Making a bad recruitment decision is a costly business. Employing the wrong person for the job can disrupt a team and waste time and money.

Careers writer Daniell Morrisey provides a structure to running your recruitment and selection campaign. Here is his plan for attracting and hiring top talent.

Do you need to recruit?

Recruitment is about finding a solution to a problem. The problem is that you have a vacancy, so it follows that the solution is to find someone to fill it. Therein lays a sense of urgency, a need for speed and the beginning of a process that can often be ill judged.

Recruitment is a top-heavy process. Time spent planning your approach will help lead to better recruitment decisions later on.

So the first question is, why has the vacancy arisen? The answer might be:
  • one of your team has handed in their notice
  • you need extra support on a project
  • you need cover for an absent member of staff
  • your business is expanding
Then ask whether your company has a recruitment strategy. Do you 'grow your own' by recruiting at a junior-level and promoting people as they are trained and developed? Do you open all vacancies to the external market? Do you balance between offering internal opportunities for your staff to develop versus bringing new talent - and new ideas - into the business?

If you have an HR or recruitment team to support you, then engage with them at the earliest opportunity. If you do not, then these are questions to consider in developing a recruitment and talent strategy.

Next, think creatively:
  • Do you need to fill the vacancy at all?
  • Could other people in the team take on some of the responsibilities?
  • Does the make-up of your team and the jobs within it reflect the values, priorities, strategy and current technology in the company?
Often people will have made a job their own, or it will have started as one thing and developed into another.

I was once asked to recruit a hybrid magazine editor/IT manager. The job so existed because the previous magazine editor had been quite a techie. Many years before he had driven the company’s move into computerisation and taken on the IT administration as part of his role.

Nowadays, I would question this straight away, but back then, I went along with the request and spent many weeks trying to find someone who just so happened to have a combination of journalism, management and IT administration skills.

I found some very good techies who could do a bit of writing, and some very good editors who could install a computer but no one quite as good at both jobs simultaneously. Having interviewed loads of candidates, the hiring manager came to the same conclusion and we reviewed what was actually required. We recruited a talented editor, and the IT work was outsourced.

Writing a Job Specification

Think of the job specification as the most important document in the process. You are going to use it to put together any advertising, all the applicants will see it and you will need it to base your short listing criteria and interview questions on.

People often complain of being 'mis-sold' a job. You need to be explicit in what you are looking for. The spec needs to honestly reflect the nature and level of the job. You really want to interest people with the skills and experience you are seeking, but you also want to make it focused so that you are not inundated with lots of inappropriate applicants.

You may already have a job spec, but this is a chance to revisit it. Essentials include:
  • A short overview of the company, department and product or service. If you are seeking a journalist or designer, then say something about the publication or website’s readership and editorial style. It is not enough to rest on the reputation of your company alone to drive people to apply - you need to sell it
  • An overview of the job and where it sits organisationally. Who does it report to? Who do they manage?
  • List any other key relationships
  • A list of the main duties and responsibilities
  • Include any key figures, especially size of teams and budgetary responsibilities
  • A person specification listing the minimum skills and experience required for the job
  • Avoid jargon and company-specific phrases
Think creatively about how you can make it more interesting. You could write about a 'day in the life of' and include web links.

If you do not know where to start, you will find it useful to sit down with the current post holder and produce a summary of their main responsibilities. But as already discussed, remember to consider the needs of the company, not those of the current employee.

Re-think any qualifications that you were intending to ask for. Yes, you need them where there is a compliance issue - such as law or accounting. But do you really need a certain qualification for your vacancy? Is doing so going to restrict certain parts of the community - older workers for example?

Consider including a contact name and telephone number or email address for people wanting further information. But make a judgement on how many likely applicants there are going to be. The more junior a position, the higher the number of applicants. Speaking to potential candidates, though, does give you a chance to get a feel for the quality of applicants.


So much recruitment is rushed because someone has given notice, time is moving and you need someone else in. Ideally you will have a crossover. But keep reciting the mantra that a bad recruitment decision will waste much more time, and money, in the long run.

The best person for your vacancy is probably already in a job and maybe very happy in that job. Your advert needs to attract the passive job seeker.

Having offered somebody a job, they are usually going to require four weeks' notice from their current employer, so your recruitment campaign is likely to take between six and eight weeks.

You are rarely going to have the luxury of a handover. You are going to have to think creatively later on anyway to work out how the work gets done in the interim period. So instead of that, spend time now thinking about the nature of the job, the make-up of your team and planning a process.

Where to get candidates

Advertising needs to be open, welcoming and interesting. You need to be focused and explicit in the skills and experience you need otherwise you will be inundated with inappropriate applicants.

If you do not have an advertising agency or department, then look through recruitment adverts and see which ones stand out. You will also see lots of dull ones - so what is the difference between the two?

Your budget is one way to decide where to advertise - national newspapers will cost you several thousand pounds, local newspapers a lot less. Trade and specialist magazines will give you a much more targeted readership.

Online job boards are now widely used. There are plenty from generalist boards like to specialist services like The advantage of online is that they are usually cheaper and you can advertise your vacancy very quickly.

Remember to include instructions on how to apply. Do you want to receive CVs that come in all shapes and sizes? Would you rather receive application forms, which are much easier to compare, where you decide the format and questions?

Again, be creative. How about establishing relationships with relevant college courses or professional bodies? Think about where the potential candidate will go - if you are a music website, how about advertising your vacancy on club flyers in record shops?

Recruitment agencies can take on part or all of your campaign for you. You could employ an agency to simply send you a few candidate CVs through to running the campaign, short listing and conducting initial interviews.

The key to working with an agency is to brief them well. Build a relationship - get them in, help them understand your company culture. Agencies work on the basis of usually 20-33 per cent of the final salary as their fee. The Recruitment & Employment Confederation has an online database where you can search for agencies by sector or location.

Recruitment Branding

Have you applied for a job and then waited anxiously to hear if you got an interview? People are always telling me terrible stories of how they have been treated. 'I did not even get a reply…' 'My interview was six weeks ago, I have not heard a thing…'

Treat the whole recruitment process as part of your company's branding. Sloppy recruitment admin will reflect badly on your reputation. Make sure you tell candidates quickly when they have not been short listed or unsuccessful at interview. If there is a delay, let people know.

Short listing

Decide on a closing date for applications. Resist the temptation to start calling people in as you receive them. Wait until you have all the applications and develop a system for short listing. Aim for five or six candidates to interview per vacancy.

Decide on half-a-dozen key criteria from the job spec and give each applicant a mark for each. If the position is junior, you are going to be seeking potential. If it is senior, you are going to be seeking experience and knowledge.

The Interview

File any old gimmicks - like 'good cop, bad cop' to the recruitment dustbin of yesteryear. It is very simple - you need the best person for the job and you want to get the best out of your candidates during their interview.

We all like recruiting in our own image - people that we think will 'get on around here', 'our sort of person', 'someone I could have a drink with'.

A workforce that does not reflect society will mean that your team can only understand a certain set of your readers or consumers. A diverse team will bring different ideas and outlooks to your creativity.

A structured approach to evaluating our candidates will help towards dispensing with a gut instinct. We call this the 'horns effect' ('I did not like him the minute he walked in the room') and the 'halo effect' ('I took to her straight away'). First impressions will bias our feelings.

Consider having a second interviewer - someone with whom you can have a healthy debate about the candidates, rather than someone who is just going to agree with you.

A structured interview, one in which you have predetermined your questions, will mean that every candidate is being assessed on the same areas. This does not restrict your ability to probe and ask other specific questions to them, but it does mean that you are fair.

In the interview, you will want to test the candidate's:
  • understanding and knowledge of the job, company and product
  • any technical skills that may be required - for example, their ability to use a piece of software, or their editing or writing skills
  • any specialist knowledge that may be required
  • soft skills – like team working, planning, organising, influencing, persuading or selling
Why not start off by asking them 'How did you prepare for this interview?' It will give you a clear picture as to whether they have bothered to do any research. Then ask them what they understand of the job, of the magazine, of the company.

For the soft skills, ask questions that seek an answer demonstrating a situation where this has happened. For example if working under pressure to tight deadlines is a requirement, ask them where they have done this and what it was like. Getting examples of past behaviour in a similar situation is the most accurate predictor of future performance.

Interviewers often like posing hypothetical situations - for example 'you are on deadline when a major story breaks, what will you do?' Hypothetical questions result in hypothetical answers.

Much better if you try to gain a real-life example instead - such as 'we can often be on deadline when a major story breaks, can you tell me about a time when that has happened to you?'

Remember to keep the interview relaxed - around a small table, not over a desk. Welcome the candidate, tell them how long it will be, try to put them at ease and help reduce any nerves. If they want to leave you anything - printouts, cuttings - then thank them.

You will be the best judge of what is needed in terms of technical expertise or specialist knowledge. Of course, ask some questions around these, but they might be much better tested in an assessment.

Think of a work simulation and a way of marking it. For a sub editor, give them some text to sub down for example. If political knowledge is essential, produce a written test. This is a wide area, and there are a multitude of tests and assessments that you could use, including psychometrics.

A sobering fact to consider, however, is that interviews are a highly unreliable form of assessment. As a recruitment method, an interview alone is 35 per cent reliable in assessing the right candidate. Using multiple methods of assessment will increase this to 70 per cent.

Making a decision

Time to make a decision. Talk through each candidate. A fair way of doing this is to mark their answers. Try to think of each person compared to the job specification rather than comparing them with one another.

Maybe none of them are suitable - much better to start again than to make the wrong decision, to have to lose them and start again in three months' time.

Your top candidate might not accept the job, so think of number two and number three. If you have someone who was so very near the top, then encourage him or her. Give them feedback and tell them that someone just beat them on x, y or z. Tell them that you would welcome them keeping in touch and that you would encourage a future application from them.


Most employers make job offers 'subject to references'. These will rarely tell you very much, other than to confirm that a certain company between certain dates employed someone.

There are often surveys showing that people lie on CVs. There are reference-checking agencies that can check every single detail of someone's work and academic history. This is useful when there are legislated compliance requirements, such as financial institutions.

Anyone working with children, such as journalists on websites and magazines targeting kids, will need a criminal record check.

All employers have to ensure that they are not in breach of immigration law.

A note about the law

Seek professional advice. If you have internal HR or recruitment staff then work closely with them. There is plenty of room for error - particularly around data protection and discrimination.

The website for The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has a useful overview of employment legislation.

Most people address recruitment on a need-to basis. That is why it is often rushed at the beginning and why it sometimes goes wrong in the end. Begin to develop a methodology - a recruitment strategy that reflects the values, objectives and branding of your company, and a system that is fair, defensible and transparent.

Most importantly of all - think and review each stage, and be creative.

Ask Danny: To get your career questions answered by careers writer Daniell Morrisey simply post a comment to this article.

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