A business cannot function without its staff. More than that, your success as an organisation will be largely determined by the quality of your team, however big or small it is, and your relationship with them. While you can (and should) work on that relationship all through someone’s employment, first impressions count and your earliest interactions with potential employees will be in the recruitment and selection process.
What happens at this stage will set the tone for everything that follows, from whether they accept a job offer to how long they stay with you and how committed they are to the role/organisation. You’ve really got to get this bit right – no pressure! But the great news is, if you do – and we’re going to tell you how – you can expect to enjoy a healthy and productive long-term relationship.
Read on to find out what a good recruitment and selection process looks like, and set your business up for success. We’re talking particularly to small businesses looking to grow and expand their teams, who could be experiencing some growing pains and may not have a formal hiring policy in place yet.
First things first, before you even think about posting on LinkedIn, talking to a recruiter or even putting the word out, you need to know exactly what role you’re hiring and what that job looks like. Everybody needs to be on the same page, so you need to sit down with the relevant parties (including the leader of the team they’ll be working in) and analyse in-depth the gap you need to fill. What resource/skills are you lacking? What does the new team member need to add?
You must clearly define the role and associated responsibilities, then identify what qualifications, experience, skills and characteristics a candidate will need to be successful in that role. This is time well spent as it ensures alignment of expectations, gives you the detail you need to include in a useful and fair job ad and means you know exactly what you’re looking for when screening applicants.
Getting that first step right sets you up perfectly for the next stage – posting the job ad. A great job ad has a super clear description of the role and responsibilities – this will avoid wasting everybody’s time. Potential applicants who will be likely sending off a ton of CVs and cover letters, don’t want to waste their time on a dead end, any more than you want to waste yours reading applications from people who don’t fit.
You should also be upfront and transparent about any benefits, especially salary. Not posting a (genuine) salary, or pay scale, is a big no-no. Again, it wastes everybody’s time, contributes to maintaining pay inequalities (which is discriminatory) and is just a bit sneaky – don’t do it. Transparency about this crucial aspect of any employment relationship shows that you are an ethical and responsible employer who respects your employees and isn’t trying to undercut their value.
Letting someone progress through multiple rounds of interviews and tasks (which often costs money, in travel expenses or days off work) before revealing salary is not on. It doesn’t matter if the pay you’re offering is low or super generous – people need this information upfront so they can decide whether the position is at the right level for them.
If you’re offering other perks and benefits, be sure to shout about this in the job ad – you want to show that you’re a great employer so that you attract a high volume and quality of applications.
You should use the kind of language and tone of voice that you would use internally, that reflects your company values and culture – this should appeal to people who would be a good fit for you.
There are loads of channels through which you can advertise your vacancy – online job boards (Indeed, TotalJobs, Reed and Monster – to name a few), your own website and a whole host of social media platforms. Though LinkedIn is an obvious choice, being career-focused, depending on your industry you may find Instagram or Facebook a good source of quality applicants. Think about who you’re trying to attract and where you think they are most present online.
If you’ve got your ad right, you should end up with a decent number of applications. Perhaps too many to read through them all in full – inevitably, a lot won’t be worth your time. To get through this stage quickly, you need an efficient system to review applications and CVs and filter out those who don’t meet your hiring criteria. The work you did in analysing the job role, will pay dividends here as you should already have some non-negotiables based on which you can immediately reject some candidates.
When selecting candidates for interview, think about the time and resource you have available – it is a time-consuming but incredibly important process. You want to get it right. It’s usually better to spend more time with a few candidates than 15 minutes with lots. Use the screening process to filter for all the check-box info (qualifications, essential skills, number of years’ experience, location, availability etc), the simple yes/no stuff that doesn’t need further explanation. Then, in the interview you can get into the person’s character, values and potential fit with your culture – the things you can’t tell on paper.
When you’re hiring for one role, of course all but one person will be rejected. Most of them at the screening stage. Put yourself in the shoes of the applicant, sending out hundreds of CVs into a silent void. It’s so disheartening to get nothing in response, and cruel to allow false hope. If you know straight away you won’t be taking someone forward, tell them. While you can’t give detailed feedback at this point, it takes no time at all to create and send a template email to all applicants who haven’t passed the screening.
An in-person interview is about connecting at a personal level and seeing if and how you might work together. You should think about the interview panel carefully. Ideally, it should consist of more than one person to help avoid subjective bias, and at least one of the panel should be someone the successful hire will be working under or with directly.
You should use a standard set of questions so that all candidates are assessed on an equal and consistent basis, but this doesn’t mean you can’t ask follow-ups to probe further if needed.
Try to think outside the box and avoid obvious or common interview questions, as you want genuine not pre-prepared responses.
You should cover practical, behavioural and situational questions to gauge the candidate’s depth of knowledge, how they apply their skillset and their compatibility with your organisational culture.
Depending on the role, you might also want to set some assessments and tasks, such as personality assessments (Myers-Briggs and DiSC are popular ones), skills tests, problem-solving or practical tasks like case studies or presentations. Such tasks could be individual or team-based, depending on how many applicants you have and how you approach the interview process.
People can prepare for interviews and will always try to give you the answer you want, so tasks and assessment tools are a valuable addition because you can see the candidate in action. They reveal how a person thinks, how they behave and how they approach tasks and problems. Provided they are aligned with the job requirements, they often tell you more about the candidate’s capabilities and whether or not they can meet the demands of the role.
Once all rounds of interviews are done, it’s decision time. At this point, you should be confident that the candidates meet the general criteria you set for the role so focus on alignment and fit. It’s important at this stage to include key team members and other relevant stakeholders, perhaps also HR professionals, to ensure you get different perspectives and a broad range of opinions.
You should be aiming for a diverse team, taking minority representation and gender balance into account, seeking to eliminate and avoid bias and discrimination across all aspects and stages of recruitment.
If feasible, consider giving some feedback to the interviewees who were unsuccessful. It doesn’t have to be super detailed, but it should either be positive or constructive – never critical or harsh. If they’ve made it this far, you’ve recognised that this person is qualified and potentially a great fit, perhaps they just need a bit of skills development or a few more years’ experience. Maybe someone just pipped them to the post. If you take the time to explain why they weren’t chosen or what they can do to make themselves a stronger candidate, you might hear from them in the future if another role comes up.
As part of due diligence, before making a formal offer you need to carry out reference checks on your ideal candidate(s) to verify the info they’ve given is true. These should be professional, not personal, ideally from their most recent employer/s. Beyond fact-checking, chatting to a past employer will give you insights into the candidate’s work ethic, interpersonal skills and overall performance. It’s a crucial step, as it can reveal things the candidate wouldn’t say or doesn’t want you to know – you don’t want to find out the hard way that they are late every day or a nightmare to work with!
The decision-making and reference-checking stage can take a while, so be sure to keep everyone up to date. You don’t want to lose your best candidate to someone else because you haven’t kept them in the loop and they look elsewhere. It also sets the tone for the kind of communication they can expect as staff. Remember, you’re already building your working relationship with the new hire at this stage and they will be forming an opinion of you that will influence whether they accept a job offer.
Once you’ve made your decision, sent a formal offer that has (hopefully!) been accepted, it’s time to warmly welcome your new recruit into the company. Rather than throw them in at the deep end in a sink-or-swim approach, you want to give them the best possible chance of long-term success (think how much time and effort you’ve spent getting to this point!). So devise a comprehensive onboarding programme to integrate new hires into the company culture and ensure a smooth transition into their new role.
This roadmap to a fair recruitment and selection process provides a practical framework and actionable steps that will help small businesses create, nurture and sustain an aligned and successful team that can help you to grow and thrive.
Of course, you must ensure that the entire recruitment process complies with relevant labour laws and regulations in order to be legally compliant. This is the bare minimum when seeking to create a fair and ethical recruitment and selection process.
By recognising the importance of a thorough and considered hiring strategy tailored to your business needs, you can pave the way for a fair, inclusive and thriving organisational culture and look forward to sustained success.