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Rebel recruitment – 5 steps to successful hiring in a candidate-driven market

Read time 8 minutes

Challenging situations can really drive innovation. Faced with a tough recruitment market and a need to expand his team, Glenn Elliott, was forced to get creative. The results were great, and in this article, he shares what he did so you, too, can stand out in a crowded recruitment market.

Job adverts have hit a record high. Skills shortages abound. And pay is spiralling for certain roles. As a result, businesses must find quality people in a challenging market where candidates have the upper hand. 

As if this wasn’t difficult enough, I’ll also add two additional facts to the recruitment fire:

  1. The best people aren’t even looking for a job, they’re happy in the one they have.
  2. The best candidates have choices.

This means you need to break away from traditional recruitment and try something different. I’ve been experimenting all year, and I’m ready to share my Rebel Recruitment plan.

I used this approach when I set out to hire four new Tenzing Sherpas. The experiment worked so well that I ended up hiring eight people, not four, so I completed all my recruitment for the year in one go. Now, I’m sharing my five-step plan to help you revolutionise recruitment in your business.

Step 1 – Start with a great job advert

This is so important, and yet so often, it is done really badly. A job advert is not the same as a job description – the clue is in the word “advert” – an advert is meant to inform, educate, excite and motivate someone to make a purchase. In this situation, the purchase starts with them applying for the job. I’ve seen some job adverts that make the job sound so unappealing it’s a miracle anyone applies at all.

A great job advert should attract a narrow niche of people and should put off those who aren’t right for the job – it is the first step of your filter. Some people should read it and think: “Oh my god, that’s not for me.”

It should also attract people who are happy in their current role. They should think: “I wasn’t looking, but wow! I can’t resist.” 

Most job specs are the wrong sort of long. They’ve been kicked around for years and added to by different managers making them wordy lists with a muddle of ‘essentials’ blurred with ‘nice to haves’. Rather than focussing on the handful of essential skills or qualities that are going to make someone a superstar in the role.

When I write my job adverts, I make sure:

  • They’re crystal clear – the job should be summarised in two bullet points. And everything else should be a function of the two bullets.
  • They focus on skills and abilities without being prescriptive of how they were obtained – asking for ‘three to five years of budget management experience’ isn’t helpful. People write this because they imagine the person that will be successful will probably have been doing it for a while – but it is too blunt a tool. It narrows your candidate pool by cutting out people who might have the skills and ability but might have got it in a faster or different way. So try to avoid thinking in that way and instead think about the level of skill and ability you need. eg “You’ll need to be able to handle a £5m budget with over 400 expenses categories”.
  • They are education agnostic – I know this is controversial, especially in Germany where I live, where people are obsessed with your qualifications. But I don’t care whether you got your skills and ability from school, uni or life experience. I just care what you can do. I have people on my team with MBA’s, and I have people without degrees. Formal education is just one way to build skill and ability – my job as a recruiter is to assess that skill and ability, not assume someone has it because someone I never met gave them a certificate.
  • They give examples – of what the job does. And set out the personal attributes of someone who’d be a great candidate.
  • They try to put candidates off – there’s no point in hiding any challenges or messes, which all businesses have. New hires will find everything out on day one anyway. It’s much better for someone to come in with eyes wide open. So be brutally honest. Let them know if your systems are awful, or your clients are really demanding. This will help you hire people who will stay with you for more than six months. And it will make you stand out by being ruthlessly honest.

See these tips in action with these examples:
Sherpa job advert or this Studio Manager ad.

Step 2 – Get marketing

I don’t use recruiters – scandalous, I know. For me, who I bring onto my team is far too important to outsource, I want to be in control. So I published on LinkedIn and promoted the post for over a week or more: 

Here is what I did:

  • Day one – announce the role
    • Publish it on your website and applicant tracking system (ATS)
    • Write a short, punchy summary for LinkedIn
    • Ask all your colleagues to like, comment and share – this is key, as without that, your post will be seen by few people. Linked In only shows posts in feeds that have engagement.
  • Day two – bring the job to life
    • Share a detailed bio about a real person doing the job
  • Day three – showcase the support and learning candidates will receive 
  • Day four – share the story of someone else who does the job 
  • Day five – focus on induction
    • Let people know what to expect when they land
    • For added reach, tag other LinkedIn users involved in the plan to encourage them to share the post

This approach got me 92 CVs without spending a penny on recruitment fees.

Here are screenshots of the actual LinkedIn campaign that we ran over the week:

Step 3 – Prioritise principles over process

I’ve often been advised that, without a rigid two-week recruitment process, I’ll lose good candidates to other offers. But that’s what recruiters say when they are shopping their best candidates round to several clients, and they want to collect their fee. But when you own your own recruitment pipeline, you can do things differently. And what I learned was that because the very best candidates aren’t looking for a new job, you can take much longer and get your recruitment right. 

It took me nine weeks to secure my eight new Sherpas. And I did this by running my recruitment based on principles like these:

  • Every candidate deserves a fantastic experience.
  • Interviews should allow people to shine, not be shamed.
  • I do nothing more valuable or expensive than bring people into the organisation. So it takes as long as it takes.

It’s easy to forget that recruitment is a two-way process, and candidates are also evaluating you – particularly in a candidate-led market. Prioritising people over process ensures every candidate is treated with care from the start of your relationship. Laying solid foundations with your new hire and building your brand with those who aren’t successful.

Step 4 – Make time for lots of interviews

In the past, I have looked at a pile of CV’s and thought my job was to get rid of a bunch, so I have a manageable set to interview. I’ve looked for any reason to kick someone out. 

In my new approach, I take a different mindset. I tell myself it’s my job to find the ‘diamonds in the sand’ rather than identify who can write a perfect CV. Kicking out someone who makes a mistake or typo on their CV isn’t helpful to me – it’s actually cutting off my nose to spite my face. My job is to find the people who can do the advertised role brilliantly and love it, not to find the ‘perfect CV’ or person best at job applications.

I’ve found that CVs are poor predictors of interview performance. So you need to interview twice as many people as you might think.

To hire eight Sherpas, I held:

  • 32 half-hour ‘coffee calls’ – quite informal just to get to know the candidate. 
  • 16 first round formal interviews.
  • 11 second interviews. 
  • And 9 people had a final interview with the CEO I was placing them with.

That’s a lot of interviews, but it was worth the time. Because, by speaking with the people I thought were good and the people I thought could be good, two people from the second category rose to the top. If I’d dismissed their CVs early on, I wouldn’t have discovered their talent. That would be two diamonds I had missed in the sand!

Step 5 – Communicate, communicate, communicate

One of my Rebel Recruitment principles is that if someone chases you for an update, you’ve under-communicated. So I made sure I emailed:

  • After applications closed – to thank people for applying and update them about the next steps.
  • Every Friday – candidates were never left hanging over a weekend. Even if I’d been too busy to do anything that week I let people know.
  • Ahead of each interview – invites set expectations while being human and kind. For example, letting people know that dressing down was fine and interruptions from pets, babies or anyone else weren’t a cause to freak out. 
  • When people weren’t successful – with honest feedback for everyone. It only took a few minutes of my time and candidates really appreciated it. 

In fact, every candidate we rejected, but one, emailed to say how much they enjoyed the process and that they thought Tenzing was great. These communications played a big part in that response. Remember – the best candidates have choices, so every step of this process is an opportunity for you to show how your company is special. I chose to do that by showing how human and honest we were at every single stage.

Here are examples of the candidate emails I wrote:

Ready to rebel?

We all say: “People are my most important asset.” Then we recruit in a rush. 

With 90 applications, the focus becomes getting rid of 60. But that’s not your job. Your job is to find the diamonds in the sand – to find the talent that no one else sees.

So, let’s revolt against traditional recruitment, overthrow outdated approaches and take a candidate-centred approach to discovering the people who’ll help your business shine. 

This article has a supporting slide deck designed to help you discuss and share the Rebel Recruiting ideas.
Download it here.


Picture of Glenn Elliott

Glenn Elliott

Glenn is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of CEO experience. He sold his last business, Reward Gateway, to PE three times. His skills are in product, engineering, sales and marketing, and his passions are leadership, company culture, employee engagement and social justice. In 2018, he wrote the Amazon HR Bestseller, Build it: A Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement.
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