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Colborn’s corner – Shall we dance?

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Quentin ColbornYou may have recently read with interest the press coverage of an innovative approach to recruitment at B&Q. Apparently within some locations applicants were given the opportunity to sing and dance as part of a process to make them feel more relaxed as they prepared for interview. Quentin looks at recruitment and its impact on an organisation’s image.


I expect that most people within HR have their favourite story about bad recruitment practices. I have just three to share with you, two by repute, one from personal experience – and it is important to know the difference!

My personal bad experience was one occasion where I had quite an in-depth selection process for an HR management role within a building society, which was conducted by quite a well known recruitment agency. I thought I had performed well and so was disappointed to hear from the consultant that I had not been successful. Disappointing, but fair enough, I thought to myself. However, the crunch came when the consultant informed me that he had been given the job and would I be interested in a role reporting to him within the building society! I declined!

A more legendary approach was apparently shown by a recruiter within a graduate milk round interview where the candidate was shown a pencil and simply told ‘Sell me that!’ The smart (to my way of thinking at least!) candidate snapped the pencil in two and announced ‘You need a new pencil!’ Full marks!

Finally, I recall from the press of about a year ago the story of a male interviewer in Glasgow who arrived in the interview wearing nothing but a clipboard and suggested to the female candidate that the interview should be conducted naked. She fled and he appeared in court and also lost his job.

So how does this link into B&Q? There must always be room for innovation in recruitment, but how far should we go? In my experience the way this question if frequently incorrectly answered is through viewing it simply as an HR issue. I have worked with a number of organisations where a key activity has been to align their HR approach with their corporate branding strategy. Fail to do that and you find that the picture of the organisation given in recruitment fails to match that provided via marketing initiatives.

For some organisations, linking the employment brand to the marketing brand is not a big issue. If the organisation has little or no public presence, there may well be no brand issues to consider. But if the organisation has spent significant amounts of money on its public profile, I think it is incumbent on HR teams to ensure that they ally their external activities with those of the organisation more widely.

A major aspect of this has to be how we treat those whom we are recruiting. Research among customers suggests that a bad customer experience is related to nine other people; I have seen nothing to suggest that recruitment experience is any different. Treat people badly during recruitment and they are likely to tell their friends. The problem is that not only does it potentially adversely impact on recruitment, but also the wider perception of the organisation.

So what of our friends at B&Q? Was it wise to encourage people to become more relaxed prior to an interview? I don’t have the benefit of knowing all the details but the questions I would ask include how were people treated who perhaps had a disability and couldn’t dance? What about those whose cultural background meant they felt very uncomfortable placed in this situation – did they feel they had a fair opportunity at interview? And finally, what was the impact on potential future recruitment – only time will tell.

What recruitment disasters can you tell us about? When has a line manager done something that really makes you want to cringe? Tell us of your experiences.


Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or via [email protected]

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