Our reflections on recruiting staff for our new children’s home

I can remember my interview with Lighthouse very clearly. It was March 2020, and the UK was about to go into lockdown for the first time. This meant a quick shift to Zoom interviewing and meeting my potential new colleagues on screen instead. What was most memorable for me wasn’t that I forget to unmute myself (though I probably did at some point), but how quickly I knew that this was a team I wanted to be part of. I had always been put off by online recruitment processes and would much prefer to meet in person – but with the right people that excitement can still shine through on Zoom.

Since joining Lighthouse, I have been working on designing and carrying out the recruitment for the team who will work in our first children’s home when it opens later this year. In our blog in February we spoke about the People Challenge in residential care and how our research shows that children’s homes need to do the three things well when it comes to staff. Recruit great people, train them well and retain them for at least a few years.

When it came to the ‘recruit’ part, we started by thinking about what a successful recruitment process would look like for us. First and foremost, it needed to be grounded in our Lighthouse values of Empowerment, Curiosity, Differences, Excellence, Play and Respect. This meant:

  • Creating a recruitment process that enabled people to shine and show us the strengths they would bring to the role
  • Approaching it with an open mind and thinking about the numerous work, voluntary and life experiences that could equip someone with the skills to be great at the role
  • Designing a process that invites a diverse range of people to apply and ensuring we made it accessible for everyone
  • Being consistent, fair, and maintaining our commitment to safeguarding throughout each step
  • Accepting that this is a learning experience as we are trying something new, and that we’d be unlikely to get everything right the first time
  • Making sure we had fun along the way!

 

With this as our starting point, we designed, tested, iterated and settled on a four-stage recruitment process, which included an online application, an informal telephone conversation, a virtual interview and an assessment day.

Having recently finished our first full round of recruitment a few weeks ago, I have been reflecting on some of the key learnings from this experience.

Recruiting a team – A ‘light-bulb moment’ for me was when we were talking about the individuals we want to recruit, and someone came up with the football team analogy. Yes, it is important to get great individuals, but that will only translate into a successful home if we think about how the balance of skills and strengths in the team as well. In a football team you need a few great strikers, but we wouldn’t stand a chance of winning if we don’t have a goalkeeper and defenders as well. As we moved into the later stages of the recruitment process, we needed this shift in mindset to thinking about the team as a whole and identifying where there might be gaps we want to fill in terms of experience or knowledge.

The value of young people’s perspectives – Being able to build relationships with young people is at the core of a role in a children’s home. From helping us to think about how we describe the role on our job descriptions, to having young people working alongside our assessors at our assessment days, I have learnt a lot from the insights they shared. Two things have really stuck with me. One was how easy it is when recruiting to default to overused phrases and buzzwords in job adverts. It became a much more engaging (and accurate) description when we thought in very clear and simple terms about what is actually needed for the role. Secondly, there were several occasions where young people noticed things candidates did or said that other interviewers hadn’t picked up. Having that diversity of thought, experience and perspective resulted in us having a fuller picture of the individual and what they’d bring to the role.

Working in a children’s home isn’t about sitting behind a desk all day, so why would we recruit like that? – When I picture an interview it’s usually in a less-than inspiring office, though nowadays an online interview has become the norm and most of us are dialling in from home.  One of the things that felt like a novelty was having the opportunity to do our final stage in person, with real life 3D humans, and some sheep and goats for company too as we were on a farm! Moving away from a typical formal office environment created a more relaxed atmosphere, which we hope made people feel more comfortable and able to be themselves. Also, going to say hello to the goats is a great way to calm any pre-interview nerves!

Having an informal conversation – I was a bit surprised by how important the informal telephone conversation stage of the recruitment process turned out to be. This came after the application form and before the virtual interviews. It was an opportunity for us to start to get to know the candidates and for the candidates to start to get to know the Lighthouse team. We wanted the recruitment process to feel like a two-way street – we want to find great people, but we also want to make sure they are confident that this is the right role and the right place for them. Having an informal conversation with lots of time for questions has really helped with this.

There is no ‘right’ answer’ – There are lots of different ways to approach recruitment. I am in the privileged position of being part of an organisation where I have endlessly helpful and patient colleagues, volunteers, interviewers and friends of Lighthouse who are always willing to help with testing ideas and activities for our recruitment process. Some of these ideas were great, and some were not so great, but we always learnt from it. As we go through this recruitment process again for future homes, we will continue to be open to learning and improving as we go.

However we choose to approach it, for me, one of the best thing about recruitment that won’t change is getting to meet some absolutely fantastic people that I would be very excited to have joining our Lighthouse family.

Sinead Kirrane, Senior Development Manager

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