Cathcart Associates says firms in the hunt for the best talent must be prepared to move fast

Companies need to be more agile, flexible and quicker to market when looking to hire the best technology talent, according to one of the country’s leading recruiters.

Cathcart Associates, which recruits top IT specialists, believes the intense competition for the best software developers risks leaving some firms behind in the race to find candidates.

Sam Wason, director of the Edinburgh-headquartered recruiter, said the most successful firms are those who quickly get through the selection process, leaving their rivals behind.

“The biggest killer is speed,” says Wason. “It’s the reason for not filling more vacancies, because companies are not agile enough. A four-stage interview process might sound great in principle, but if it’s an HR assessment, followed by technical tests, and then a psychometric test, and a panel interview, it can take months. By that time the candidate has got another offer.

“You really can’t afford to do that unless you’re someone like Google; if you have that cachet and reputation then the candidate will wait but if it’s too onerous it won’t work. If you can shorten the selection process you’re already ahead.

“It’s one of the reasons that smaller companies can attract better candidates than bigger companies – because they can make candidates an offer quicker.”

Cathcart Associates is what is termed in the industry a ‘360-degree’ recruiter; it differentiates itself from account manager-based forms of the service – which are more sales-focused – and recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), which removes the recruitment function from a business entirely, outsourcing it to another firm. With 360-degree recruitment, the same consultant works with the client on their needs and the candidate with their requirements, rather than several recruiters, account managers and resourcers getting involved in the process. This gives a substantially better chance of finding the right match for both. With other recruitment models, there are too many people in the chain, and the message can get lost.

“Both sides of the equation have to match up,” Wason explains. “With account management styles of recruitment, I believe there is too much emphasis on the ‘sale’, so clients and candidates don’t always end up with the best experience. We prefer to position ourselves as a recruiter that can translate what a client might want into what a candidate is looking for – we have an input into the whole cycle.”

Wason believes the firm’s ethos of finding talented graduates and training them up rather than hiring ex-recruiters from other firms has an advantage over using RPO firms as well.

“We had a client who was really switched on, and would be very quick to engage with us when we found them the right candidate,” he says. “We would arrange an interview straight away and get an offer back within a week.

“But their recruitment model changed a couple of years ago and they decided to use an outsourced recruiter to make hiring decisions. But they don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for so it wasn’t anywhere near as quick or effective as the service we could offer.”

Wason believes the fact that his company – which caters for contract and permanent staff – is set up to oper- ate in technical niches gives them the advantage over the competition. The consultants spend their entire careers building up knowledge of a particular technology or area of expertise, and therefore the candidates that do that job.

“I think that is one of our big advantages,” he says. “This focus means we are tracking the careers of the best candidates over time. It’s difficult for recruiters right now, as there are fewer candidates than there are jobs: it’s a buyer’s market. The candidate has control, and while I think some clients have had to come to terms with not holding the balance of power, others are starting to understand that if they offer the best package they can, financially and in terms of benefits, they will be much more attractive to candidates. This applies especially to tech SMEs; the best candidates out there will go and work for the likes of Skyscanner or FanDuel, so the smaller firms will definitely gain an edge if they, too, have a good story to tell.”