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James Meachin

Pearn Kandola

Head of Assessment

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Making sure your recruitment works in an uncertain environment


We are living through Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) times. Uncertainty affects almost every aspect of work, and recruitment is no exception. How can recruiters successfully navigate a VUCA environment?

During times of uncertainty, where there is ambiguity and pressure, we know that decision-making becomes more instinctive. This has two implications for recruitment.

Firstly, there is the “glass cliff” phenomenon, where women are more likely to be promoted into senior leadership roles during times of crisis, with an increased risk of failure and criticism. In part, this reflects our implicit beliefs about gender and leadership; for example, that women will bring a more nurturing and intuitive leadership style.

At its core, the glass cliff highlights an instinctive response to uncertainty, which can open up the recruiter’s susceptibility to their own unconscious bias during the interview process.

The second risk is the flip-side of the Glass Cliff – that the status quo is preserved due to more conservative choices being made. An increasingly common outcome is for recruiters to choose someone who is similar to themselves or the incumbent, as well as an increased emphasis on track record over potential.

This highlights the importance of looking beyond experience and our own assumptions to understand the key qualities that each candidate brings. After all, whilst some candidates say their CV can get them into any leading business in their sector, the old adage that people do jobs, not CVs, remains true.

The implications of a VUCA environment for recruiters are twofold.

The first is around quality of appointments. We are seeing a reduction in number of senior-level appointments, although those that do go ahead tend to be business-critical. This places a greater emphasis on recruiters to make the right decision.

Secondly, recruiters need to focus on budget. With businesses bringing a sharp focus on cost control, there is a need for recruiters to prioritise and justify spend with a strong business case.

This means that HR professionals need to be clear what matters most, so critical elements of a recruitment process can be retained or enhanced. Without a robust view, there is the risk that the overall process is eroded and the quality of decision-making declines.

So what should recruiters prioritise during times of uncertainty? There are three ‘must win’ areas for recruiters:

  • focusing on the interview process
  • implementing proper due diligence
  • ensuring they get the right candidate fit.

The four cornerstones of getting interviews right

  1. Gaining detailed, relevant information about what a candidate has achieved and how – this needs preparation so questions are aligned to the role requirements. It also involves a real curiosity and willingness to probe and explore the candidate’s approach. This is critical to getting beneath process-level descriptions (“I gave feedback and then monitored performance”), and superficially appealing catch-phrases (“I networked extensively”). Can you picture what the candidate actually did? This is the acid test. If not, ask more questions.
  2. Creating a positive impact – remember that interviews are a two-way process with candidates evaluating you and your organisation. So what do candidates look for? The best candidates want a chance to prove themselves and so they welcome a clear examination of their qualities. All candidates also look for a professional, well-run process as this tells them what to expect from the organisation as an employer. Small touches can make a big difference – have they been given clear, helpful information in advance? Is the reception desk expecting them? Is the interview room well laid out and comfortable? Does the interview start and finish on time? Allied to this, is there a welcoming atmosphere that helps them perform at their best? Interviews work well when there is warmth and rapport with a clear purpose and direction. Think of this process as creating a professional conversation.
  3. Promoting clarity about the role and the organisation – interviews are an important opportunity to positively, but accurately outline key aspects of the role and organisation to candidates. We know that candidates who join with unrealistic expectations are much more likely to leave quickly. A common theme with new joiners who leave after a short period of time is that they did not properly understand the role or the culture.
  4. Focusing on fairness – fair interviews matter. By definition, a fair process will result in the most suitable candidates being selected. However, because interviewers are subject to a range of biases, they can fail to identify the very best candidates, meaning that less effective, and often less diverse, appointments are made. Interviewers are more likely to make unfair decisions when relying on instinct, when working quickly and under pressure, and when over relying on an intuitive sense of ‘what good looks like’. When motivated, interviewers can think more rigorously and objectively about candidates. By setting fairness as an objective, interviewers tend to make more carefully thought out, fairer decisions.

Due diligence – for senior appointments

For senior appointments it is important to invest in good due diligence. Even in calmer economic times, businesses recognise the high costs – both direct and indirect – of failed leadership hires, and the VUCA environment places greater focus on making strong appointments.

The fundamentals of good due diligence centre on gaining multiple perspectives, through the use of multiple tools and multiple assessors.

This approach allows recruiters to gain well-rounded, insightful data. Gaining an independent perspective through external support also pays dividends; expert assessors often provide new and important insights that help shape hiring decisions.

Fit – measuring the ‘what’ and the ‘how’

This is about understanding not only candidates’ abilities, but how they deploy them. In other words, how well they will fit in your organisation.

When we begin working with clients we review patterns of success and failures in recent hires. A common theme here is that new hires fail, not due to a lack of ability, but due to a lack of fit with the culture.

Fit is best examined by understanding a person’s motives, values, and habits. These traits can be examined through psychometric tests, interview, and simulations.

At Pearn Kandola we have produced a series of videos giving advice and guidance on how to best manage business during uncertain times. View the ‘Brexit Series’ on our homepage.   

Author Profile Picture
James Meachin

Head of Assessment

Read more from James Meachin

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