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How to get the staff you really, really want



Dr Tim Barnett of the Charles Fellowes Group offers five alternative steps to interviewing when recruiting for key positions.

As someone involved in HR management, you will probably be familiar with the pressures of getting the right person in position for minimal costs in terms of both time and money.

The financial implications of making the wrong decision when recruiting key personnel can be immense. At Charles Fellowes, all the research we have carried out and all our experience points to one unassailable fact: if your recruitment procedures are superficial or lack thought, you will struggle to recruit and retain the right personnel.

If you feel that your current procedures lack structure, now is the time to sit down and review what you are doing. Most companies use interviews of varying degrees of rigour as the main component in the selection process. You may include a presentation or even a visit to the company – but how well do you feel these procedures enable you to make a really authoritative judgement about a candidate?

Aiming for the right fit

Whilst the interview has its place, there are alternatives which will enhance the whole process and ensure that you make the most informed decision from the pool of candidates you have. When recruiting, your primary aim should be to ensure an effective fit between your organisation’s requirements and the candidate’s experience, knowledge, skills and attitude. To do this, the recruitment process needs to become a two-way exchange of knowledge and information. In order to achieve this, we have identified five steps that will help you to ensure the closest possible fit between organisation and candidate.

Step 1: Reversing the process

Recruitment isn’t just about learning about the candidate: you also need to give shortlisted candidates the opportunity to learn about your company, for instance, its culture, ethos and working practices. Any candidate worth their mettle will want to know what the role entails, as well as what opportunities and challenges your organisation can offer.

The best way to make this a two-way process is by setting up a structured situation in which shortlisted candidates can meet and talk to the people who will impact on them: their direct report, HR manager and the current / previous postholder if appropriate. This achieves two things: the candidate develops a clear understanding of the organisation’s ethos and goals as well as the relevant skills and experience required; it also enables you as a recruiter to extend your understanding of a candidate’s approach, attitudes, expectations and values.

Step 2: Testing capability

Essentially, an interview is a performance. Some people perform very well in this artificial situation, whilst others who may have considerable potential, struggle to flourish. To recruit effectively, you really need to find out what a person can actually do. Capability testing is an effective way of doing this. Start by deciding on the key criteria for the post (skills, knowledge, experience, values, etc) and then design activities to assess these criteria. If possible, make these real, current problems that will impact directly on the role in order to demonstrate how the person would perform in reality. You can design your own activities in-house for a specific post, or opt for a commercially produced one from the wide range on the market.

Step 3: Psychometrics – it’s how you use them

Some people would argue that these have become overused. However, the real problem lies more in how they are used and interpreted. If you understand their purpose and how to use the data to yield valuable results, psychometrics can enable you to look beyond a person’s skills and experience and assess their whole potential. They provide objective, scientific data about how a person sees themselves, which can also help to predict how they will perform in a real situation. You may also find that using psychometrics can add value to the interview process by throwing up information that enables you to ask more direct and relevant questions.

Step 4: Research tasks

We have more information, more easily accessible at our fingertips than ever before – but this in itself brings problems. Successful knowledge management is a key capability in many roles, and whilst the interview can tell us about a candidate’s experience in information management, it won’t demonstrate how successfully a candidate would research, manage and communicate information in practice. The best way to evaluate this is to make it real: give each candidate a project to research and observe how they manage the process. Do they ask the right questions, how successfully do they collate and evaluate the data, and how do they pass on that knowledge to others? An interview can tell you how a person thinks they would go about it – but a real task will show you how.

Step 5: Pulling it all together – recruitment centres

Recruitment centres should ideally combine the previous four steps, plus interviews and two-way feedback between recruiter and candidate. Using specific recruitment criteria as your starting point enables you and your colleagues to devise activities that will present a complete picture of a candidate – as opposed to the rehearsed snapshot offered in interview. You need to know how a person performs, what their current skills are and what they have the potential to do in the future. Drawing together all these processes enables you to predict this with a greater degree of accuracy. Whilst it may be time consuming, it is important to take into account the implications of making the wrong recruitment choice.

Recruitment is often a difficult balancing act between the investment of time and ensuring that the outcome is the right one. No one would dispute that rigorous selection procedures are crucial, but how many companies actually ensure that they are spending the necessary time and money on the process? You may have to fight your corner, but armed with the right procedures, the results should speak for themselves.

To carry out recruitment on the cheap – both in terms of time and money is undoubtedly a false economy. By adding just one of these steps to your recruitment process, you will have the information that you need to ensure the right fit between candidate, post and organisation – and get the one that you really, really want.

Charles Fellowes Group is a specialist professional search and selection firm. Please visit for more information.

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