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4 key lessons to learn from recruiting Mary Poppins

Mary PoppinsAfter six consecutive nannies had tried and failed to cope with their wayward children, the Banks family finally found the right person for the job: Mary Poppins. What lessons can we learn from their rather unusual recruitment process?

1. Create an accurate profile

Do you know exactly what kind of character you are looking for? What skills are critical for success in the given position?

You should pinpoint those critical skills before you start your search.

In the case of the nanny for the Banks’ children those unique skills included “cheery disposition, rosy cheeks, no warts, play games of all sorts.”

For the position you are planning to fill the list of characteristics and skills will be very different (at least I hope so!). But one thing is for sure: you should have a clear picture of the ideal candidate.

Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that your actual advert should only include a long list of your expectations. Many companies fail to realise that adverts are not merely a way to filter out unsuitable candidates; they are also your tool to attract the best candidates. In addition to describing your expectations, therefore, make sure that you give enough information about the job itself and about what you have to offer the successful candidate.

The Banks children took extra care to include in the advert what they were offering: “We won’t put toads in your bed or pepper in your tea.”

So what is it that you can offer to your candidates?

2. Always involve the key stakeholders in the process

Recruitment is a job for HR, right?


If HR runs the recruitment process without the active involvement of all key stakeholders – that is, managers and other colleagues who will have to work with the future candidate – the recruitment process is doomed.

Ideally the expectations of all stakeholder groups should be sought and considered when choosing the future employee.

A common trap in recruitment is when the person who determines the profile and conducts the interviews doesn’t understand the real expectations of those who will ultimately have to work closely with the chosen candidate.

Mr Banks had fallen into this trap on nine separate occasions. He didn’t consult with the key stakeholders so he always ended up with an unrealistic profile and some very poor candidates.

So don’t make the same mistake Mr Banks did: consult with the main stakeholders. Or else you will also end up with an unrealistic profile and some very poor candidates indeed.

3. Unorthodox channels and direct searches often work better than adverts

Mr Banks placed his advert in The Times and by the next day hundreds of wannabe nannies were queueing outside his door.

The children’s advert, on the other hand, went out through a completely different channel (through the chimney, to be precise) and only one candidate showed up – the perfect one of course!

I am sure you are all too familiar with the outcome of placing a job advert through the normal channels: you end up with hundreds of applications, most of them from people not even remotely close to the type of person you are looking for. You spend days going through all the CVs only to find that none of them really match your expectations.

Adverts in newspapers and online job forums typically produce lots of candidates, but the quality is equally typically very mixed.

On the other hand, with direct search methods – when the company itself or a headhunting agency reaches out for the candidate – you can tap some excellent candidates who are not actively looking for a job but might be tempted with an exciting offer.

It is also becoming more and more common when recruiting to capitalise on your employees’ personal networks by asking them for recommendations.

So don’t just stick to the old-fashioned advert method. Be creative and use many different channels in order to find the right person for the job.

4. Good candidates will be choosy and have their own expectations of the workplace

Mary Poppins gave an unusual turn to the job interview by taking control of the process. “A trial period would be wise…. I will give you one week,” she says finally before concluding the interview and marching out of the room.

Thus Mary Poppins changed the classic roles according to which the interviewer is in the position of power; instead here the candidate has the greater role.

Many managers and recruiters still conduct their interviews according to the old paradigm. However, good candidates are not prepared to accept this anymore. They are fully aware of their talents and they can afford to be choosy. They are not necessarily desperate for the job you are offering. They have their own expectations.

So if you want to attract such a top talent to your company, abandon the classic role of “the interviewer” and turn the job interview into a professional conversation between potential partners.