Many organisations ramp up their recruitment plans after the summer holidays. These efforts usually spike in September and October as organisations attempt to secure chosen candidates before the Christmas break, fresh for the new year – or at least to have identified them.
Recruitment, as in most organisations, is traditionally led by the human resources or people & culture department or team, which would arguably have mastered the art of getting things right over a period of time.
Why, then, do we get it wrong so often? In many cases, the answer doesn’t lie in pointing fingers at HR teams, but asking questions about whether the recruiting manager (in other words, the person who will eventually line-manage the incoming person) has taken the recruitment process as seriously as possible.
That is what I want to focus in this piece. Here are a few points that I have learnt or have observed as good practices, and which have worked.
Working in partnership
It is really important that the HR person supporting the process and the recruiting manager work in partnership, with a joint understanding about the person they are seeking to recruit, rather than leave it to the HR/P&C team to manage it all.
The key reason for this is that it is ultimately the responsibility of the recruiting manager to manage the person, which means they should have a very clear idea of the kind of person they want and whether the person specifications are clearly aligned to the job description.
Once this is clarified, it is important to be clear who will do what as part of the recruitment process.
Clarity about the process
The recruitment process must be right for the role, and the time and effort invested must be proportionate to the importance of the role.
It is really important that every person joining the organisation is aligned with its culture and values, but more thought might need to be given to roles that focus on leadership and senior management positions, or rely on a technical specialism. Similarly, if a charity is recruiting a trustee, for instance, the process will need much more engagement from some board members.
It cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. A process might normally be a combination of formal and informal panels, written tests, psychometric analysis and so on, but it is important to think through which of these are really essential for the given role, rather than have it as a standard template.
I always believe that the ultimate decision-making responsibility must lie with the recruiting manager. They should hold accountability both for getting the right people and for empowering the manager.
That said, it is important that diverse perspectives are brought in to enable and support the line manager in reaching the right decision, even if they ultimately own the decision. Give thought to how many people should be on the panel and what their roles would be.
For instance, if a role involves financial management, it would be important to get someone from the finance team on the panel, even if the role sits in another department. Broader diversity is, if anything, even more important and should reflect the organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
I would often advise the recruiting manager’s line manager to be involved in the process, even if it is only at the final stage, to support the recruiting manager in their decision.
In the case of senior roles, I have found informal panels consisting of peers and potential direct reports to be very useful, but only for providing the candidates with the information they need to prepare them for the formal panel.
Consider very carefully if there are certain roles for which you need to bring in a board member or an external panellist to help you make the right decision. They can add immense value and objectivity, which is particularly helpful if there are sensitivities involved in recruiting for specific roles.
This is one of the most important and increasingly difficult parts of the process, and one that is often undermined because employers are increasingly reluctant to provide anything more than a "factual reference".
This makes it hard for recruiting organisations to get nuanced insights about the person that are relevant for the role. Personal references can therefore be important: the recruiting manager needs to think carefully about obtaining them but also, preferably, to make the call directly to the personal referees and have a conversation, focusing on a set of key questions that are relevant for the role and on issues related to alignment of culture and values.
Information and communication
Irrespective of whether a person succeeds in the interview or not, it is really important that anyone applying for the role values the experience of the process.
Unsuccessful candidates would understandably be disappointed in not getting the role they aspire to, but they will also remember how they were treated during the process, which is important for the reputation of the organisation.
That’s why it is so important to be responsive and respectful throughout the process, and, once a decision is made, to make the effort and communicate it with sensitivity and empathy, especially in the cases of those who did not succeed.
It’s fantastic when someone comes up to you and says: "We met when you were on the panel for a role that I applied for. I was really disappointed not to get the role, but I had a very positive experience." Why wouldn’t you aim for that?
Girish Menon is chief executive of ActionAid UK