How to do recruitment so well that even losing candidates feel good about it


In theory, all HR professionals should know how to run a competent recruitment exercise. In reality, that’s often not the case.

How do I know? Because wherever I go, I find exasperated executives who have been driven to distraction by appalling hiring processes – and that’s just the successful candidates, some of whom endured up to a dozen interviews, or timeframes that ran into months. Imagine how pissed-off the losers were…

So, here are some tips to help all of us remember the essentials of a satisfactory recruitment process.

Scope the role properly

If you, as the person running recruitment, don’t fully understand the demands of the role, the whole exercise becomes a random lottery. Sally forth and find out, especially if it’s a new role, or one that is changing, or one that faces foreseeable challenges in the near future.

Capture the role in an honest brief

The brief needs to be both compelling and transparent. I know you may be writing many briefs every month, but do try to avoid drifting into a cut-and-paste mentality that will just result in bland corporate yada yada. (If the role is obviously as boring as hell, maybe you should take that up with the relevant director.) Don’t leave out the challenges; everybody loses if the successful candidate quits six months later because the brief omitted the downsides of the post, and your organisation’s reputation will suffer.

Ensure you have great candidates

If you’re using a search firm, make sure they fully understand your organisation and what it needs to get from this role. (My previous blog discussed how to get the best out of headhunters.) Internal candidates should never be shoo-ins for interview; work out the attributes and traits needed, and do some testing.

If you’re not confident that every candidate on the shortlist could do the role well, widen your search. Same applies if you think there’s something missing from the shortlist.

Keep control of the interviews

Many recruitment processes drag on for months because they haven’t been planned properly, or because every senior exec with not quite enough to do wants to get involved.

Work with the ultimate decision-maker to decide exactly who needs to be involved. Your organisation is ‘on show’ to the candidates; ensure interviewers are impressive and manifestly capable of assessing the candidates. Interviews should be testing, while remaining warm and positive. The candidate needs to emerge stretched, engaged, and keener than ever to work for you.

Group interviewers into panels, to avoid a string of one-to-one interviews. Plan these as soon as possible, even months before the candidates are selected, so you can block out dates on everybody’s diaries, and minimise the number of stages the candidates have to go through.

Keep the candidates in the loop

If a drawn-out process or multiple interviews is a big problem for candidates, so is being left in the dark. Talk to each candidate (or their headhunter) regularly, so they feel fully in touch with the process. Each of them is facing a potentially life-changing prospect; they are excited and apprehensive, and periods of silence will shred their nerves and make them feel they’re being jerked around.

Make an informed and quick decision

Do everything in your power to avoid decisions by committee, which tend to follow the mushy path of least resistance. Recruitment isn’t a popularity parade, it’s a mission-critical process. The ultimate decision-maker needs to be identified upfront; he or she must be grown-up enough to reflect fairly on all the inputs from the interviews, and brave enough to take sole responsibility for the decision. And don’t dawdle. You’ve got a shortlist of anxious candidates keen to know their fate, and delay will drain away their enthusiasm – and may see them taking up rival offers from more agile employers.

Feed back!

You need to ensure that you feed back promptly, and as fully as possible. If the decision-maker can’t or won’t do this in a timely manner, take it upon yourself to contact every losing candidate. That’s just common sense, as these are people whom you’ve identified as capable of fitting well with your organisation. Who knows, another suitable role might emerge…

Do all of the above, and even your unsuccessful candidates will feel they’ve been through a fair, timely and exciting process; they will know they were looked after, and will speak well of your employment practice.

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