If Simon Cowell knows how to do one thing well, it’s how to spot and harness talent among a gaggle of hopefuls and pretenders. Steve Brookstein and Matt Cardle aside, Cowell’s knack for spotting talent is one all SME owners should develop.
Now while we can’t tell you how to make millions like the aforementioned music mogul, we can advise you on how to spot a diamond in the rough and the steps you can take to polish it. Thankfully you don’t have to wear your jeans around your ears to do so. Marcus Evans explains:
“There’s a perceived gulf in ability between our second line and the second lines in other companies, with our guys being very good at what they do. It’s quite tricky to get over, and this is part of finding the right talent because you have to find someone who can move up a level, but who also doesn’t mind proving themselves.
“When the new guys come in you can train them to do anything. But when you have a second line come in who has six years experience, how do you work out how good they are? What can you really assess in two hours of interviewing?”
Marcus says one way Nutbourne has found to negotiate this problem is to ask each interviewee to give a presentation, throwing them well out of their comfort zone.
“They get super nervous because IT people never have to give presentations. We don’t care how well they present, though we don’t tell them that. We’re looking for how well they handle pressure. How do they do something unfamiliar, which is presenting, and a familiar thing which is IT?
“What we often find is that people that deal well with pressure deal well with the presentation. They may have a lousy presentation, but if they’ve coped well with the pressure, then we’ve found what we are looking for.”
Marcus adds that in the past, during the period between first and second interviews they have lost out on potential recruits. But, he says, having the flexibility of a smaller company means that it shouldn’t be an issue in the future.
“As an SME we have the advantage of being flexible and being able to roll the first interview into the second, where perhaps a bigger company might not. It took us a while to work out we didn’t need to play by strict rules if it meant you might lose a candidate in the week or two gaps between interviews.
“We’ve recruited some of our best people that way, and I would recommend it to others. You have to be willing to bend the rules; if they’re right and you’ve brought them in at a lower level, promote them early if they prove themselves. If they’re not good at a role, but a good company fit, see if you can find another role for them where they will be able to perform.
“We hire juniors to train them and give them a chance to develop, and we offer hotshots the opportunity to prove themselves and to shine. You have to be patient, and you have to be willing to work with people.
“It’s tough to find the right talent, but when you do, it’s really rewarding.”
Just ask Simon Cowell about One Direction.