Despite economic uncertainty, demand for property and construction professionals remains high. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimates that the industry will need to recruit 224,900 new workers over the next five years to meet UK construction output.
CITB states that construction vacancies at the end of 2022 were still nearly twice as high as pre-pandemic levels, meaning that employers are trying to recruit workers in a highly competitive labour market.
For some, the challenge is further aggravated by poor recruitment practices, which lead them to make commonplace, avoidable mistakes, argues Robert Murray, a director at property sector recruiter Oyster. “Businesses often lose sight of what makes people want to join them,” he says. “Gone are the days when the onus was firmly on candidates to show up and put on a good front. Almost every company is looking for people, so it is a candidate’s market.”
Murray identifies the most common mistakes that built environment companies, both large and small, make in the way that they approach their recruitment, and offers suggestions for practical, cost-effective ways to compete better for talent in a tight labour market.
“There is a difference between a job advertisement and a job description,” says Murray. Job ads that list the functions the candidate will undertake, rather than foregrounding a company’s appeal to a potential employee, are unlikely to catch the eye.
While property professionals may work for different clients, handling projects of different scale for different fees, the core activities they undertake will be largely the same. “Candidates already know what their job involves. They are more likely to be interested if the advertisement differentiates an employer from their competitors,” advises Murray. “It’s about telling the story and setting the scene so that the person who reads it can picture themselves working in that environment.”
Listing notable clients – or where that isn’t possible giving readers an idea of the kind of high-profile, large-scale organisations they would be working with – is more likely to pique their interest. For example, if a company is advertising for a property manager, instead of writing that the job involves “managing a portfolio of commercial properties in London,” the advertiser could substitute “working with global investors to manage a central London property portfolio, consisting of assets up to two million square feet,” he suggests.
“Businesses often lose sight of what makes people want to join them” Robert Murray, Oyster
Some built environment firms scratch their heads when trying to think of benefits to include in job ads, which leads them to include things like “competitive salary”, “25 days annual leave” and “standard pension”, notes Murray, all of which are basic expectations or legal requirements, not benefits.
They frequently forget actual benefits that many companies offer, which might encourage potential employees to move to them. He suggests that floating religious leave (which is flexible to allow for different religious calendars), shared parental leave, and flexible working hours to allow for childcare or other care responsibilities, should always be highlighted.
So should pay above market rates, leave offered over and above the standard 20-25 days, a private healthcare package, or an end-of-year bonus. Some degree of hybrid working is now considered standard, but where it includes an entitlement to work from home on a set number of days a week it is worth mentioning, he says, as is special flexibility, such as allowing employees to work from anywhere in the world for a week each year.
The overall package offered can make a big difference to a role’s attractiveness. Oyster’s research shows that among candidates who turned down job offers in the last 12 months, 28% did so because of insufficient salary and rewards, while 20% rejected offers due to a lack of flexibility and home working.
Another common mistake businesses make is to only reach out to potential employees when they are recruiting for a specific role, suggests Murray. By maintaining a presence in the minds of potential employees through social media platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram, or through industry magazines and news websites, firms ensure that they have better visibility, name recognition, and awareness of their business culture.
“Companies have a lot of free advertising at their disposal, but they often don’t take proper advantage of that,” he says. “They should release content throughout the year about what it’s like to work for them, success stories, being creative and detailed about the things that bring it to life. What do the people who work there think about the business? What are their days like? What does the office look like on the inside? Plus, the facts and figures, the scale of projects, the value of portfolios, the big-name clients.”
“There is a difference between a job advertisement and a job description” Robert Murray, Oyster
Most firms, both large and small, will use a recruitment agency when hiring senior roles. But choosing to employ more than one recruiter can be counterproductive, because however many you engage, they will all be reaching out to the same limited pool of talent, argues Murray.
“If you are hiring a quantity surveyor in Manchester there are probably only a couple of hundred potential candidates. When they have had two, three or four calls each, it makes your company look a bit desperate. They will start to ask: ‘why are they struggling to fill that opportunity?’”
Murray advises building a relationship with a single recruiter who the business can trust to understand their brand and pitch it to others effectively. If a potential recruit is presented with an “off market” opportunity that no-one else has heard about, it will seem more alluring than one which has been widely known about for weeks, he argues. “And by partnering with one recruiter you become their number one priority. Engage three, and you end up as three firms’ third priority.”
The traditional lengthy application form with covering letter is now an outdated convention, argues Murray. Such practices just deter potential candidates, particularly if they are already busy professionals with little time to spare. They also narrow the talent pool by presenting a barrier to applications from neurodiverse people. He recommends accepting applications by a variety of different methods: sending a CV, a WhatsApp message, video clip, or voice note.
“Lots of our job adverts now have a statement at the bottom that says we encourage you to apply in whatever method that suits you. Once you have had that initial bit of engagement you can work past it and start a more formal process,” he says. There are exceptions, however: “Obviously, that doesn’t apply to every job. For a chief executive officer, I wouldn't have them sending voice notes. But if it is just regular workforce churn there are many easy ways to be creative.”
If an employer is inflexible about the timing of interviews, that can deter recruits, says Murray. For example, those with childcare responsibilities may struggle to attend if interviews are timed to coincide with the morning or afternoon school run. He recommends providing candidates with a list of questions before the interview, so that they have the best possible chance to shine.
While it is reasonable to leave some flexibility to test how well they think on their feet, deliberately trying to catch them off guard is counterproductive, he argues. “Don’t you want them to perform at their best? If a candidate is confident and well-prepared, it gives both of you a much better chance of a successful interview.”
It’s important to remember that a job interview works both ways – potential employees could look elsewhere if the recruitment process seems disorganised, overcomplicated or inflexible. By avoiding the common recruitment mistakes described here you have a much better chance of making sure that doesn’t happen.