How can I recruit top energy sector talent?

How can I recruit top energy sector talent?

Image of job interview by Sebastian Gauert via Shutterstock

[Editor's note: Dear Shannon is a career advice column for sustainability professionals and wanna-be professionals. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to her at shannon@walkoflifeconsulting.com. Let us know your thoughts on the column in the comments section below.]

Dear Shannon,

I am the new director of energy and carbon for a large telecom company and have quite a big team structure with an energy budget of around $50 million per year. I know that the jobs market is competitive right now, but I still have trouble recruiting top talent for energy roles. Part of the challenge is the required coordination with our HR department. Could you advise me on how to structure a tool and process to help HR help me recruit and hire up-and-coming leaders in the energy sector?

 Sandra, London

Hi Sandra,

You have a considerable budget, so it is clear you already have board level buy-in and a mature energy program to propel forward. Your relationship with your internal business partners is crucial to your success as a leader within your company  the most important asset you have to deliver is your people. 

Despite being seen as "overhead," HR departments hold a lot of power as they are the gatekeepers to finding, developing and keeping top talent. Your investment in creating a collaborative and personable relationship with HR will serve you well, far beyond the recruitment of new leaders in the energy sector. 

To be truly effective, however, I need to stress that it will take considerable time and resources from you and your team. Below I outline five steps that will help you maximize your long-term recruitment success.

1. Seek to synergize with HR 

As with any sustainability strategy or journey, being able to influence and negotiate are key skills for senior leadership. You need to create the time to build a longer-term relationship with HR, both with HR leadership and the HR team. Start with some time outside the office for lunch or a coffee to understand how that HR director or team member is hardwired on a personal basis. Turn him or her into your champion, your friend first. 

Then have a one-hour interactive planning meeting to map out and brainstorm what is important to HR in the process of hiring of top talent. To many HR staff, you are the (internal) client with a need that they are trying to meet, and they are likely to be under pressure with many balls in the air from other departments all at the same time. They may be surprised that you care about their priorities (to post jobs, shuffle through piles of resumes, schedule interviews) and this extra attention and care could give you a competitive advantage as a "preferred client" in the context of their competing priorities.

Next, help them to understand your top five drivers or needs in the recruitment process and communicate clearly that you would like HR to deliver actively with you, not for you. 

Maintain this casual, clear dialogue by keeping connected and communicating every few weeks. This will help HR staff keep your needs in the front of their minds, without you coming across as demanding.

2. Be ahead of trends in the energy and carbon sector

As you will know, the energy and carbon sectors are changing quite a bit, with carbon markets flat while smart grid technologies are booming. Energy management has traditionally been a narrow role based on procurement, equipment and technical knowledge. The introduction of demand management has created a need for a broader, more sophisticated skill set as roles move from the technical to the strategic.

With increasing frequency, energy teams are being tasked with utilizing "big data" and predictive analytics to manage use. According to the new U.K. Energy Minister John Hayes, "energy policy should embrace a 'new paradigm' designed to better promote smart grids, demand management technologies and local ownership of renewable energy projects." 

These trends will force you to constantly redesign and rethink your talent requirements.

One of your key jobs as a senior sustainability practitioner is to identify risks and opportunities before they are turned into competitive advantage by other telecoms or turned into laws by government. These sectoral challenges and the language used may be outside of the business scope of many HR managers. Only communicate the technical jargon and trends to them when necessary. 

3. Design realistic job specs

In the market, we are seeing increasing demand for a new combination of commercial and technical skills. This can be confusing for both candidates and HR teams, as the two may not always be found within the same person. Be careful when designing job specs to ensure that the ideal candidate could realistically exist and ensure that you are structuring roles and specifying required criteria that are in fact available in the market. 

The easier you can make HR's job in finding this talent, the better. Offer to help write the spec if HR usually does this, as they will never understand the job like you and your team does. As mentioned earlier, ask to do final edits on the spec before it gets published.

When writing the draft spec content, keep the language accessible and not too wordy. The responsibilities and the experience will possibly overlap and repeat, so do try to keep the text concise and clear. Later in the recruitment process you can drill down on the real technical questions that may challenge a candidate, but if introduced too early it could derail an HR exec before the process has even started.

4. Empower your team to help

The energy business within your organization should be involved in the execution of the team's recruitment strategy. Some of your line managers should be actively involved in all steps of the overall recruitment process, including CV sorting, first interviews, "closing" candidates and defining the requirement sheet down to the last words. This deep cooperation and teamwork might sound resource intensive, but inspired talent is your most important asset. 

The energy budget should have some amounts earmarked to incentivize and reward its senior people for their investment in the recruitment process and make it a parameter in their annual evaluation. All talent-critical businesses, such as investment banking and management consulting, do this with good results.

5. Benchmark your competitors

Perhaps offer to conduct or commission a salary benchmarking study or use an external recruitment agency to do a candidate-mapping exercise. If you are looking for very specialized technical skills unique to your energy and carbon team, it would be useful to work with HR to procure the best external agencies to help. Perhaps your budget, not HR's, could cover this?

Identify the top universities from which the newest and up-and-coming leaders are emerging. Can you engage with them? Which social media outlets are these potential candidates reading and publishing to? Who are the thought leaders on the key issues relevant to your technical or commercial needs? 

Again, being ahead of the curve on how top talent is coming onto the market  before they even graduate  gives you a competitive advantage over your peers.

Good luck building this core internal relationship and let me know how it goes.

Image of job interview by Sebastian Gauert via Shutterstock.