Recruitment – one step at a time


Imagine you’re considering an investment in new equipment for your business. The total cost will be about £250k, to be paid for over 10 years.

I’m guessing you would see that as a very big investment, and would do a lot of research, checking whether the kit you’re looking at is fit for purpose, will be reliable, and will give you a good return. If possible you’ll want to test it first, and you’d certainly check what other users thought. You’d look at a few manufacturers if there was a choice. And if it turned out that you’d made a bad decision, you might sell the kit, take a loss, and put it down to experience.

Recruitment is an equally important investment. Over ten years the cost can easily exceed £250k, and the damage that can be done to your business and its reputation by a bad decision can prove to be far more costly. And as we all know, getting rid of a poor performing member of staff, or one with a bad attitude, isn’t straightforward or without cost and risk. There is also a framework of anti-discrimination law, where compensation awards can be eye-watering.

And yet too often a decision to hire someone is taken after a hurried and cursory interview based on a vague idea of what’s required, a misleading advertisement, inadequate reference checking, and little or no induction of the new team member.

So this blog, and a few to follow, will take you through the building blocks of a sound recruitment and selection process. In the end, no process is guaranteed to get you the well-motivated and high-performing employee of your dreams, but by being systematic and rigorous you can improve your chances considerably and, at the same time, stay on the right side of the legislation.

For any grannies out there (or granddads) who consider their egg-sucking skills require no improvement, sorry to have bothered you. Or you can read on, and see if you agree.

Let’s start at the very beginning … 

I’m assuming that you’ve done the thinking. You’ve worked out what employing someone will cost, what benefit they will be to your business, and you’ve considered the options such as using temporary or agency workers, students, apprentices and so on. You’ve decided that you need an employee for however many hours a week. Better get an advert out quickly then? Erm.. no. There’s work to do first.

The starting point for any recruitment is a Job Description. The clue is in its name – it describes the job to be done. Even if you’re replacing someone who’s leaving, always have a look at the job description to see if it’s still accurate. Ideally, discuss it with the person leaving – does it describe what they actually do? Is that what you want that job to do? You can change it, of course. If you have a number of people doing the same job, you might want to negotiate changes to a generic Job Description.

A Job description won’t cover absolutely everything someone might need to do, and neither do they have a right to do everything in it all the time. But it should give a fair and balanced picture of what the job’s about and by doing so should avoid any future disagreements.

A bit of Googling will show you that there are many Job Description formats out there, and you should find the one that suits you best. Some talk about Accountabilities, some are Output focused, and others describe what the person will be doing.

For me, a good Job Description gives the jobholder a clear idea of what they are meant to be doing and what’s expected of them, isn’t so detailed as to feel that they have no discretion at all but equally isn’t so vague that there is no clear accountability.

For example, let’s assume you’re going to appoint a salesperson.

Too vague: “Sell as many widgets as possible”

Too detailed: “Make and receive phone calls, speak to and visit customers, describe the benefits of our widgets, the price and delivery dates, and sell widgets, record the orders in the system …”

A more sensible Job Description would say “Using a range of techniques, and based on first rate product knowledge, achieve agreed sales targets set from time to time”.

I would suggest a format along the following lines, but you can create your own to suit your circumstances:

Job Title – give this some thought. Research has shown that some people would take a better job title over a pay rise. A title that is seen as low-status or indeed more senior than it actually is will certainly put off some applicants. We’ll come back to this when we talk about advertising.

Job Purpose – why does this job exist? A high-level outline of what the job is about. ‘As a member of a small salesforce, achieve sales targets, ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction and repeat business. By improving sales, contribute to the company’s profitability and future growth’

Key Tasks – The main activities that make up the job. Again, not too detailed. No-one wants to see ‘On arrival in the office, switch on your computer.’

Accountabilities – what is the person actually accountable for, and to whom. ‘Accountable to the Sales manager for achieving quarterly sales targets’.

Contacts – who does the jobholder deal with, and why? ‘Sales Manager – to agree targets, escalate issues, seek advice’; ‘Customers, up to and including Managing Director level…’

The Legal Bit

It is unlawful, when recruiting, to discriminate against people for any of the ‘protected characteristics’ set out in the Equality Act 2010. These are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

I’ll come back to this in more detail in the next blog,  but when writing a Job Description it is important not to put anything in it which might imply an intention to discriminate.

For example, if you were to say ‘Working in a young team (average age 25)’ or ‘Lifting heavy weights’ ‘dealing with mostly Asian customers’ even if these things are true, they are likely to be interpreted as meaning that you intend to discriminate on the basis of age, sex or race respectively and you are leaving yourself open to potentially very damaging and expensive litigation.

Next time – the Person Specification. If you don’t know who you’re looking for, how will you know when you’ve found them?

In the meantime, if you are planning to recruit and would like some friendly, confidential advice.  Just go to the ‘Contact’ page of the site.