NHS Foundation Trust & Arras
The Benefits of a Role Are Awaiting the Right Candidate
"We got super-fast replies to initial & subsequent queries. The candidate matched my requirement."
Below is a conversation about a recent placement at a NHS Foundation Trust (August 2011). Steve Trippier, Arras People consultant worked with the Trust to find the right project manager; he is interviewed by Arras' PR Coordinator Dan Strayer. The conversation is also available in PDF format for printing.
DAN STRAYER (right): To set the scene here, tell me about the customer. They were a NHS Trust, so just tell us about what they do, the reach that they have and what they were looking to do with a recent requirement for a project manager.
STEVE TRIPPIER (left): The Trust was looking for a project manager to come in and get a project back on track. They had had somebody in there that either wasn’t capable or had simply allowed things to drift, and they needed someone to come in and get things back on track.
DS: So they had some recovery issues to address?
ST: Yeah. One of our main investigators in the project had left and had taken over a year to replace, and the programme of studies had fallen behind. Alongside this our PI had changed due to the research done so far. With that in mind, they submitted an 18-month cost-neutral extension, with the director reviewing the plans. They needed somebody to come in and get a grip of things, get it moving again.
DS: If they were unable to find somebody to get this on track, business wise and long-term wise, what did it mean to the Trust if they were unable to come through? What damage could it represent if there was failure?
ST: There was quite a bit of money being ploughed into this programme of studies. It was a series of 8 projects across three studies, so I’d imagine there would be a significant loss in terms of money & time and investment from senior figures. There were some renowned figures involved who viewed it as a high profile undertaking, so from their perspective failure was not an option – it had to be done.
DS: By coming to us, what do you feel was the challenge that this customer brought to us? Why did they find it necessary to go with an agency such as Arras People?
ST: I asked them that, and what she said was “These days in the public sector, you have to have a person spec & job description drawn up and assessed by a committee. Then you have to argue with them if they haven’t graded the job as you’ve wanted them to. Then you have to advertise the job for at least two weeks so that you cannot recruit to a post within two months. This would’ve meant that it would be impossible to get someone in before the deadline let alone give them time to actually contribute and do anything.” So they wanted to get things moving along a bit.
DS: You mentioned there was a quick turnaround on this role
ST: Yes, we got the call on the Thursday; wanted CVs by Monday at the latest. The whole job from call to the project manager being on board was turned around within two weeks, pretty much.
DS: Was there anything in particular that made us attractive to the Trust as far as solving their recruitment need?
ST: I think it was getting to that stage where they really needed to find somebody. I asked my contact how she found out about Arras, and she told me they did a Google search of project management recruitment agencies and we came out at the top of that list.
DS: So a good Google ranking and a solid web reputation doesn’t hurt! What do you think was crucial to solving the challenges they had in recruiting a project manager?
ST: The challenge is that she wanted someone very quickly. It didn’t mean dropping everything, but to get the right person, we needed to focus. Somebody ideally with an NHS background in a hospital/university type arena, ideally they’d be experienced in NIHR funding and research priorities. What they needed was quite a tight corridor of possibilities to get the right person.
DS: They could point to a subset of foci within the NHS, namely the NIHR.
ST: Yes. That’s not to say that they would not have taken people that fell short of that specific remit. But if we could supply the most ideal person, they would be employing someone with a stronger skill set to hit the ground running. I focused my search on the ideal person, thinking if I can land on that person, it’s going to make everyone’s life that much easier. But would they be available to start within a week, plus the day rate was very restrictive? I honestly didn’t think I was going to find them within that tight time frame.
DS: And yet you managed to pull it off, and you did it whilst submitting just a single candidate in this case. Tell us about the person you submitted.
ST: It was a role that was of interest to him, he was between contracts, and his field of work was the same as the requirement. I’m fortunate I fell on this guy at this particular time, or it would’ve really been difficult.
DS: We talk about that, putting the best quality candidates forward. With that quick timeframe, the best fit, you were looking for a square peg for a square hole.
ST: To be fair, I start off all my searches that way. If I can find the ideal candidate, then I’ll look for them. Then I’ll try to find people around that ideal. For example, if there are three essential criteria for the role that a candidate can meet, fantastic, I’ll put them in. Next, if they’ve got two, not so much of the third, I’ll put them in. That way, you can have that mix of choices to interview, get to know, and fit them to the form of the role. I didn’t really have that opportunity with this one, we found the right guy immediately.
DS: To be able pull this off, it must have really revealed something about your ability to deliver, considering the short time frame.
ST: Well, to say I was dubious when I first got it was an understatement. With a short turnaround, tight requirement in terms of skill set and previous experience required and with a narrow band rate of pay, it was a long shot. I put the effort in, and landed on someone. All of my fellow consultants afterward said to me that it wasn’t unusual to just land on somebody like that. You can just land on somebody, they’re a perfect fit, get them at the right time. No job is impossible, there’s somebody out there who’s waiting for what you’ve got to offer.
DS: What have you heard back from the Trust in terms of the feedback?
ST: She was really, really pleased with the service. She was amazed that we were able to find somebody within the timescales that’s such a close fit. “We got super-fast replies to initial & subsequent queries. The candidate matched my requirement despite my patchy information.” This was the first role we’d recruited for the Trust, and she said she’d use us again.
DS: I want to follow up on the patchy information, because I find it interesting that they admitted they might not have given you much to work with, and yet you were able to turn it around and come through, some timeframe and all. What do you take away from that, and how do you use it to deliver?
ST: In recruitment you have to read between the lines both for clients and candidates. Sometimes when you get a brief, it isn’t everything you’d hoped for. Sometimes you get into a conversation on the client side, and they haven’t got a job spec, just an idea of what they want. 30-40 per cent of it, we’ve got to fill in the blanks to round out just what they need. It’s the same with candidate CVs: you need dig for more information and determine whether there’s something in their background and working experience that makes it easier for you to plug them into the role.
DS: Can you talk about the project itself a little bit more.
ST: The background to this was that a grant was awarded in 2008 for 8 projects across 3 studies, dependent each other. It’s led by a leading forensics professor of psychiatry. The guy we found had a similar background in forensic psychiatry, so the role itself was of interest to him and working with this particular professor was of interest to him. Maybe more luck than judgement to land on this guy?
DS: Hey, rather be lucky than good, right?
ST: Sure, it just proves that you can get there if you put in the time and effort!
DS: Had they tried or were they trying any other agencies?
ST: They did have another candidate to interview, I’m guessing agency.
DS: What catches your eye in looking back at a result like this? The short turnaround, for instance, is really jumping out at me.
ST: If there’s one thing I take from this, it’s that you’ve got to take each job on its own merits and don’t dismiss anything upon first glance. You’ve got to be positive about every role. There’s always the possibility that you will just find the right person. Of course it helps that Arras has a diverse range of project management professionals to talk to for any given role and it paid off for this unique requirement.
Arras People works with Ofcom, the UK independent regulator for communications, to provide PMO Managers, programme and project office co-ordinators. Read more about our work with Ofcom
Project Management Team
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