Cars can be a powerful attractor

Despite environmental concerns, cars are an essential part of many job packages, and pitching the right offer for the role will attract the best candidates, says Sarah Coles

When sales recruitment firm Aaron Wallis was asked to find candidates for a role that came with a particularly sporty Jaguar there was no shortage of applicants. Managing director Rob Scott says: “We put [the perk] high up in the body text of the advert, and got a phenomenal response. Some people were willing to take a £5,000 pay cut for the right car.”

Cars may have become a bit politically incorrect and are falling out of favour with benefits managers, but they often remain a vital part of the package, whether you are trying to recruit salespeople or senior executives. As Keith Allen, managing director of ALD Automotive, says: “Company cars remain a hugely important employee recruitment tool.”

When selecting the make and model of car to attract recruits, the main consideration is whether these individuals will consider it fit for purpose. Scott says: “For people who do a lot of miles, as in field sales, it’s their office. We’ve had companies say the package includes a Ford Focus and we speak to the candidate, who says, ‘I can’t do 30,000 miles in a Ford Focus’.”

Once the basics are covered, there is the issue of whether the potential recruit will be happy with the status conferred by the perk. This is important, both for those who need their vehicle for work, and those for whom it is more a trapping of success. Simon Hayes, managing director of sales recruitment firm Andersen Banks, says: “For a salesperson, the car is very important because it’s about prestige, keeping up with the Joneses and a status symbol. People certainly don’t want to downgrade their car.”

In order to ensure that the make and model appeals to new recruits, it is worth the employer establishing the market benchmarks. Gary Hull, director of HRS employment solutions at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says: “Employers will benchmark the cars they offer [staff]. They want to be seen as competitive, and they need to provide at least the equivalent of what their competitors are offering.”

But there is no point in being over-generous because the car alone is unlikely to win candidates over. Hayes says: “A great car isn’t necessarily a deal-maker, but a poor car may be a deal-breaker.”

In conducting a benchmarking exercise, employers will need to pay regard to a range of factors. Colin Wrigglesworth, head of corporate business partnerships for Lloyds TSB Autolease, says the most suitable car will vary by job type and role, and by industry. He says: “We tend to find in IT jobs there may be a particularly generous allowance because there’s a particular shortage of skills in the area at the moment.” On the flip side, PricewaterhouseCoopers made a decision to roll cars into its flexible benefits scheme on the grounds that few employees need the car for work, accountants tend to be less focused on outward symbols of status, and that many of them are based in London where cars are less highly prized.

Employers will also need to consider issues beyond a car’s value or specifications, such as the state of the environment. While some employees may consider the kudos of the badge to be far more important than emissions statistics or fuel consumption, others may be impressed with an employer that has formulated an effective environmental policy around their fleet.

Hull says: “Employers may offer an environmentally-friendly option as a recruitment policy. Most graduates are keen to work for an employer with an environmental ethos.”

Picking the right car for each job grade and role is a delicate business. “You need to find a balance between benchmarking, cost, return on investment, corporate social responsibility and environmental factors,” he says.

Alternatively, an employer can simply provide an allowance and let employees find this balance themselves. Phil Hough, senior consultant at Watson Wyatt, says: “What has helped in the recruitment process is increasing flexibility in the marketplace. Rather than having a fleet scheme, more employers are moving to a cash allowance, so staff can get what they want. We’ve done a survey of financial services companies and 81% of those offering cars are actually offering allowances, or the choice between the car and an allowance. It gives you that extra flexibility.”

Such schemes can be considered as a benefit in themselves, says Hayes. “More people are used to the car allowance now. Many see it as a benefit, because they get a choice as to what they want to drive.”

Allowances, though, make it harder to make a recruitment statement with your car policy. “Ten years ago, if you told someone there was a BMW 3 series with a job, they’d bite your hand off, because they would all be in Mondeos. The advent of the car allowance has taken away some of that uniqueness,” he adds.

An allowance must be administered carefully when employees are doing a lot of business miles, says Hough. “There are job requirement roles, where the car must meet [certain] needs, in terms of the suitability and safety of the model, and the type of image the [employer] wants the individual to have on the road,” he explains.

However, employers can put guidelines in place to effectively police the use of the allowance, says Aaron Wallis’ Scott. But whether these should be raised alongside the availability of a company car during the recruitment process will depend on the role and the attitude of the candidate. “If you’re headhunting, you tend to talk about the package fairly early on; after the salary and bonus, people tend to want to know about the car,” he says.

The company car is just one component of the overall total reward package which has to be pitched at the right level to attract and retain staff. For some people, though, and for some roles, the car will always punch above its weight. Hull says: “Most people wouldn’t move jobs just for a better car – but some would. People get very emotional about vehicles.” 

Case study: Carillion 

Within the construction company’s 40,000-strong workforce, there are 6,000 company car drivers, the vast majority of whom need their car for business use.

Michael Cope, reward manager, says the car is a vital part of the package when it comes to recruiting these people. “It is one of the most valued parts of the package, and gets quite a lot of attention during the recruitment process. It’s one of the first questions we get asked,” he says.

The car is of particular interest because the nature of Carillion’s work means that for many, it is a mobile office. “We have a highly informed driver population, a good proportion [of whom] read motoring magazines and have a real interest in their car,” says Cope.

Recruits are offered a car or an allowance, and an unusually high number of employees opt for the car – about two in three.

The company benchmarks cars and allowances by job grade “to make sure we are there or thereabouts”, says Cope.

It is important to match the market, he says, because “the kind of employees who have cars are the kind that have traditionally always had them, and therefore there is a level of expectation”.

But Carillion does not set out to offer a more generous allowance than its competitors, Cope adds. “Some people will have a better car than they did with our competitors, but others won’t.”