Let’s Talk Recruitment
Hopefully you have taken some time to read the first installment of this blog. Before we commence any recruitment process, it is essential that we undertake a culture check and take action to build and support a culture that will be attractive to the people who we want to welcome to our team. I’ll avoid climbing back on my soapbox, but just to reiterate the point I made previously.
Targeting particular groups without preparing a culture that authentically welcomes them is a very expensive and pretty pointless exercise that risks harm to both your people and the reputation of your business/organisation.
Another great benefit of building a culture that is inclusive, welcoming and psychologically safe, for everybody, is that good people stay (remember my example of the software development company in the America in part 1), and your people will always have your back – and that’s the secret of success in business.
Having done the work to establish and support a productive, inclusive, people focused culture, now it’s time to look at recruitment. I work with lots of selection panels, and I am convinced that this is an area where training is desperately needed.
Most people learn how to conduct a selection by having been an applicant at some time. Basically, people, all too often, learn by observing what other panels do! This is a very flawed approach given that there is every chance that the panels they are observing also haven’t been trained.
Here are some of my top suggestions to help support a successful recruitment process.
- Review the position and ensure duties and expectations are in line with the actual job. There are so many out-of-date position descriptions out there. If we recruit to an invalid position description, we can hardly expect to appoint someone ready to take the job into the future. Remember, COVID has changed the way we work and, in many cases, the priorities of the roles we fill. Reviewing the jobs to ensure everything aligns is an important start.
- Appoint the committee – YES NOW! So often committees are confirmed after the job is advertised and, in some cases, even after the closing date for applications has passed. This puts the committee on the back foot. This can, and often does, hamper their ability to design a process that will maximise the possibility of attracting and recruiting the best candidate.
- Ideally select panel members who have undergone training. If it’s not possible to have all panel members trained, I would strongly suggest implementing a policy whereby at least one member of the panel has been trained.
- If you are asked to be on a panel, gain clarity about your role as a panel member. Are you the manager of the team doing the recruiting? The technical expert? The neutral person (there to ensure due process is followed)? These are just some of the potential roles. Knowing what our role is, and being confident we have the skills and abilities to undertake that role, (there is no point being the technical expert is you don’t have the technical expertise) means we can participate fully.
- Panel members all need to have well developed assertion and communication skills. The chairperson or manager DOES NOT make the decision, the panel does. Therefore, all panel members need to be comfortable raising any concerns and presenting their thoughts and conclusions. Especially when they might not align with those of another panel member, and irrespective of whether the other panel member outranks them in the organisation.
- It’s important for panel members to discuss their involvement in the process with their manager and review their out of work commitments to ensure they aren’t over stretching themselves. Being on a panel is one of the most important roles we play because it is about the future of the business and as such, it deserves the full involvement of all the panel members. Having a clear plan for work commitments with your manager clarifies expectations and helps to reduce stress levels (which can and will impact on the panel member’s capacity to be fully involved). Also, if this is a particularly busy time out of work, it might be prudent to explain that you are not available at this time. We cannot do a great job when we are being pulled in multiple directions and this process needs everybody involved to be able to do a great job.
- The selection panel have a role in writing the job advert and determining where the job is advertised. This is critical to a great outcome. The wording of the ad must be clear, address the mandatory and highly desirable requirements AND be in a language that speaks to the candidates we are wanting to attract. Let’s go back to part 1 where I talked about organisations potentially wanting to increase the number of women in their organisation. You won’t attract women if you use male language in your job vacancy ads. Research shows us that language can have a gender bias. Words like ‘analyse’, ‘leader’ and ‘expert’ have been found to appeal more to men whereas words such as ‘support’, ‘collaboration’, and ‘together’ appeal more to women (this is not conclusive, people don’t fit into categories, rather it is offered as a guide and point of consideration). You may also want to consider professional language. If I want to attract a people centered team leader, using technical or operational jargon may not be helpful. For panels, I’d suggest road testing your ad before publishing it just to how people respond. And remember, this is not just about language, it goes much further than that. Your culture must match the language you are using. There is no point splattering words like ‘inclusive’ and ‘compassionate’ throughout the ad if your culture is actually divisive and hierarchical The ad is the first step, and we want it to attract suitable applicants and your selection process needs to be designed to maximise the best outcome, but at the end of the day, if your culture doesn’t match what’s implied in the ad, then people won’t stay and that renders the exercise futile.
- Where you advertise is also critical. Know your potential audience and place ads in places where they are most likely to see them. Not everybody regularly scrolls through on-line job vacancy platforms. Networking groups are often happy to circulate job vacancies, professional magazines may have positions vacant section and, of course, social media is now a very popular place to list vacancies. Think from the prospective of your prospective audience, think outside the boxes.
- Complete a conflict-of-interest scan. Before any panel member has access to applications, it’s important that they have access to a list of applicants so that any conflict of interest can be declared. Where the conflict of interest has the potential to compromise the process (for example, a candidate is a relative of one of the panel members), then to preserve the integrity of the process it may be relevant for that panel member to stand down and be replaced (this in no way represents a slight on the panel member, it is to ensure full transparency and genuine fairness and equity). Knowing a candidate doesn’t preclude being on the panel, but a close relationship would. If in doubt discuss this with your HR team or, if there is one, the delegate and if doubt persists, I suggest stepping down in the interests of a fair and open process.
- Shortlisting – before reading applications, I strongly recommend that the panel meets to agree on specific criteria for shortlisting. Specific means that terms might need to be defined. For example, the panel might say ‘we are looking for someone with experience in change management’. Does that mean broad organisational change or team-based changes to client service? You might be wanting to recruit someone who is innovative (a very board term), so drilling down to some examples of what would constitute an innovative approach for your organisation helps ensure the panel is on the same page (remember, what’s innovative in one organisation might be considered reckless in another organisation). When we say ‘technical knowledge’ what do we mean? What does flexibility look like in our business? When the panel clarifies the shortlisting criteria, the shortlisting process is much easier and much more consistent. It’s also helpful at this point, to determine the optimal number of applicants to take forward for interview. If there is one position that might be 3 or 4, if there are several positions it will be more.
- The panel shortlists individually. Having established the criteria, the panel now goes away and shortlists by themselves and brings their recommendations to the next meeting for discussion. I have been on panels where we have had such clarity around criteria for shortlisting that we have all come back with the same 3 or 4 people. Where there is disparity, then the clarity around criteria provides a valid, objective framework to guide discussion. Panel members aren’t descending into who they feel is better, they have a basis for their decision. That makes the negotiation much easier and the result much more relevant.
- Design an interview process that allows the candidates to show you rather than just tell you. I can train anybody to do well in an interview based on a question/answer approach (I promise you). However, if we ask someone to edit a report, be part of a, well supported, roleplay (roleplays are really valuable tools, and must be constructed and supported compassionately, you aren’t there to test people’s acting skills, you are there to see how they do things and how that aligns to what you are looking for), a presentation (as a trainer, I would always expect to be asked to do a presentation), the list is endless. We call this ‘behavioural interviewing’ and the aim is to, as close as possible, replicate the role to enable candidates to showcase their suitability for the job. This allows the panel to see skills and abilities rather than just hear about them. It moves the interview from what someone might do, or could do, to what someone does do or has done (which is not only more real, but it is also much easier to verify with a referee). Behavioural interviewing helps ensure that successful person is the best for the job, rather than just the best at interviews. Footnote: panels aren’t there just to assess how good a person is, they are there to assess how well they align to the requirements of the position, it’s a subtle but important difference.
- Give the person time to tell you what they want you to know. Allow time in the process for the candidate to outline their reasons for applying for the job and what they believe they can bring to the organisation or business.
- Be aware of unconscious bias! We all have it, it’s a human thing and when we take steps to become more aware of it, we can manage it. Some helpful questions for panel members to ask themselves are: 1. Does this person remind me of anybody? 2. Do I have any views about the places this person has worked or studied? 3. Was I surprised when I met the person? Did I have any preconceived ideas about them? 4. What were my initial reactions to this person (their appearance, presentation etc.)? Research indicates that we form our opinions about people in the first 3 seconds of meeting them and these opinions are often wrong. These opinions can subconsciously influence our ability to make decisions relating to the person.
- Also, beware corporate cloning (this is when we inadvertently recruit ourselves). We are more likely to warm to people who think like us. Which doesn’t make them right all the time!
- Take detailed notes. We all have great memories, but they aren’t infallible and usually you are conducting more than one interview, so it’s easy to get your applicants mixed up if you don’t keep really detailed notes. Ideally try to include direct quotes. For example, rather than ‘managed the client conflict well in the role play’, it might be something like ‘in the role play, asked the following three questions to determine details of concern being raised’ – and then list the questions. The more detailed the notes the easier your comparison will be later.
- Do referee checks! I suggest referee checks on the phone (rather than in writing as using a template as this is too restrictive and inviting broad comment might not address what you are looking to confirm). Phone conversations also give us interaction. Remember, we don’t want to know if the referee likes the candidate or not, we want to know what the referee has observed (facts). Ask specific questions. So rather than ‘is Jane confident in her interactions with clients?’. Reframe it to ‘can you outline a time you have seen Jane interact with a client in a situation that could be described as sensitive or difficult. What did you see Jane do?’. Here we might need to guide (not influence) the referee a bit (people don’t get training in being a referee either). What I mean by that is, say the referee says, ‘Jane shows great compassion and understanding and is able to make meaningful connections with clients’ (it certainly makes Jane sound good, but we don’t what Jane is actually doing and whether that fits our culture or our client service charter). It’s important to dive deeper and ask, when you say Jane makes meaningful connections, what have you seen Jane doing that achieves this (we want behaviours)? Or what behaviours have you seen Jane display that suggest compassion and caring? If a referee tells you that Dave is a ‘great team player’, ask for 2 examples of when Dave has gone over and above to support the team. Document the referee comments (I always conduct referee comments with a laptop on hand) and on conclusion of your conversation email them to the referee asking them to confirm, by email, that the comments are an accurate account of the discussion you just had. This just makes sure all the Ts are crossed and the Is dotted.
- Don’t give feedback when you phone candidates to advise outcome. They won’t be in an emotional state to really hear it (they will either be elated or disappointed, any feedback will be lost on them). Make a time (ideally a day or two later) so that you can prepare well, and the candidate is in an emotional state that is more conducive to listening and understanding.
- Remember, how candidates are treated represents your business. If you don’t get back to unsuccessful candidates, refuse to offer detailed, objective feedback, or demonstrate any behaviours that indicate you don’t really care. This will reflect on your organisation as an employer and that can (and often does), influence who applies for later vacancies.
- It’s important that panels take some time to reflect after the process is concluded. What went well about the process? What could have been done better? This is where learning and progress are born and embedded.
That’s my top 20 points. There is heaps more and with all the points noted here there is additional insights and information that contribute to a highly successful selection process.
The workshops and webinars I offer for selection panel training are highly interactive and, according to feedback, extremely informative. One participant noted for me after a workshop once – ‘I’ve been sitting on panels for years and I heard things today that I have never heard before and never even considered, and they make sense. I can see why so many recruitment processes fail or fail to offer the best results – thank you’.
There is a 3rd and final blog coming in this series when we look at onboarding and retention. The research is clear – the better the onboarding the longer people stay, and staff retention is a significant money saver, knowledge retainer and contributor to success (however you define success).