The need to combine the two skillsets of digital technologies and urban infrastructure means the smart city talent pool is limited. Good hires require extensive search and the direct approach.
Hiring the right talent remains the number one concern of executive boards and the main challenge when it comes to expanding into new verticals or markets in the smart city sector.
Based on the 2020 State of Talent Optimisation report by the Predictive Index, around half (49 per cent) of last year’s hires were qualified as “good hires”. Today, on average, only a third of job vacancies are filled through internal promotions.
It is even less in new sectors such as smart cities as most players move from hardware-driven urban infrastructure into software, electronics and Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that require new skillsets and business models.
Internal HR still finds it challenging to put customised training in place. And hires from direct competition can be risky as candidates are often tied into non-competition clauses. Competitors could also become project partners at some stage.
Few applicants respond to online job advertisements or LinkedIn posts in the sector and, when they do, often do not have the required set of skills and experience. Good hires for smart cities require extensive search and a direct approach through different means, including an active talent community to reach out to. Once a qualified pool of talents is identified and approached, our experience also shows that the level of candidates’ responses is generally low but also varies according to countries.
We deal with more qualified candidates showing interest in Spain, Portugal or Italy than, for instance, in the Netherlands, Belgium or Germany. France sits somewhere in the middle. Not surprisingly, the level of response is slightly better for sales-related roles compared to purely technical ones as sales profiles are more likely to engage in a conversation but they are often not considering a career move immediately. The level of candidate response is also slightly higher in fast-moving and less regulated labour markets such as in the US, the UK or Singapore.
Strategic roles, difficult-to-fill positions or new jobs need to be filled with more attention and require more steps in the process. After years of experience, my conclusion is that two factors are key in predicting a good hire and future success in the role: past performance in a similar role and industry and the behaviour match with the tasks required in the job.
The reality is, though, that even a sales manager’s role can be completely different whether you are in a SME or a large multinational corporation, or whether you are handling key accounts directly or animating indirect sales channels, or whether you are hunting new verticals or markets, bringing in new solutions or upselling and farming existing accounts, and whether you are selling mainly to the private sector or the public sector. It often comes down to the candidate’s experience in global B2B technology sales, therefore, and their ability to co-design end-to-end solutions with clients and to secure sale outcomes and a return on investment (ROI).
In the smart cities industry, past performances are mainly evaluated by the type and the size of projects sold and deployed and the precise role that the candidate has played in the whole process. As hard as it sounds, experience in deploying proof-of-concept and pilots is not the same as selling, deploying and scaling real projects.
Evaluating past performances also requires structured interview techniques which stick to questions that are either relevant to the tasks of the job or to the required industry knowledge. On the soft skills side, questions need to be designed based on past experiences with the aim of predicting good hires by either confirming a culture fit or a behaviour match.
Structured interviews mean that the same set of questions are asked ideally in the same order to all candidates. Depending on the diversity of backgrounds for each role, semi-structured interviews should have a common set of foundation questions and some that are personalised but always relevant to the role. Too often, the reality is that candidates navigate between unstructured sequential interviews, hopping from office to office, with the only aim being to generate an internal consensus.
My recommendation is for fewer but more consistent interviews. Evaluating past performances also requires serious reference checks which can be overlooked when the recruits are processed internally, especially if there is no dedicated talent acquisition team.
The second key determinant of a good hire is the behaviour match of the candidate with the tasks required by the job. The first step to this is to align the internal requirements of the role and clearly define the tasks that the candidate will have to perform. This means a range of behaviour profiles that best fits the job requirements can be defined.
Behaviour assessments provide a clear idea on how each candidate will influence people or events, how they will handle social interaction with others, how consistent and stable they will be at work and how they will conform to rules and structures. If you know where a person falls on that spectrum and what their drivers and needs are at work, it will help to behave how they will perform in the role.
People drive business growth but can easily become your number one stumbling block to achieving it. Understanding what drives them will significantly enhance your hiring process and should also apply to internal referrals.
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