Recruitment Best Practice: The Ultimate Guide to Avoiding Costly Recruitment Blunders!
The recruitment process I’ve developed is based on the experience of having made a lot of expensive mistakes myself and seeing others do the same. This book gives you the know-how to avoid making similar ones. Although recruitment can feel like a hassle and it can be tempting to rush or skip steps, please appreciate how easy it is for things to go wrong. Remember the following lessons.
People Are Not Perfect, so Recruitment is Not Perfect
Recruit for long-enough and it is inevitable something will go wrong without any warning. This is because recruitment is an art and a science.
You’re involved in a really unusually type of transaction. If you go to buy a car, you don’t need to sell yourself to buy the car and get it working. But with employees you do and they can say “no” at any point.
So to avoid disappointment, you should lower your expectations and expect to be disappointed. Then if it happens you can say to yourself “that’s fine, I was expecting this” and move on.
Recruit Only When Your Business Needs To
I developed my Six Tests of Recruitment because I found that many companies, mostly start-ups, were recruiting unnecessarily. Usually, the company hadn’t developed a suitable product-market fit or efficient processes. This meant that that staff were doing unproductive tasks. In some cases, high staff costs killed the company.
Also, doing repetitive tasks that could be automated is inefficient. Sometimes, too, it’s better to outsource.
Recruit the Right Type of Employees at the Right Time
As companies move through the business life cycle and get bigger, they transition from needing generalists to more specialists. It’s important to know what phase you’re in because your business life cycle will affect the recruitment life cycle.
Sometimes, a specialist is recruited when a generalist is required. Specialists often have a narrow skill set so can’t take on broader responsibilities. And specialists are often more expensive so aren’t usually cost-effective for early-stage businesses.
Most importantly, the right type of people for your business are usually not friends and family.
Recruit From a Big Talent Pool
I hope to debunk the myth of recruiting only from the top 10% and stop you chasing unicorns. While it’s always possible to find the most brilliant people, I’ve seen many companies waste time and money trying to and, ultimately, they never recruit anyone!
The person who’s right for your business is someone who regularly meets or exceeds your expectations and is a good cultural fit. We call such people Great Performers. Finding and hiring them is a much more realistic approach to recruitment.
Define Specifically the Characteristics of a Great Performer
I’ve seen a lot of bad job descriptions in my time! Many are so vague and generic that they make it sound like just about anyone could walk in off the street and do the job. Sometimes, they’re so old that they literally have coffee stains on and are curling at the edges. These documents usually aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
This is why I developed the Great Performance Profile. With it, you’ll know precisely what Measurable Outcomes and competencies a person needs to demonstrate to be defined as a Great Performer.
Better still, unlike many job descriptions which are only dusted off during recruitment, a Great Performance Profile will be used from recruitment right through to retirement.
Be Realistic by Not Asking for Too Much
Many employers have unrealistic expectations. Over time and after wasting a lot of effort, they become more realistic.
Avoid falling into the trap of asking too much. As discussed on page 40, remove unnecessary and inappropriate competencies. Then, use the sanity check given on page 41 to ensure you have a realistic chance of filling the vacancy.
Harness the Wisdom of the Crowd by Having a Recruitment Team
This is so important! Never allow one person to do the hiring. Getting additional perspectives is vital. If you don’t have anyone whose opinion you value, bring in a non-executive director or HR consultant on a short-term contract. They’ll help you avoid a mis-hire, the savings from which will more than cover the cost of their time.
Pay Enough to Attract Enough Applicants
The main reason for employers paying too little is that they aren’t aware of market conditions. I recommend looking at my advice on page 42 that explains how to conduct a market analysis.
If you discover that you’re underpaying your current staff, fix this first or you’ll have to deal with the big recruitment challenge of refilling positions when employees leave.
Generate Sufficient Applicant Flow
When employers don’t have enough Applicant Flow, they may not be able to tell if their Great Performance Profile is realistic. This can lead to head scratching and delay as they try to figure out market conditions.
Fortunately, this is easily fixed by using the various Applicant Attraction Channels in the correct order, as I recommend on page 45.
Don’t Immediately Go to Recruitment Agencies
Recruitment agencies have their time and place. But I strongly recommend that you don’t go to them first because you can often find the same candidates far more cheaply through job sites or flat-fee recruiters.
I’ve seen a few employers having arguments with agencies about who introduced an applicant first and invariably having to pay a huge and unnecessary fee.
Choose a Quality Flat Fee Recruiter
As in any industry, there are rogue companies out there. I’d hate for you to buy from a dodgy flat fee recruiter and assume they’re all the same. Flat fee recruiters can offer a lot of value, provided they’re reputable.
If you’re looking for one, review my advice from page 55.
Use a Wide Selection of Job Sites
This comes back to my point about the need for sufficient Applicant Flow. If you only use a few job sites, you’ll get a limited response.
Because jobseekers can be anywhere, you must advertise almost everywhere.
If you’re advertising a job via a flat-fee recruiter, ensure they’re on the job sites they say they are. And if you want to go it alone, advertise on as many job sites as you can afford.
Avoid Company Dogma When Selecting Job Sites
Times change, so using the excuse “this is how we’ve always done it” often leads to costly mistakes. If you always advertise on a certain job site, do the jobseekers you want still visit it? Even if you got a good price, is it a good deal if jobseekers don’t use the site? The site may be familiar to you, but is it to the relevant jobseekers? Just because the operator produces specialist content about your sector, does this make them experts at running a job site?
I often find that employers are so entrenched in their ways of doing things that they can’t be persuaded otherwise until they find out the hard way, when they end up with few applicants and an unfilled job vacancy.
From page 68 onwards I provide a process for reviewing a job site’s potential for your recruitment.
Duration-Based Adverts are Likely Better Than Performance-Based Ones
On the face of it, performance-based adverts are a nice idea. They’re easy to justify because you’re paying for “performance” and feel in control of spending because it seems like pennies at a time.
The reality is that I see many employers try them and quickly return to traditional duration-based adverts. This is because they’re more complicated, every unsuitable candidate means wasted money and budgets often spiral out of control. Many companies find that they end up spending more compared to duration-based adverts.
Leave CV Databases to Recruitment Agencies
Generally speaking, employers advertise jobs and recruitment agencies use CV databases.
Employers say to me that CV databases are difficult to use, contain lots of old CVs and that reaching jobseekers is a nightmare.
That’s why I’d leave them to the recruitment agencies.
Write a Compelling Job Advert
Poor job adverts equal a poor response.
Bad job adverts tend to be glorified job descriptions, using irrelevant headlines, incorrect locations and boring language and jargon.
I’ve spent a great deal of time running scientifically valid tests to give you the best information possible about writing effective job adverts (see page XX).
If you don’t have the time or inclination to do this, consider a flat-fee recruiter or, if your budget allows, a recruitment agency.
Advertise a Job’s Salary
Hiding the salary will lead to 80% fewer applications.
If you aren’t advertising the salary because you don’t know the correct market rate, I’d recommend that you conduct a quick search on a job site to see what other employers are offering in similar locations (see page XX).
If you’re hiding the salary because you’re willing to pay more for a new starter than current employees are being paid, I don’t have a simple solution for you; but it does need to be resolved. In the long term, your recruitment will be better if you advertise a salary, and you will probably have less staff resigning for better pay elsewhere.
Don’t Include a Company Logo or Name in the Job Advertisement
Many employers are so in love with their company name that when I explain it’s counterproductive to include it, their reaction is as if I said, “Your baby is ugly!” They see how well-known brands get a better response and think that it can’t hurt to identify their own in adverts.
But such companies often pay more than is needed for job adverts and get inundated with calls from recruitment agencies, job sites and jobseekers chasing the progress of their application. They’re distracted from running their businesses because of all the interruptions.
Also, employers with a persistent hiring requirement are often unaware that when jobseekers see them constantly advertising similar jobs, the company may be perceived as having a high staff turnover.
The result of not including your company logo or name is being able to get on with your job with fewer interruptions and not running into the issues that I outlined on page 89.
Don’t Put a Closing Date
An employer always looks bad when they’re advertising jobs that have passed their closing date. It gives the impression that they aren’t on top of the basics – and, in fairness, they aren’t.
If a great applicant applied the day after a closing date, would you seriously not consider them? I doubt it. This makes a mockery of the practice of stating closing dates.
The easiest and best solution is not to put a closing date on job adverts at all.
Never Redirect Applicants to an Employer Career Page
Redirecting applicants to an employer career page leads to 92% fewer applicants.
Just don’t do it.
If you need applicants to complete an application form, first get applicants from a job site or flat fee recruiter and only then invite those you’re interested in to fill in the form.
Employers who wait to see what other responses come in are in danger of losing out on great applicants.
Jobseekers don’t wait. Recruitment agencies don’t wait. Other employers may not wait. So you can’t afford to wait.
Shortlist every day and win the Race for Talent.
Use a Simple and Inexpensive Solution to Manage Applicants
I’m often flabbergasted at how much some employers spend on elaborate ATS software. One of these may cost “only” £200 a month, but that’s £2,400 a year. Unless the firm has a persistent hiring requirement, they probably won’t be getting much value from such a system and they probably won’t use all the features. The software can be difficult to use and require training, so hiring managers often end up defaulting to simpler tools.
Worse still, employers are sometimes tied into multi-year contracts for these systems.
I find that the best way of managing applicants is often to employ low-cost technology that’s already being used, such as email, cloud-based file sharing and spreadsheets.
Use Telephone Interviews
Employers who skip Telephone Interviews spend more time than they need to interviewing unsuitable candidates. This is a waste of the time for the Interview Team, not to mention for the candidate who might have had to travel for the interview.
Enthusiasm for the recruitment process may quickly drain away and make hiring managers more willing to compromise or give up altogether.
Avoid Video Screening Technology
I feel concerned for employers who rely on Video Screening. They often end up with less choice because few candidates want to use this technology. And many candidates are critical of employers who use Video Screening, which encourages others not to apply.
While I appreciate that it looks like it could be a wonderful solution, if candidates aren’t going to use it, it’s practically useless. Telephone Interviews are much more effective because candidates are more likely to participate.
Don’t Rely on Psychometric Tests to Screen Applicants
As with Video Screening, few candidates are willing to go to the effort of completing a psychometric profile at the screening stage. This is partly because they worry that the employer is screening in or out based exclusively on the test. There are fewer applicants to choose from, and the company may get a bad reputation.
If you’re relying exclusively on psychometric tests to screen applicants, please stop! Even the test providers don’t recommend you do this.
Always use the Promise of a Reference Call (PORC) Technique
The PORC is a vital part of Telephone Interviews and Structured Interviews because it encourages honesty. Better quality information helps you make better decisions and avoids wasting time with unsuitable candidates.
Try this technique out, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much information you gain.
Arrange Interviews Properly and Send a Calendar Invite
It’s frustrating getting the Interview Team together and then having to sit around waiting for the candidate to arrive. For five minutes you're willing to give the candidate the benefit of the doubt. If 10 minutes go by, you start to worry you’ve made a mistake. After 15 minutes, the members of the Interview Team are out of polite chit-chat and anxious to leave to do something more productive.
This happens more frequently than I’d like. I don’t have a silver bullet, but following my advice about how to arrange interviews (see page 106) will reduce how often this issue arises. Just sending a calendar invitation by email often prompts candidates to let you know in advance that they won’t be attending.
Allow Enough Time for a Professional Interview
Employers who rush interviews rarely find out everything they need to and are more likely to have to do follow-up interviews. Candidates feel like they’re in an interrogation as the questions are rattled off and their answers cut short.
It’s important to set aside enough time for interviews, normally 75 minutes. This gives everyone a more positive experience and there’ll be fewer follow-up interviews to arrange later on.
Choose a Professional Location
Because candidates are interviewing you too, choose a professional location, ideally in your normal work environment. I was always a bit bemused when a certain Magic Circle law firm with spectacular offices by the Thames in London would do interviews in a nearby greasy spoon.
If necessary, use a provider such as Regus, WeWork etc.
Probe Candidates’ Answers
I appreciate that probing may feel uncomfortable, but with a little practice it’s simple and doesn’t come across as confrontational.
If you don’t probe, the candidate is able to give you only the highlights they want you to hear. You’re listening to the equivalent of propaganda. Inevitably, you’ll make worse decisions, leading to expensive mis-hires, which will harm company performance.
Sell the Job and Company to Candidates
Even in times of high unemployment and recession, the best candidates have options.
Just because a candidate has sent you their CV, had a Telephone Interview and turned up to an interview doesn’t mean they’re committed. They may be playing you off against their current employer to get a better deal. Don’t treat the process as if you have all the power and are doing them a favour. Ultimately, they should add so much value to your business that they’d in fact be doing you a favour by joining.
Address the concerns I mentioned on page 113, and keep selling throughout the recruitment process. Even if you don’t offer them a job, they may refer your next employee.
Tell the Full Truth to Candidates
I’ve seen employers not being totally honest with candidates, or telling them a story that they hope will come true. This is particularly prevalent in start-ups and when recruiting sales people.
Examples include not explaining that they’ll be required to work long hours to hit deadlines; not making clear that career advancement and an increased salary may only be achieved if someone leaves or the business experiences exceptional growth; and giving a false impression that there are near limitless resources and budgets available.
This can lead to serious problems. When an employee agrees to join your company, they’re placing trust in you – and their future in your hands. Their happiness, and maybe even their family’s wellbeing, depends on you honouring what you’ve promised.
If you fail to do this, they’ll know that something is wrong from day one. After a week they’ll be looking around, and within a month they’ll have left. You’ll then have to go through the recruitment process all over again, and the employee may have suffered damage to their career. It is a lose-lose scenario.
No company is perfect, so don’t wait to be asked by a candidate for the full, unvarnished truth. If you’re completely honest and they join then find they don’t like it, they’ve only got themselves to blame.
Don't Use Competency Interviews
When competency-based interview questions are used correctly they can add value. Unfortunately, they’re easy to get wrong. Often, interviewers forget to ask about the context, giving candidates an opportunity to present only the highlights.
Therefore, I recommend Structured Interviews because they’re easier to deliver and you consistently get better information.
Follow the Structured Interview Script
When interviewers fail to follow a script, I find that they can’t observe and listen as easily because they’re thinking about what to ask next. Without a script, interviews often go off on tangents and information gets missed. This lack of consistency means applicants aren’t treated equally, and it’s harder to identify patterns and trends in behaviour.
Use the PORC Technique in Interview
At the risk of labouring the point, I want to emphasise how important the PORC is. The insights you gain can be genuinely stunning.
Hiring managers who don’t use the PORC won’t know what they’re missing, and may have high mis-hire rates.
Pre-Close Candidates at Interview
I’ve noticed that hiring managers who have few job offers accepted could have identified this sooner if they’d pre-closed applicants at interview.
Pre-closing helps you identify candidates’ salary expectations, other employers they may be considering and the likelihood of them accepting your job offer. If your offer isn’t accepted, it shouldn’t come as a shock and you can move to plan B.
Don’t Waste Time with Third and Fourth Interviews
Employers who hold third or fourth interviews are poorly organised, don’t respect people’s time or can’t make a decision.
Candidates find too many interviews to be boring and bureaucratic, and it raises concerns that the company is indecisive. There’s a good chance that they’ll accept a job offer from an employer with a better recruitment process.
To avoid getting into this situation, make sure you allocate enough time for candidates to answer all your interview questions, include as many members of the Interview Team as practical from the start and make quicker and better decisions using the Delphi Technique.
Use Job Simulations
I understand that Job Simulations are a new concept for some employers, that they take time to organise and that by this stage you might feel that you want to fill the job at any cost. But during interviews people put on their best faces – you don’t see their real abilities.
For this reason, I always recommend Job Simulations. The worst that can happen is that you spend time organising one only to confirm that a candidate is a Great Performer. But very often you’ll be shocked by their performance.
Check for a Good Cultural Fit
Most employees are dismissed because they’re a poor cultural fit. It doesn’t take a lot for a team to “reject” a colleague, and this can be hugely disruptive. It doesn’t matter how good an employee’s performance is, if they don’t fit in with the team it can be detrimental to everyone.
Equally, recruitment is a two-way process. A candidate wants to feel happy and excited about joining a new team. Showing them around the workplace and introducing them to potential colleagues is an excellent way of helping them find out if they’ll be happy working for your company.
I always recommend a Work Culture Assessment to reduce the chance of any problems.
Make Decisions Using the Delphi Technique
Particularly in small companies, I find that a senior member of the Recruitment Team tends to give their opinion first and everyone else jumps on the bandwagon. People aren’t given the opportunity to apply their own judgement and discuss their concerns, let alone disagree. This is often because that’s the way decisions have always been made or possibly because of a toxic work environment.
To make better decisions you need to do the opposite. You need people to be able to discuss and debate without judgement. The Delphi Technique helps you to do this.
Run a Pre-Mortem to Foresee Problems
Failing to consider “How might this person not work out?” often means you overlook something important. Most commonly, I see staff recruited for projects that haven’t begun or don’t have the resources required.
A Pre-Mortem gives permission to think about potential failure. By doing so, decisions are made more robust and have a degree of foresight.
Don’t Hire Anyone if Necessary
Sadly, I see employers recruit people who deep down they know aren’t a good fit.
I appreciate how tiring and emotionally draining recruitment can be. Finally hiring someone can feel like such a relief, a challenging project successfully concluded.
But hiring is just the beginning. If you recruit the wrong person, all the time you invest in training and performance management will be wasted. Worse still, you’ll have to dismiss them and find someone else. You’ll incur a big cost from not hiring correctly the first time.
Deciding not to hire is the hardest and bravest decision. It requires strength of character and a long-term perspective.
Take References Before Making a Job Offer
Fulfill your Promise of a Reference Call. I’ve received panicked calls from employers who’ve made an offer subject to satisfactory references, got a bad reference and then wondered how to withdraw the offer. They often don’t know what to do legally or ethically, and there’s a genuine sense that they’re going to have to employ the candidate and deal with the consequences.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Do Reference Calls before making job offers.
Don’t Outsource Reference Checks
Outsourcing reference checks to a third party (particularly a recruitment agency) is practically pointless.
Don’t Accept a Written Reference
While I accept that in a few cases a written reference is the easiest option, it’s not the best option. Getting dates of employment and basic information about the reason for leaving usually adds little value.
A much better alternative is to invest a little more effort and do a Reference Call; this will yield much more valuable information.
Always Take References!
By this point you’ve only heard the equivalent of propaganda from the candidate. Even if they did well at a Job Simulation and seemed a good cultural fit, you may not have established true patterns and trends.
A Reference Call is your final opportunity to avoid a mis-hire and the inevitable disruption this causes.
Make a Job Offer by Phone
I’ve seen employers send out written offers and so miss out on the insight to be had from observing a candidate’s reaction.
An employer might hope that a candidate will reply to a written offer on the same day. When that doesn’t happen, they start to wonder if they’ve made the right decision. They don’t know if a delay in reply is because of an email going into spam, a candidate having to consult with others or, more likely, because the candidate is waiting to see what other job offers they get. Panic can set in because of a simple lack of information.
To avoid this, phone the candidate and listen not only to what they say, but how they say it.
Send a Written Job Offer Immediately
Many candidates will continue looking for work until they receive a written job offer. They know from their own and others’ experiences that verbal job offers are practically worthless until confirmed in writing.
This is why I recommend you have a written offer ready to send as soon as the candidate accepts. If a solicitor or human resources needs to approve the details, try getting permission to send a confirmation email that gives the main points and explains that formal documents will follow soon.
Maintain Contact With a Candidate Before They Join
It’s surprising how many candidates accept a job offer and don’t start. When I ran a recruitment agency, it was so common that we used to report how many candidates never turned up!
You can imagine the poor employer. They’ve done practically everything right. A desk is ready, IT has set up all the access and an induction is planned. But the employee doesn’t arrive. At first, the employer assumes that they’re stuck in traffic or are finding it difficult to park. After half an hour, a phone call is made but goes straight to voicemail; a text message is also sent. Still no reply. Lunchtime comes and goes. The employer checks the start date multiple times. By the end of the day, they’re resigned to the fact their new employee won’t be joining and they’re back to square one.
There’s nothing you can do to make every candidate join. But I do find that maintaining contact encourages new hires to turn up or to let you know that they won’t be. That’s why I recommend following the advice given in Chapter 14.
The cost of not properly inducting a new employee can be significant.
Harvard Business Review (Ferrazzi, K. 2017) reports that 33% of new hires are likely to leave in their first six months. That means that a lot of the time and effort of recruiting and training new staff is wasted because they leave before having had the chance to add much value. And until someone is found to do their job, an opportunity cost is incurred. Overall, a staggering amount of money is lost.
This is why I recommend that you induct people properly. The induction checklist on page 163 gives you a great foundation to build on.
Don’t Overreact When an Employee Resigns
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of employers lose it when a member of staff resigns. Maybe they panic, not knowing how they’ll manage. Or perhaps they feel personally hurt. An explosive outburst ensues, with voices raised, team members startled and the employee being escorted out of the building.
This is obviously not helpful behaviour.
Now the employer can’t make a counteroffer and can’t hold an Exit Interview. There’s no chance of the employee returning in the future.
If you tend to get a bit hot under the collar and find yourself in this situation, I recommend that you thank the employee and ask for a few moments to collect your thoughts. Rant all you like in private when no one can hear you. Then return, calm and collected, to discuss how best to move forward.
Use Exit Interviews
On their last day, many departing employees simply leave. They’ll probably have a heartfelt talk with their colleagues about catching up in the future (they rarely do). But they often never have a proper conversation with anyone about their real reasons for leaving. When they walk out the door that last time, all their insights about how the company might be improved go with them.
This is why Exit Interviews are so valuable. If you can’t wait to see the person go, get a more dispassionate senior manager to hold the interview. The information you receive may be revealing. Things might be going on in your company that you never knew about. A seemingly insignificant issue may have arisen that you could easily solve and have a big impact. You’ll never know unless you hold an Exit Interview.
Don’t Tolerate People Who are Toxic to the Company Culture
This is a tough one. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why an employee doesn’t fit – you just have a gut feeling. This makes it more difficult to confront the individual and help them adapt their behaviour because you can’t easily articulate what needs to change.
This can be especially difficult if the person is adding a lot of value. They might be the biggest biller, the best problem solver or the only specialist with unique knowledge that the business couldn’t survive without.
I accept this isn’t cut and dried. It would be wrong of me to say that you should never tolerate people who create a toxic atmosphere and fire them immediately.
But I wonder if you could improve the situation? Perhaps reduce your dependency on them by developing other staff. You might gently point out to them how their behaviour affects others in ways they may not realise. Hopefully they’ll change, but if they don’t your business will be more resilient and won’t suffer as much if you dismiss them in the future.
Focus on Remaining Staff
When I worked in a recruitment agency, I used to reach out to employees of companies that had lost a member of staff, because I knew loads more were likely to follow. When someone leaves, remaining staff see that leaving is possible and that things might be better at another firm. It destabilises the team.
This is why when people leave your company – as they will – your main focus must be on the remaining staff. I recommend speaking to them about why they think the employee left. This often brings up issues that you may be able to resolve.
The last thing you want is for more people to leave and for the problem to snowball. When an employee leaves, draw a line in the sand and make it clear that the business is improving and that everyone is better off staying where they are.
Get Quality Legal Advice
I’ve found that there are some solicitors who like to tell you all the reasons you can’t do something. They like to scare you. They make everything black and white – or so complex that it’s impossible to get a straight answer.
I was once invited to a law firm giving employment advice which recommended that the lids of pens be removed because they’re a choking hazard, and that the tyre pressure of company cars be checked daily for reasons of health and safety!
But I’ve found some outstanding employment solicitors who are worth paying for. They’re pragmatic, take the time to understand your circumstances and give specific advice. When things go wrong, they help you negotiate and resolve the problem.
The truth is that recruiting and employing staff isn’t that difficult; some lawyers just want you to think it is to get a monthly retainer. If you treat staff with respect and care, you’re unlikely to get into problems in the first place.