Scenes from A Recruitment Process


Location: A meeting room at the London Evening Standard

HR Manager: We’ve used name-blind shortlisting and come up with these four candidates, sir

Proprietor: (reviews the CVs) Not excited by any of them, Susan. Career journalists, all of them. You know I like you to throw a wild-card candidate in. Let me see the other CVs

HR Manager: But sir, none of them meet the spec we agreed.

Proprietor: Give me them anyway (goes through each CV in about 15 seconds) Nah…Nah…Nah…oh wait. This one’s interesting. Lives in Cheshire…never worked in journalism…sacked from his last job…

HR Manager: yes, we always get the odd idiot who puts in a CV without reading the job spec. Usually it’s to convince the Job Centre that they are still actively seeking work, to protect their benefits.

Proprietor: Let’s see him anyway

HR Manager: But…(realises it is useless to protest and goes off to arrange interviews)


Location: The same room, a week later

HR Manager: Thank you for coming in, Mr Osborne. I wonder if you could talk us through your CV

George Osborne: Well, I’ve done lots of things, I’ve been Chancellor of the Exchequer

HR Manager: I was thinking about relevant experience for the job

George Osborne: I always wanted to be a journalist, I just never got the breaks

Proprietor: (beaming) We’re always trying to encourage new talent at this paper

HR Manager:  So what do you know about London issues?

George Osborne: Well I do visit a lot, it’s only a couple of hours from Cheshire. And you get a nice view of Wembley as you’re coming in on the train.

HR Manager: Yes, this other job you do, MP isn’t it? How much notice do you need to give?

George Osborne:  I was planning on carrying it on. The advert said you promote flexible working arrangements

Proprietor: You’re right – Susan here (he nods towards the HR Manager) is always telling me that we should be doing more about this flexible working stuff. Attracts millennials apparently.

HR Manager: Well, thanks for coming in, Mr Osborne, we’ll be in touch in the next week or so

(After the candidate has left)

HR Manager: Well, he was useless. No experience, no local knowledge, kept name-dropping his ‘contacts’, thinks he can do the role part-time to keep his second job.

Proprietor: I liked him. Offer him the job

HR Officer Vacancy

I’m currently recruiting a standalone HR Officer role for one of my clients –  the job advert is below:

BTTG is a world renowned organisation within the textile industry. We research, test, audit and provide professional advice to companies worldwide. We’ve grown significantly in recent years thanks to our high quality standards and professional staff, and to support this growth we are now looking to recruit our first in-house HR role.

You will be currently working in HR and have at least a Level 3 CIPD qualification, and be looking for a career move where you can help establish an HR function that contributes to the company’s development. You’ll have a strong current HR knowledge and be able to give credible support to managers, directors and staff across our various businesses. You will be highly organised, capable of working on your own initiative, IT literate and with a commitment to accuracy and high quality. You’ll set up and review our systems, ensuring that they not only fulfil legal requirements but also run in an effective and efficient way.  You’ll have worked with a diverse workforce and ideally will have experience of an international business. Currently we employ around 100 staff with 15% based overseas, and expect this to grow in coming years.

We offer a competitive salary of between £22-25000, together with other benefits, and the opportunity to develop your career. We actively encourage professional development and are willing to support you to obtain your Level 5 CIPD qualification.

For more information about our work, visit and

Please send your CV to our external HR Adviser, Simon Jones:  You can also contact him for more information about the role

Closing Date: Tuesday 4 October 2016. This is a re-advertisement – previous applicants will be reconsidered automatically and do not need to reapply

BTTG is an Equal Opportunities Employer. No Agencies.

Caveat Recruiter

Aspiring Conservative leader (and potential Prime Minister) Andrea Leadsom hit the headlines last week when she was accused of exaggerating her CV, suggesting that she had undertaken more senior roles than she in fact had.

It’s a problem that many businesses – large and small – face in recruitment. How reliable is the information contained in a candidate’s CV?

Most small businesses are unlikely to have the time, or resources, to undertake full background checks on potential candidates. And indeed it hardly creates trust between you and your potential employee if you feel you have to verify every aspect of a candidate’s career history. Having said that, a quick comparison with their LinkedIn profile might be useful!

Clearly, if you discover that a candidate has lied outright (claiming they have a qualification they don’t, or worked in a role or for a company they didn’t) you can withdraw a job offer or even dismiss after they have started.

But in most cases, it will be that a candidate has perhaps oversold their experience. What to do then?

It’s worth remembering that a CV is a marketing document. It is the person’s attempt to impress you as their potential new employer, so it’s understandable that they will want to put a positive spin on their achievements. After all, you don’t put in your brochure or website things like “our products are pretty good but battery life is better in our competitors” And it’s also a fact that individuals and their employers will often collude to make job titles sound more important and prestigious. “Senior HR Executive” implies there are more junior ones when in fact there may not be!

It’s a further reminder that recruitment should be a rigorous process Use interviews to test out the claims in detail. Everyone will accentuate the positive, but good questioning techniques (not this sort of nonsense) and effective listening will allow you to get a better picture of the candidate in front of you and what they actually have done. And you can then decide whether they have broadly the right skills and experience for the role or if you’ve been seduced by their marketing skill!

After all, we don’t complain about advertising unless it’s deliberately misleading; treat your candidates’ CVs in the same way.


Want to make your company look stupid? Here’s How!

What is it about recruitment that allows managers to do stupid things that would probably get them fired if they tried it in any other part of the business?

A recruitment website has recently been touting the “Top 10 toughest interview questions” it has come across, suggesting that “job candidates … should be ready to answer any question” in an interview.

Really? Such as How many people born in 2013 were named Gary? (No. 8 on the list). Which of course might be a relevant question if a knowledge of useless trivia is a key requirement of the job. (Anyone who works for BT, who used the question, may be able to confirm if it is essential to know this to work there)

Or how about How many hours would it take to clean every single window in London? (No.4) I suppose this is possibly relevant if you’re running a commercial window cleaning business with the objective of creating a monopoly in the capital. Less so, I would suggest, for tech people in IBM.

Or this one If you were a fruit, what kind would you be and why? (No.2) I can’t even begin to suggest how this might be relevant to any job, let alone a Trip Leader with a Travel company.

Recruitment is a two-way process. Not only are you assessing whether a candidate is right for you but they are deciding whether your business is the right one for them. Idiotic questions like this tell candidates one of three things:

  • Your managers don’t know what they are doing
  • Your managers enjoy humiliating and tricking their staff (and your company culture condones this)
  • The decision making processes within your company are fundamentally flawed if you have appointed such people to positions of authority

(Oh, and  similar “clever” recruitment tricks like this one are just as bad for your reputation)

By all means ask tough and challenging questions that are relevant to the job. But unless you want your managers and your organisation to look completely ridiculous and laughable, drop the smart-alec questions, tricks and tests from your recruitment process.

The High School Merry Go Round

Like many a parent of a 10/11 year old, I’m currently trekking around local secondary schools in order to make my preference choices in the next academic year.

Three schools have stood out, for different reasons.

School A, an “outstanding” and massively oversubscribed school, did very little on its open day to sell the school to prospective parents and pupils. The attitude was “We can pick the cream of the crop, and if you’re lucky enough to get in you’ll do really well here”

School B, an “outstanding” school, was welcoming and both staff and pupils put in a lot of effort to promote it. But their selection method (effectively a lottery) means that candidates have little or no chance of influencing the process

School C, a  “good” school with some outstanding characteristics, spent a lot of time talking about their values and ethos, and significantly let the pupils act as tour guides so that parents and children could ask questions. They also invited pupils separately to spend a day at the school.

What I found interesting was that the schools operated in the same way as many employers do when recruiting staff. Many companies take the view of School A. They assume that individuals would love to work for them and do little to sell themselves to job applicants. In a recession they can get away with it, but once the job market becomes more competitive they can struggle to find suitable staff.

School B is typical of many companies who’ve heard of “employer branding” but don’t fully understand what it means. They do a lot to convince candidates they are good firm to work for but then let something in the selection process let them down and make the candidate feel it is all window dressing

Companies like School C recognise they are competing for staff and have to convince people as to why they should work for them. Being open and honest about their culture, and recognising that “branding” is only part of it, is a key factor.

So which category does your organisation fall into? And if you are complaining currently about skill shortages, what are you doing to make your company the place that employees want to go?

What’s wrong with this advert?

There’s been a bit of a furore on social media this afternoon about this (apparently genuine) recruitment advert:

HR professionals will know the answer to the question in the title. Recruitment agencies should, but clearly not all do. But if you’re the owner of a small business, without a great deal of knowledge of employment law, you would expect that retaining an “expert” to assist you with filling a role would ensure that you don’t

a) Contravene the Equality Act. It’s illegal to advertise for someone of a particular sex (with some very clear exceptions) or age, yet this advert visually implies that only young women can be secretaries. As the client, you would be held liable together with the agency if an individual decided to make a claim –  and remember that they could do so without ever having applied, if they could show they were dissuaded by the advert.

b) Send out some very negative messages about your company. The implication that women can only occupy subservient positions to male bosses is hardly likely to attract many good quality candidates, and is the suggestion that errors may result in physical punishment really the impression you want to give of how your company works?

You wouldn’t plan when advertising a job that it would result in you breaking the law or damaging your company’s reputation, yet that’s exactly what has happened here. It doesn’t matter if you or your agency think you are being “witty” by make a reference to a cult movie if your potential candidates (or indeed your customers on a wider basis) find it tasteless and sexist.

Clearly in this case the client were very badly advised by the agency concerned, who themselves seem to lack a basic knowledge of employment law or what’s often referred to as employer branding.  I’m all for doing something original and interesting to set your job advert apart from your competitors, but this isn’t the way to do it. It’s a warning to small businesses to carry out the same checks on the professional advisers you engage as you would do with anyone else you’re entering into business with.

Time to ditch the Equal Opps questionnaire?

Some months ago I was working with a client on a recruitment project, and they provided me a copy of their “Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form”. It was certainly a comprehensive document, covering as it did around 20 different definitions of ethnic origin, a dozen major world religions, an option to declare if your birth gender was different to your current gender and five options for sexual orientation. In line with good practice the form carried a declaration that it was not part of the selection process and would be detached from the individual’s application; it was anonymous and every question had a “prefer not to say” option.

This sort of form is pretty common throughout HR departments – certainly in the UK – and it is, in my experience, genuinely used for the stated purpose, i.e. simply monitoring applications to ensure that the organisation is attracting candidates from all sections of the community. But something about it left me feeling uneasy and wondering why we are really doing this. While I have had conversations in the past about why so few women are applying for a particular role or that the company seems to have an issue attracting candidates from a minority ethnic group despite being based in an area which has a high population, I can honestly say that I’ve never had a discussion about “this vacancy seems to be attracting a large number of transgender candidates – I wonder why that is?” or “We’re not getting many Sikh applicants, do you think we’ve got a problem?”

Now that could be that as a profession we’re just not as aware of discrimination when it doesn’t involve race or sex. But it could also point to the fact that we are operating simply as data collectors in order to tick a box (and indeed in the traditional risk-averse HR way, storing the information purely as insurance against a discrimination claim: “Us – discriminatory? We’ve had 17 lesbians apply in the last 6 months”)

But my main sense of unease is the intrusive nature of the questions. We talk a lot about candidate experience and trust in employment relationships. Yet for many individuals, one of their first contacts with a potential employer is to be asked a lot of extremely personal questions – and then to believe that someone they have never met will keep their stated promise that “this information doesn’t form part of the selection process”.

Of course, without the information, organisations won’t necessarily know if we do have a problem in recruitment. But is there a better way to do it? One that better balances the company’s requirements without the need to pry into personal information that we admit is of no relevance to the role we’re recruiting for. I don’t have an answer – do you?

Outgoing Personality Seeks Similar

I’ve blogged before about how businesses should view recruitment as an investment decision, and spend the time ensuring – as much as they can – that they appoint the best candidate.

Interviews, as has been commonly recognised, are a pretty poor way of predicting future job performance, but are still an essential part of the recruitment process since (despite social media) we need to be sure that we can build a relationship on a personal level.

Larger businesses often use personality tests or inventories as part of their recruitment and increasingly these are targeted at smaller businesses too. But when, how and – in a market filled with initials like DISC, MBTI, 16PFand OPQ – which should you choose?

Personality questionnaires (they aren’t really tests, since there is no right/wrong or pass/fail) should give you an insight into aspects of an individual’s personality, which should give you an indication of how they will respond in a particular situation. This can be important in assessing how a prospective employee may “fit” in a particular environment or with colleagues. They aren’t infallible, nor are they a substitute for interviews or other selection methods. But used properly, they can be a very good way of gaining more information about a candidate.

So which one should you use? Here are some pointers to help you decide:

  • How many questions does it use to determine results? Fewer than 100 (yes, 100 – one well known one uses 256) and you are substantially increasing the risk of unreliability or a candidate manipulating their profile. The DISC based profile tools seem to be particularly prone to this (I’ve seen one version that only used 25 questions)
  • What psychological theory does it use? This might sound a bit arcane, but some tests are based on personality models which are now seen as outdated and/or incorrect. The well-known and often used Myers-Briggs or MBTI questionnaires have recently received a lot of criticism about this
  • Does it contain a “lie” scale within the tests? This is a set of questions within the test designed to find out if a candidate is trying to ‘fake’ their profile to give what they think you want (psychologists and test designers refer to this as the “social desirability” scale).
  • How much does it cost? You get what you pay for. Proper tests, which have been statistically validated and revalidated, are expensive. A free “personality profile” downloaded from the internet will be worth exactly what you paid for it.

Having read this you may decide that it all sounds too much hassle to be bothered with. But personality questionnaires are just like any other aspect of recruitment (or indeed business as a whole) – if you want good results, do it properly.

One Bad Apple

Originally posted May 2014

I’m currently the approved HR adviser for Knowsley Council’s Business Growth scheme, and recently that’s involved me working with a couple of entrepreneurs who are considering taking on their first members of staff.

What’s struck me on meeting them are 3 things

  • They want to be “good” employers – do things legally correctly and behave fairly to their staff
  • They have a perception that employment law is designed to stop them doing things
  • This perception is often based on the fact that they’ve  heard stories of other small businesses that have had problems with an employee and which ended “badly” for the employer (“He was doing X, Y and Z, they couldn’t get rid of him and when they did he took them to a tribunal which cost them ££”)

If you employ 5 or 6 people then having 1 problematic member of staff can be a major management headache – especially if that individual starts quoting apparent “rights” at you.  While it’s often quoted that you should base your management approach on the 95% of staff who work well rather than the 5% who are a problem, it can be difficult to remember this when your time is being taken up by one troublesome person.

So here are some tips to tackle these situations

  • Don’t let things fester – tackle a problem when it first appears. The longer you allow unacceptable behaviour to continue, the more the individual will assume it is ok. This applies whether it’s performance, attitude, time-keeping or any other work area
  • If someone quotes “rights” at you – check it out before responding. Unless they are employment experts, the chances are that they are no more knowledgeable than you, and are twisting something to their own advantage.  Remember that many employment rights are the right to request something without being disadvantaged (e.g. flexible working), not an absolute right in themselves.
  • The law does allow you to dismiss someone provided you have a fair reason (which covers 5 very broad categories) and have followed a fair process (which essentially means giving the individual the chance to give their side of the story before making your decision).

And if you do part company, analyse why things went wrong

  • Did you recruit the person because they were a “friend” of an existing employee, or because you needed someone quickly and the individual “looked ok”. Recruitment shortcuts are one of the commonest causes of problematic employees
  • Did you spend time with them when they started work, ensuring they knew what was expected of them and they understood how your business operated. The time you’d spend doing this will be significantly less than the time you’ll spend managing them when things go wrong

Successful entrepreneurs have things go wrong and learn from their failure. But when it comes to employment too many use one failure as an excuse for not trying again. Remember that one bad apple shouldn’t – and doesn’t have to – impact on the long term success of your business. (As those 70s business gurus The Osmonds put it here)



The £15000 question

Originally posted October 2013

Here’s an interesting fact for those running a small business. The current adult minimum wage (£6.31ph) equates to an annual salary of roughly £13125 for a full time employee. When employment “on-costs” are added (National Insurance, Employers Liability Insurance etc.) this takes the figure closer to £15000.

Is there anything else you spend £15000 on in your business?

Whether the answer is yes or no, spending that level of money would normally be classed as a significant capital investment. You would spend time deciding exactly what was needed, compare the market for the best deal, and maybe seek specialist advice. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a return immediately, though you would over the longer term; and you’d spend time and money ensuring your piece of equipment was well maintained. What you almost certainly wouldn’t do is throw it away after 6 months and go and buy another at the same price.

Yet when it comes to staff, too many small organisations do the opposite. They recruit quickly, based on “gut feel”; expect the new employee to hit the ground running and produce the goods from day one; don’t bother with looking after the person (which can be as simple as giving constructive performance feedback); and if the person doesn’t seem to be working out they’ll terminate during the probationary period and go out and recruit someone else.

Is frittering away £15000 good business sense? Is it likely to lead to long term success for your business? And is a reputation for “hiring and firing” going to make you attractive to customers and clients, let alone potential recruits?

So stop thinking of employees as a cost. Start treating them as an investment decision, and you’ll suddenly find that hard headed business decisions and “touchy-feely” people stuff go hand in hand for business success. And if you think you need help doing this, why not check out our services page and get in touch?