Recruitment Best Practice
11 December 2015 - Devi Clark

Worthwhile recruitment best practices

As part of the scaling programme, we invited Robbie Semple of Worthwhile, an organisation supporting graduates interested in working for charities or social businesses, to walk us through recruitment best practices.

We had a truly excellent session on recruitment from Robbie, not only did Robbie deliver relevant content in an engaging manner, but he was able to tackle all the enterprises questions effectively.

Robbie talked us through the stages of recruitment, from writing a candidate brief, defining which competencies the employee needed, through to deciding which tools to use to select (CVs and interviews were only two of a long list). We practised interviewing, discussed implicit bias and also looked at the practicalities of the job – the salary, flexibility and so on.

Do not forget to consider a cultural fit

The day started by thinking about the cultural fit for our organisation. Although we are all aware of the need to employ someone with the rights skills and abilities, culture is often neglected. But ignoring this factor can change the character of your whole team and how it functions.

It is important to be careful when defining culture so we do not to put in criteria that are discriminatory or that would feed our implicit bias. So, for example, while you can specify someone that is energetic and innovative, assuming that means they are young is not only a mistake, but also illegal.

Robbie asked us to clarify a good cultural fit by thinking about times when we really enjoyed working in a team or with a colleague. What, he asked, was it about the culture and expectations of that team that really worked for us? I certainly found the exercise very affirming, and felt sure that the values I’d identified were ones that were genuinely important to me.

Use a structured process for assessing the candidate

Next we defined the skills, competencies and experience that the role demanded. We used a RACI process to get clear about what the candidate needed to achieve.

RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. For each task within the organisation someone is responsible for getting it done, the same or another person may be accountable for its achievement (such as a civil servant who is responsible but a minister who is accountable), and then there are tasks where you are only consulted or informed of someone else’s decision.

The projects and activities that the candidate was responsible for determined the abilities that the job demanded. We defined these competencies in a lot of detail, filling in a table with details of what the candidate’s ability and experience would be if they had demonstrated this competency to the full. With that as a basis, we then filled in two more columns to define what the candidate would have demonstrated if they had only partly or hardly at all shown they had this competency.

Filling in this table takes time, but is a worthwhile exercise because it allows us as interviewers to manage our implicit bias and clearly determine whether a candidate really has what we need to do the job.

Robbie told us a story of when he and a colleague were interviewing someone who came across very well. They would have been likely to have been given the role had it not been for the competency structure which revealed that they had not actually demonstrated the abilities that were required.

After the session, Robbie sent us a link about competencies, saying “if you don’t have time to write your own competencies, this is one of the more comprehensive free competency frameworks you’ll find online”. Some will not be relevant to your own roles, but should give you outlines of some relevant ones and ammunition for others.

Use tools beyond CV’s and interviewing

The next step was to determine the instruments, or mechanisms, that employers use to select employees. The most common and well known are CVs and interviews. These are useful tools. However, there are many other options including videos, psychometric tests, e-tray exercises (how do you prioritise your inbox), role play, case studies and so on. The instrument you select should be dependent on the competencies you have defined, and how you are best able to test the candidate’s abilities.

So, for example, testing an administrator on how they prioritise their inbox is a good way to understand how they think about the tasks they have to get done. Giving an adviser a case study of a client’s situation and checking out how they would deal with it, is directly relevant to their ability to function in the job. The interviewers could, in this example, test how each candidate analysed the information, identified solutions and communicated them.

The group discussed how the interview process could make people feel uncomfortable and negatively competitive.

Robbie suggested that we could separate the need for rigor in selection from how welcoming we were to candidates. The better we communicate with candidates about what the process is going to be and why, the more they will feel that they know where they stand and that the process is fair and inclusive. For each stage of the candidate’s journey from first hearing about the role, through application and interview to the offer, he suggested we think about what communication medium we used, how the candidate might feel and what questions they might have.

Pin down the practical details

Pinning down the practical details of a role is vital. An employer needs to be clear about the job title, salary, location, contract duration, working hours and start date of the job, but can also decide to what extent they are willing to be flexible about each of these factors.

We discussed where you would advertise to attract the right sort of candidates for your job. The decision would be based on what seniority, sector or specialism you were targeting, how much of a network you had already and the money you were willing to spend on recruitment. Options included job boards, social media, using your networks, using a recruiter or asking someone you know to apply.

Eliminate implicit bias

Finally, we had a discussion about implicit bias. Research shows that no-one is completely free from subconscious biases and that these get ingrained in our automatic processes very young. Some ways to deal with them include:

  • eliminating the chance for bias (for example some university recruitment now eliminates the names of candidates from the applications because we automatically favour more familiar names)
  • becoming conscious of your bias (so you can counteract it)
  • using a system such as a competency framework to check your automatic assumptions against a clear set of criteria

Further reading

Robbie recommended Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell for those who were interested in learning more about this. Following the session he also emailed us the following links:

“For anyone with an interest in implicit bias, there is loads of reading out there. This paper from CIPD gives you the basics. And if you want to find out how unconsciously biased you are personally, Harvard have a free test here (it takes about 20 minutes).”

I highly recommend taking one of these test, for which the results can be quite an uncomfortable eye-opener.

Finally, if anyone prefers an alternative method to the competency approach outlined above, Robbie suggested this: “For people interested in personal history interviewing technique, this piece from Top Grading gives a useful overview of their approach. It’s one of the more widely used narrative techniques.”

About Robbie

Robbie Semple is the Founder and Executive Director of Worthwhile; an organisation dedicated to helping early stage social enterprises and charities grow, with access to the best graduate talent. Worthwhile runs recruitment, training and a comprehensive outsourced graduate scheme for ambitious social impact organisations.

Robbie began his career at Rolls-Royce. He worked across the UK and North America as a Talent Specialist, Operations Manager and HR Business Partner. Robbie is an On Purpose Fellow, having worked with the Bromley by Bow Centre and Student Hubs. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. He is a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, and holds an MSc in Organisational and Social Psychology from LSE.