Agility in public sector recruitment: treat interviewees as customers

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The ad was in the Sunday Times Appointments pages. It had pride of place in public sector appointments – a booming field, and one which headhunting firms are doing well. This how the headhunting firm advertised for a chief executive for Experience X, where X is a major British city. Remuneration up to £100,000…

‘With near-legendary nightlife, shopping, cultural, business, conference and sporting facilities – in addition to its fine historical legacy – X is alive with attraction and opportunity.

‘A new Destination Management Company (DMC) is being established to ensure X and the surrounding area remains competitive and improves upon its standing as a major cultural, leisure and business visitor destination. The first steps toward the DMC have been the merger of Profile X with Conference X and now the appointment of a Chief Executive to drive the new company forward.

‘As Chief Executive working with the newly created Board, you will deliver the vision and lead the development and management of the organization. Constantly exciting people about the area and its potential, you will champion the vision and strategic framework in partnership with other key stakeholders. You will coordinate and manage corporate and strategic planning that will raise our profile as the place to visit, work, live and invest.

‘As an experiences leader and manager, with a track-record in driving organizations forward and achieving ambitious business plans, you will ideally have some experience of destination management and/or visitor conference attraction, and have strong business development and marketing skills.’

But whatever the strong marketing skills required of the new CEO, they were sorely absent from this expensive ad. Which city, in all its uniqueness, was this key post in UK urban regeneration all about ? Only a one-line opening sentence gave the game away:

‘Once upon a time there was just Robin Hood and Maid Marian.’

Yes, city X was in fact Nottingham.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s £22bn plan for ‘sustainable communities’ will not lead to much new housing. But it will lead to a lot of new public-private partnerships and quangos. There may not be a war for talent in public sector hiring, but there will be a lot more hirings all the same.

It’s the same story in the USA. Jobs in local government are set to grow by 2,684,000 from 2000 to 2010 (go to www.bls.gov/news.release/ecopro.toc.htm )

Local authorities that want good staff, from ‘destination management’ CEOs downward, had better differentiate their job ads, and their general marketing to applicants, a bit more clearly. The channels they choose are not nearly as important as the pitch they make.

Sensing and responding to job applicants’ needs – and in particular the need to work ‘somewhere special’ – will be one of the most vital signs of agility in the public sector for some years to come.

James Woudhuysen is Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester

[email protected]

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