return to work for their previous care employer within six months when approached systematically. This is because in many cases they are leaving for reasons that do not reflect a lack of loyalty or a rejection of frontline care. An example can be pressure from family members, particularly a spouse or partner, to find a job with more sociable hours. Or a mistaken belief that the social care grass is greener elsewhere.
Either way you often have a leaver, who after a few weeks, regrets their decision and wants to return but is too embarrassed or coy to make contact with you, their recently ex-employer. By staying in touch with good leavers by regular text message, social media or a note posted home (or preferably all three), a surprising number will actually gladly take up your offer to return. In many cases these are great care staff who would have otherwise been lost from our sector.
One obvious group of passive job seekers that we have yet to address are the loyal and happy staff of other care providers in your area. Whilst I know enticing the best staff away from other providers is commonplace and highly appealing, ultimately it is a zero sum game. Trading social care staff between providers is not growing the workforce.
Diversifying your recruitment approach is now critical
Given the growing demand for committed and compassionate frontline staff, we simply must bring fresh sources of high potential staff into our sector. It is my strong view that the evidence points to the most suitable of these new recruits being found from the ranks of targeted, passive candidates around your care setting and less from the speed-dating world of internet job boards. By consciously widening your recruitment channels you can only improve your opportunities to build a strong and loyal workforce for the future.
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