Recruitment tips for the Mideast construction consultant sector

Agencies and in-house teams work together to head hunt

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For any company to stay at the top of its game, having the right set of players on a team is essential. Sourcing and approaching the perfect candidate for the job is never a simple task, which gives rise to the question of whether to entrust the search to an in-house team or use an agency.

While the methods used by the two may differ, they each bring their own advantages to the table, and therefore using a combination of the two is likely to be more beneficial to a company than relying solely on either one.

When it comes to the recruitment process and sourcing a candidate, Mamoun Taraboulis, regional resourcing manager at Mouchel, says they like to get a head start on things by teaming up with their bidding managers and hiring managers at an early stage when a project is identified.

“We have our resource planning and we forecast the manpower requirement for a period of one year. We try to find a candidate ahead of time, and once we have the new project awarded, we have almost a majority of candidates who are identified and then we can expedite the mobilisation process.

“We first look internally at our own engineers, some of whom may be looking to end up on a project, so we give them priority. Additionally, we also try to bring talent in from our business in the UK, therefore we merge our local expertise with our international expertise to bring valuable skills to the client.

“Besides advertising on our websites, we use social media, which is ideal for networking and looking for talent. Word of mouth is also a very effective and efficient tool. After all, the best person to attract talent is someone who is in the industry and knows who can be suitable for the business. In addition, from time to time we take part in recruitment fairs and virtual job fairs as well.”

From an agency perspective, Charlie Parish, director at Redpath Partners, says that they provide contingent and executive search methodologies to the property and construction industries, and when it comes to sourcing a candidate, it entirely depends on the assignment from a client.

“We typically source from our extensive network of passive candidates, i.e. candidates who are not actively seeking a move but are interested in suitable opportunities when they arise. In addition, we have many long-term relationships with our candidates who respect our confidentiality and service, and who act as an excellent referral network for us.

“Redpath Partners also shares an integrated database across all our offices, which enables us to source candidates from overseas. We also use the typical social media tools at our disposal that all recruiters engage with.”

So what are the qualities they look for in a candidate?

Taraboulis notes that their search depends on the client’s requirements and the nature of the project. “We use a number of tools for recruiting senior positions, including professional organisations such as the ICE, LinkedIn, and we actively head hunt.”

“When looking for senior positions, we have our own directors in the company who help us in identifying the right candidates through their networks. We enjoy the challenge of sourcing for a senior level position, but we always need to ensure that we have the right amount of rigour involved in the process, so we follow various stages like technical, behavioural, social and cultural, to name a few.”

Parish says that as an agency, they focus on the technical discipline, but it typically comes down to the personality of the candidate. “We go through a proper screening of our candidates and apply a strong understanding of the culture and DNA of our clients, which is just as important as the technical skills and projects experience. Relevant professional qualifications are also important.”

“We follow confidential search principles so that the candidates feel assured they are being approached in a confidential manner. Wherever possible, we will meet the candidate in person to determine their suitability and genuine interest, and then provide a full reference and qualification checks where required by the client.”

Having been in the region for eight years and in the industry for six years, Mark Salisbury, head of Recruitment at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, says that as an in-house recruiter, he is well versed with the benefit of using an agency, especially because specialist agencies often have better knowledge of a specific market.

“We use agencies and we will continue to do so, because if used properly, and when there is a good relationship in place, they add a tremendous amount of value. As a specialist recruitment company in that particular field, it’s their job to add value and so they would have greater knowledge of that specific market than an internal recruitment team might have.

“For example, we’d use a specialist recruiter for an executive role in a particular market because that’s their job day in and day out. You’d expect them to have more knowledge than an internal recruiter who’s working several different markets and different positions.”

While in-house resourcing team reduces the cost per hire, and the time to find candidates and get them mobilised, Taraboulis also agrees that using an agency from time to time can be significantly helpful. This is especially true when it comes to massive requirements which can’t be handled by only the in-house team.

“Recruitment agencies can assist and help with sourcing for challenging or difficult-to-fill positions, and when we have mass recruitment needs. In case we have very large projects and our in-house team has no time to go through all the requirements, agencies can help us cut it short in terms of advertising vacancies and arranging technical input. But if we can do it internally, then we source the candidates and close the position in-house rather than go to an agency.

“Our relationship is more with the agents than with the agencies. It’s about working with an agent, so when you build up that relationship with them, they understand exactly what you need and they have their connections through whom they can bring qualified candidates.”

Parish points out that a specialist agency’s independent relationship with candidates also means that they have the advantage of knowing which candidates are willing to make a move but would otherwise not speak openly about their availability.

“Sometimes candidates often are in the top tier of their profession and have the highly desired skill sets that our clients are looking for, and prefer to be represented by a third party as opposed to a direct in-house recruiter. This is particularly the case with senior appointments.

“Additionally, we also provide a seamless extension of our client’s recruitment and marketing departments and enable in-house teams to be more efficient. This we do by reducing those all-important time-to-hire ratios through candidates we are able to supply to them, having already saved valuable time through our own internal candidate screening processes.”

However, there are challenges in terms of attracting the right talent and finding a good agency–in-house match.

Salisbury says, “I tend to stick to a small number of agencies with whom I have built up a relationship with over the last six years, and we are aware of how we complement each other. In terms of the market, I think any company out there would tell you that finding the truly great people is always a challenge because they are not in great numbers. But WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff have a good reputation in the market.”

“Last year, we got the Great Place to Work award in which we ranked the 12th best place to work at in the Middle East or the UAE. This really does enforce us as an employer of choice, and it does help us a lot with attracting key talent.”

Taraboulis notes that another challenge is ensuring that the agency specialises in one particular field. “It’s very important that when we go to an agency, they are specialists who only work and focus on the business that we do, because some agents have a general background and they focus on different industries. It’s always better to work with people who focus on the main engineering aspect because they have better networks as well.”

In terms of challenges from an agency’s perspective, Parish says, “Relationships and trust with in-house teams is important. We work best with those who see us as a value-add to their recruitment strategy, rather than necessarily a threat.”

Despite the challenges, the recruitment process is evolving and the future of recruitment will involve brands largely focusing on capitalising on the opportunities that social media platforms provide. “Social media makes the world a much smaller place, and generally over half of our hires last year came from our own networks. This came from places like LinkedIn and Facebook,” says Salisbury.

“We use LinkedIn quite extensively, and we have a very large global reach through this. Couple this with the fact that people whom we employ in the business are from all over the world, we know that they bring with them their network of good people they’ve worked with in the past.”

Taraboulis is upbeat as well and says, “The future of recruitment is very promising. We always focus on employer branding and marketing and this is a key element in the recruitment process. With current technology and social media, we have a more visible platform and can attract thousands of applicants without spending much on advertising and agencies.”

Parish concludes by saying that while social media adds value to the recruitment processes, people still like working with people.

“There will always be a need for human interaction, particularly when hiring for key mid-senior or executive level positions. Ultimately, if a company wants to have access to the best talent in the market, the specialist agency recruiter will always have a key role to play.”

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