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Taking the bureaucracy out of recruitment with HR ninja Mandy Johnson

Getting drunk on bourbon at a conference and telling your CEO that the company HR processes are crap isn’t a career advancing move Mandy Johnson recommends. That said, it worked for her – two weeks later she had an empty store to turn into a recruitment and training centre, launching her accidental career as an HR leader for Flight Centre.

Johnson says she never intended to write a book, yet Winning the War for Talent has just been published, outlining her strategies and processes for attracting and retaining top players.

Her methods are all based on what seems like common sense, yet the proliferation of what she dubs “HR Nazis” compelled her to share them with the wider world. (A prime example is retold in chapter two, when Johnson gets herself hired as a temp at a company and revolutionises its hiring from the inside out despite initial resistance.)

How HR affects the bottom line

When the war for talent hit in the late 90s, she says many organisations decided to systemise their recruitment practices.

“All of this systemisation of recruitment is just bureaucratisation,” she says.

In fact, Johnson says it’s counterintuitive and affecting many companies’ bottom lines, with turnover costing millions of dollars in some cases.

“So many companies just don’t measure turnover or bottom line results.”

Speed is of the essence, she says, as neither employer nor candidate wins when time is wasted.

“Great candidates are like great houses – they don’t stay on the market for long,” Johnson says. She finds that most of the time, the best candidates apply within the first few days of a job being listed.

Why Bill Gates and Richard Branson wouldn’t pass today’s hiring processes

Part of the overcomplication is the focus on work skills, with candidates screened out early on if they don’t literally tick all the boxes online. Dropouts like Bill Gates and Richard Branson would be knocked out of the running before even speaking to a real person in that case – and they’d probably also flunk out profile-wise on the psychometric tests that are increasingly popular.

“Psychometric tests, used the wrong way, can be lethal … they give you the same people over and over again,” Johnson says. “Yet anyone who’s achieved anything in business knows it’s the diversity of a team that is the strength of a business.”

Recruit for attitude, train for skill

Instead, what she looks for is work ethic, perseverance, a record of achievement, an ability to get along with coworkers and commitment. Skills are easy to quantify but they’re not the only factor in success – skills can be learned, while attitude is innate.

Johnson has developed her own checklists for evaluating candidates (laid out in her book). The key is keeping it simple and objective.

Gut feelings can lead even the most experienced astray. Johnson says the point at which to listen to your gut instinct is at the end of the recruiting process, after a candidate has been through the screening stages.

“Gut instinct doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, even though a lot of organisations are using it 100 percent of the time in recruitment. You’d be better off taking a dartboard and chucking darts at people’s names. The businesses I work with who espouse gut instinct … always have the highest turnover.”

Employer branding – who’s doing it well?

Johnson has to think for a moment to come up with companies that are rocking employer branding, and she reckons that’s because too often marketing has nothing to do with HR.

Too many company sites have a fantastic website but a “shocker” of a careers section that looks like an afterthought, she says.

She rates the likes of Atlassian (an Australian software company) and Gore-Tex for bucking the trend.

“In most companies the HR person would put on ‘we sell bits of medical stuff and some other devices and raincoats’. Gore-Tex says ‘join us, save people’s lives with medical equipment’. There’s a great recruitment vision on their page.”

Johnson encourages companies to enter ‘best employer’ type competitions, as it’s something to crow about if they rate well.

“If you get in the top 50 it’s an enormous push for your branding,” she says.

“The one thing I do see about all this HR atrophy is it creates a massive opportunity for businesses that actually innovate … if you get good at it you stand out like a beacon.”

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