Introduction: how to recruit staff
For any organisation staff are the key asset. When recruiting new staff it is therefore vitally important that the newly selected person matches the requirements of the organisation. A wrong decision can lead to unnecessary cost, lost opportunity, increased staff turnover and low morale for the new recruit and their close colleagues within the organisation.
For the employer, recruitment is a process. When carried out effectively a new recruit will be selected for their competencies and fit within the organisation culture. The recruitment process is therefore about assessing both competence and personality. Recruitment is a process for the would-be employee too. When carried out effectively from the employee’s perspective, he or she will match their expectations with offer and, like the employer, will be testing fit within the firm’s employment ecosystem.
Successful recruitment is therefore about getting the recruitment process right. Get the process right and you are most of the way there to getting the right person on board. This paper explores every aspect of the recruitment process mapping out a route to achieving the end goal of a perfect employee/employer match, doing this as quickly as possible and with minimum cost.
In playing the game firms have legal obligations, primarily to play fair. For their part would-be employees have moral obligations. The legal responsibilities of the employer are dealt with at the appropriate points in this recruitment journey. These legal issues will be denoted by bullet points.
Firms must be clear why they want an employee to fill a particular role at a particular time. Many recruitment exercises fail because insufficient thought and analysis is undertaken. Before launching into a recruitment drive there are several steps which should be taken to answer this question. These are discussed below.
The Business Case
The recruitment must be justified.
Normally justification is done by proving that the business is better off for having the role than not. This might be termed ‘proving the business case’: proving that economically, in terms of returns to investors or achievement of strategic goals, the role must be recruited to.
The approach to replacing a leaver is different from recruiting to a new role.
When an employee leaves the natural reaction is to immediately start the recruitment process by replacing ‘like for like’. This may not be the best course of action. When someone hands in their notice it is a time to take stock and review the situation.
There are several questions that should be asked at this point:
- Is the role needed?
- Can the tasks be incorporated into another role?
- Can technologies be used more efficiently (thus avoiding the need for the role)?
- Is this an appropriate time to redefine the role?
- Is there an opportunity to restructure?
- Can the role be covered part-time?
- Could job-share be an option?
- What impact will not recruiting have on the organisation?
In business plan terms, it is a time to ask if there can be cost savings or efficiency gains by taking another course of action. Such changes could yield increased profits, objectives achieved for less expenditure or other benefit.
When new roles are envisaged it is normally because the firm is responding to market or stakeholder desires. The firm wants to expand in some way. This is more difficult to justify and must be underpinned by business modelling that suggests that if another head is recruited, greater returns will follow.
A ‘job’ consists of all the tasks that need to be completed by an employee to meet a specific purpose. The content of the job stays the same irrespective of who carries out the role. According to Davis job design “means specification of the contents, methods, and relationships of jobs in order to satisfy technological and organisational requirements as well as the social and personal requirements of the job-holder”.
This means job design is the science of dividing the firm into a plethora of discrete tasks and then grouping tasks together to create jobs. It also means that jobs must be designed together since jobs interact. The tasks can be assembled in various ways to meet the end objective and this emphasises the need to take stock (of the way the tasks are aggregated) whenever someone is to be replaced.
In the early 1900’s Taylor did time and motion studies to work out how to get the most output from workers. The result was the theory of scientific management where one worker did one task. The worker was bored silly but high efficiency resulted. Today we tend to group many tasks together to yield job satisfaction for the employee – all part of the matching of employer and employee needs.
Planning to Recruit
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Recruitment is a process. The process must be planned. There are activities to be completed and documents to be produced.
- The law requires employers to behave fairly and not discriminate. Proof of fairness requires records to be kept. Plan your recruitment documents and plan to retain them for several years.
These documents and the plans needed are discussed further below.
The amalgamation of tasks into jobs and the relationships between jobs is termed Job Analysis. This maps information about job content to the jobs market providing data which can then be used as a basis for job descriptions, job evaluation, training, performance management and recruitment. It asks ‘given my task groupings, what competencies and personality of person can I ask for?’
Data collection includes research on similar roles in other organisations, especially competitors. When replacing leavers, discussions with those undertaking the same or similar roles are also vital at this stage since they know what’s needed.
This knowledge is used to develop the Job Description.
This document is important for current employees and for potential employees. Candidates will refer to this document to examine what they will be expected to achieve in the role, what responsibilities they will have, who they will interact with and where they will be expected to work.
Job description formats vary between organisations, but some standards sections are discussed below.
Job Title – all job titles within the firm should be consistent. Terms like ‘manager’ and ‘supervisor’ should be applied consistently across all departments. Consideration must also be given to the organisational structure when developing job titles. Finally, consider how the job title will be perceived by your clients, especially where the roles are customer facing.
Reporting To – this gives the job title of the person to whom the job holder is directly responsible. Modern firms often practice matrix management and this should be specified here.
Responsible For – where the job holder has direct responsibility for staff list all job titles. If these staff also have direct reports this would be documented in their job descriptions.
Job Purpose – this is one or two sentences which clearly explain why the role exists.
Job Scope – the metrics that add size to the role such as budget responsibility, sales targets, travel expectations and the like.
Principal Accountabilities – normally no more than eight key areas of responsibility. The statements should be phrased thus: do something, to something, to achieve a result.
Knowledge/Skills/Experience – this section lists the key competencies required to carry out the role.
Keep the Job Description to a single side of A4 if at all possible. When writing it include anything that adds value, omit anything that is just descriptive. Since they are interdependent, all Job Descriptions should be evolved together.
The Person Specification is the mapping of the Job Description against the jobs market (the pool of prospective candidates). This forms the second part of your marketing collateral. If prepared correctly it can help to cut down the number of applicants applying since it specifies the skills, knowledge and aptitudes essential and desirable in order to undertake the role to the standard required.
It guides a prospective candidate on the criteria that are important to the organisation. It tells them what criteria will be used when short-listing and hence helps them target their CV. It also helps them prepare for questions likely to be asked at interview. Considering obligations of fairness, if it isn’t on the Person Specification it shouldn’t be used as a basis for short listing, interviewing and selection.
There are several areas that should be covered and these can be grouped into ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’. Do take care to mark attributes as essential only when they are really essential. You will exclude viable candidates if you over specify the requirements. Common attributes are the following:
Competencies (knowledge and skills)
Personal traits (team working, physical requirements etc.)
- The attributes laid down in the Person Specification must be directly relevant to the job. Demands must not be added to unfairly filter out specific candidates or candidate groups.
- Where criteria such as driving licence is used ensure that it is absolutely necessary. This will need to be supported with evidence if challenged.
- It is very easy to fall foul of several laws and best practice when creating a person specification – take care.
Inevitably, where direct methods of recruitment are used there will be applicants who apply despite the fact they don’t match the requirements. In this case a well written Person Specification can help you quickly eliminate applicants who don’t match.
There are basically four main routes to finding potential employees: from the existing employee pool, through open advertisements, through recruitment consultants or by headhunting. It is essential that the employer researches each source and selects the one best for the Person Specification and Job Description. A common difficulty in recruitment is using an inappropriate source.
It’s good practice to always advertise job vacancies internally. It encourages staff to want to develop themselves and shows willing on the part of the employer to promote.
Advertisements are a good way of attracting shop-floor and unskilled or semi-skilled workers. It can be less relevant for skilled and professional staff because many adverts have to be placed to get the required coverage. Vacancies can be also advertised on newspaper and other jobs boards on the Internet.
Recruitment ‘consultants’ are agents who purchase rights to scour the Internet jobs boards. They take the Job Description and Person Specification and hunt the jobs boards for candidates who match. Mostly they are paid if and when a candidate they propose is hired. This source is becoming the norm for most middle-grade jobs.
Finally, headhunting is the pro-active hunting for candidates by head-hunters. This is particularly relevant as a method when there are few candidates in the market or where one of the best sources is competitor firms. The head-hunter finds contact details and makes approaches directly to candidates.
Budgeting and Costing
Recruitment costs money and effort. If recruiting from the existing staff pool, the successful candidate has to be replaced. Advertising costs around 10% of the first year’s salary but it can cost significant management time. Recruitment consultants work on a no-win, no-fee basis and charge between 15% and 30% of the first year’s salary. And finally, headhunting can cost up to 50% of first year’s salary. Headhunting is generally done for a fixed price for the role but payment is due even if unsuccessful.
It is important for the employer to consider carefully which route to take considering both apparent and hidden costs such as management time and cost of failure.
Opportunity Cost and Costing Failure
It’s been noted in the section on justifying the role that the benefit of the recruitment could be calculated. This benefit becomes a cost to the firm for every day the role remains unfilled. Failure to recruit therefore has an opportunity cost. It’s in the firm’s interests to fill the role as quickly as possible.
Typical timescales from launch of the recruitment campaign to offer can be around one to two months for a manual or semi-skilled job to 12 months for a professional or specialist role.
Pay and Benefits
There’s nothing set in salary setting. There are some guidelines, some principles and some mistakes to avoid.
Pay and Benefits Strategy
Employees trade their labour for pay. The labour market is governed by the law of demand and there is a pay at which would-be employees will supply. The point of equilibrium of supply and demand is the market rate for the job. High calibre candidates can supply at a higher pay than lesser candidates so whilst there is a rate for the job, there is also a variance depending on knowledge and skill.
Pay and benefits are a strategic decision. Since staff competencies vary, the firm needs to decide whether it will pay at the top end of the market rate and expect high calibre individuals, in the middle or at the bottom. It is helpful if this strategy is decided and applied universally across the firm.
Market rate for the job, and variance can be arrived at by survey of the salaries in the market – a form of benchmarking with other roles in similar industries. It is also important to know what benefits are important in attracting viable candidates (e.g. holiday allocation; bonus; medical cover; training fund; uniform allowance; car). Again these can be found by benchmarking.
- Pay must conform to the national minimum wage, or national living wage prevailing at the time of recruitment.
- If there is no salary structure in a firm, paying less to someone new (compared to others in the same role) may contravene equality and discrimination legislation.
The Games People Play With Pay
Pay and benefits are negotiated. The firm decides what it will offer as an opening bid. Its offer is normally determined by balancing the offer with the market pay rate and the rates paid for similar responsibilities in other roles in the firm. The candidate is likely to accept, reject outright or say that the offer is too low and wait for the firm to improve the offer. The whole thing is just an extension of the game.
Firms need to think through their strategy and how they will handle rejection. It may be better to pay a little more to avoid further opportunity cost but paying more may upset existing structures and cause an increase in overall salary bill as all similar staff get a raise to recover the balance.
It’s a game. Both parties want to win but in reality both are likely to think that they gave away too much. The aim has to be that both feel happy that they have a deal and both feel slightly aggrieved that they did not get more for less. This balanced deal is a good outcome.
To inform the game, the firm is likely to signal to the candidates, through advert or consultant/head-hunter, the rate for the job. Likewise the candidates will inform the employer when responding to questions about their current salary and expected future salary. Do expect some creativity in the responses!
The Recruitment Lifecycle
There is no prescriptive method for how to proceed to search and select since every organisation is different and every labour market is different. What is important is that the search and selection is done in a fashion that fits the needs of hiring manager and candidates.
There are five identifiable elements in the recruitment lifecycle shown below. Each has processes and documents vital to success.
The first action (A1) in the diagram above is to undertake a job analysis. By understanding why the incumbent is leaving and going through the justification it will become clear exactly what the requirements are. The relevant documents can then be developed. As well as the Job Description and Person Specification a contract of employment and decisions on the pay and conditions will be needed.
The next step (A2) is to decide what method is most appropriate to achieve the best candidates for the role and get on and market the role to potential applicants. The documents at this stage include a plan for the recruitment and contracts with providers.
Selecting candidates (A3) is the most difficult aspect of any recruitment process and the most demanding of management time. Many vacancies attract over 100 applications and some will be relevant and some not. You may be tempted to open a bottle of wine, drink it and then throw the applications up in the air and select several at random for the next stage!! Whilst tempting, it is not a method that provides evidence of fair play and is unlikely to select the best future employee.
It is now that the previous hard work in developing the Job Description and Person Specification becomes effective for a second time. A targeted person specification allows unsuitable candidates to be discounted based on fair selection criteria. A matrix developed for the purpose will assist in the reduction of applicants to a suitable number for interview. The chosen interview and assessment process is then implemented for all down-selected candidates. Aim to have no more than eight candidates to take through to the selection stage.
There is no set process but an established norm is two interviews with a third round for one or two final candidates. The third meeting is one where the preferred candidate is given the opportunity to meet key staff in the organisation with whom they will interact. The actual process is discussed further below. Suffice to say that a decision made on a single interview alone is not recommended.
Having given the preferred candidate several chances to meet with members of the organisation, both parties will be able to make a decision based on a huge amount of data. The offer will be made (A4) and negotiated into place. References and medical data will be sought and the offer confirmed on receipt of satisfactory responses to enquiries.
Once the offer has been accepted there will be a gap between the person handing in their notice and their joining the firm (A5). It is vitally important that you maintain a link with the person during this stage. Notice periods range from 1 week to 3 months, however candidates may have to give six months and even twelve months for the most senior roles. Where the notice period is more than one month ensure regular contact and send the person company literature. Keep them informed of events that will impact on them once they join. You may have a signed contract but as many as 20% of hires never join their hiring company. It’s not over until they are at their desk working for you – and even then they can leave as fast as they came if conditions are not right.
There are many ways that the role can be advertised. It is important to work out what is going to work best. This section discusses some of the most popular methods.
Many organisations, as a matter of courtesy, advertise internally. There is no hard and fast rule about this – unless it is written into the recruitment policy. Legally there is no requirement but take care. The firm has an obligation to be fair and non-discriminatory to existing staff.
Newspapers and magazines will reach different target groups. National press adverts are costly but reach candidates nationally. Local papers will target a smaller area and are less expensive. As noted earlier, newspapers have parallel Internet jobs boards and often an advert secures a place on the job board too.
Recruitment Consultant or Agency
Agencies and recruitment consultants find their candidates in two ways. Some candidates will go into high street offices and register or register online. These candidates are interviewed in person by the agency and in many cases also tested for IT skills. The second method is to advertise on the web. Interested candidates will then send their CV’s to the agency. A telephone ‘interview’ may then take place where the agency is interested in the candidate and feel that the candidate can be successfully placed hence earning fees for the agency.
Whilst it may seem that the agency will pre-screen candidates, their motivation is to get applicants in front of hiring managers and it’s not in their interest to screen folk out. Hiring managers should not expect to have agent’s efforts replace their own or those of a consultant working directly for them.
Recruitment agencies normally specialise in particular industries and it is therefore important to address an agent’s specialism when selecting who to use.
Head-hunters are specialists in searching public and not-so-public sources. They keep databases of people in the news and now with Facebook and LinkedIn (two social media sites) their job is made easier. They work by getting a lead about someone who might be a viable candidate. They call the potential candidate who says no. They ask about any colleagues or acquaintances and so several more leads are generated and so the process goes on until a hit is realised and a candidate sends them a CV.
It’s time consuming work and hence it costs serious money for employers.
Head-hunters are usually specialists in particular industries and are often senior managers from that industry who find that they have an aptitude for this type of detective work and for extensive networking.
monsterThis form of recruitment requires registration with a web-based provider. It provides access to a database of candidates who have uploaded CV’s to that particular website. It also provides a platform for advertising the role over the Internet. This will then be available to anyone searching for key words you have used as meta-data describing the role.
This service works in a similar way to recruitment agencies; it does not however cost the employer if a candidate is selected using this method. Candidates are sourced from those registered. An advert is normally available to candidates within two hours. It is also possible to organise a trial period for the candidate before confirming the appointment.
In the same way as the job is described by its job description and person specification, candidates are described by their curriculum vitae (CV). The CV is a free-form document and some hiring managers find the various structures and document sizes annoying when recruiting. Some even demand that the candidate abandon the free-form and fill in a straight-jacket application form. The CV is a piece of creative work and its style should be considered part of the richness of the candidate’s competencies.
Whilst describing the CV as ‘free-form’, there are norms describing its structure and content and hence most CVs will appear somewhat the same.
Gap Analysis: Job Profile to Candidate CV
The number of applications received will depend upon the role being recruited and there can be two extremes. Firstly, the role is so specialised that there are very few candidates. Secondly, there are many people with skills that may be relevant. In this latter case a few hundred applications is not uncommon.
The hiring manager’s task is to develop a best fit between the firm and candidate documents; a form of gap analysis with the least gap winning a place at an interview. There are many techniques. A matrix in Excel is the most obvious with CV’s scanned to extract key words that evidence a fit. The CVs with the highest fit are interviewed.
Fast Methods of Screening
Where hundreds of CV have been received it is important to have an efficient means of selecting the candidates who may be suitable for interview if many hours are to be avoided. A useful fast method is to develop 10 key words. Then scan the CVs with a highlighter or electronically. Reject any that don’t hit at least eight keywords. You will then have two piles – those that match and those that don’t.
The keywords concept can be expanded to key phrases again taken from the Job Description and Person Specification. A second screening can then be undertaken again matching the key phrases. Those hitting most key phrases and at least 80% of key words get an interview. Logging hits on a matrix gathers evidence of your thought process. Such gap analysis procedures will reduce the applications to a sensible number for interview.
- The selection criteria should be applied equally to all applicants irrespective of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, nationality, disability, religion, belief or trade union membership. Failure to do so may be discriminatory.
- It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the candidate can legally work in the UK.
The Person Specification and the Job Description will determine the interview process, answering the question ‘how do we recruit the person described here?’ These two documents also set the theme and content of the various interviews and other selection tools answering the question ‘what tools and questions will help us see the best person for the job?’
How Much Selection Is Enough?
There really is no answer to this. Candidates would want enough exposure to the firm to be able to tell if they will be able to flourish there. Hiring managers will want to be able to test enough of the key attributes to satisfy themselves the selected person will adequately contribute and fulfil objectives.
The following is a very broad guide.
Don’t select on the basis of a single interview. Neither party has spent enough time in one another’s company to make informed decisions. Use the first interview to select a small number of viable candidates.
Use a single second selection vehicle – an interview, a test or assessment centre – as the primary decision mechanism. Don’t be frightened to make this as long as is needed – a whole day if that is what it will take.
Use a third ‘interview’ to let a favoured candidate meet others in the firm and sense the culture. Don’t hide it from him or her. It will only end in tears if the appointee is precluded from understanding all.
Where a hiring manager has HR support it’s useful for HR to complete the initial screening, presenting a small number of viable candidates for joint interview. There are several interview models which can be used. The following gives a high level programme lasting perhaps 60 minutes per candidate.
- Greet the interviewee.
- Introduce all those involved in the interview.
- Outline the structure of the interview.
- Describe in details the company and the job.
- Ask some basic questions to put the candidate at their ease.
- Ask the questions which will determine the candidates suitability for the role.
- Allow the candidate to ask questions and give them extensive answers.
- Explain next steps and when decisions will be made.
- Thank interviewee for their attendance and escort out.
Try to see all candidates within a few days so that comparisons can be made while memories are fresh. Make a template form for taking notes. Spend time describing the role and the firm. Remember both parties have a lot to sell to one another. Remember that all rejected candidates may be customers tomorrow – treat them well.
There are a wide variety of questions that may be appropriate when interviewing. Here is a selection:
- what do you know about this organisation (tests interest and ability to research)?
- why did you leave your current/last position (probes dismissals and irregularities)?
- why did you apply for this position (tests interest)?
- what are your strengths/weaknesses (tests honesty and ability to understand self)?
- what skills do you have to do this job (tests the ability to sell self)?
Ensure that the majority of the questions asked start with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’ and ‘how’. These types of questions require the candidate to share information, allowing you to determine their suitability.
Above all don’t ask closed questions that will inevitably solicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
- Take care not to ask questions which could be considered as discriminatory. The same basic questions must be asked of all candidates.
The interview style will vary dependent upon hiring manager preference. Typical scenarios are discussed here.
Informal – normally a one-to-one meeting where the room is arranged so that the interviewee and interviewer are sitting at right angles to each other. By not sitting on the opposite side of table this barrier to communication is removed. The candidate will be more at ease and the information shared is likely to be less guarded. This method allows for two interviews to be conducted (normally a people or HR specialist, then the line manager). By holding two separate interviews a much clearer picture of the candidate can be crafted without the two interviewers inadvertently sending positive or negative signals to each other.
Formal – two interviewers meet with the candidate and interview at the same time. This is a more formal scenario since it normally involves sitting around a table. To try to make the meeting more informal a round table could be used, or one member the interviewing team (normally the HR specialist) would sit at right angles to the candidate with the line manger opposite.
Panel – this format is normally used by large government organisations. The interview panel can range from three to six people. The candidate is seated on one side of a very large table with the panel round the other three sides. Alternatively a chair is placed in the middle of the floor and the panel sit at a distance behind a desk. This method is not recommended as the candidate is not at ease and will be more guarded in their responses. It is an adversarial approach.
Assessment Centres – an ideal way of combining interviews with tests. Candidates are invited for a number of hours and a programme is arranged whereby interviews are held much like above, interspersed with tests, presentations (from firm and candidate) and psychometric tests administered. Often all down-selected candidates attend together.
It is important to understand if the potential employee has the relevant skills and knowledge to undertake the role effectively. This may mean testing their practical skills e.g. word processing, manual handling, presenting, report writing. It is normal to advise the candidate in advance that some testing will take place, but the actual content need not be disclosed thereby testing the ability to react to changing circumstance and customer demands.
- Any testing must be directly relevant to the role. It must also be non-discriminatory. The simplest way to do this is to work to a common document set – the Job Description and Person Specification.
If testing is not relevant, competency based questions can be used to determine how the candidate measures up to the behaviours, skills and knowledge required for the role. This is a powerful interview tool, but takes time to prepare. It is also important that interviewers are trained in this technique. Typically it might use questions framed to explore how the candidate might respond in various scenarios.
Testing Personality and Traits
There are a wide variety of tests that can be used to assess personality, behaviour preference and intelligence. Such tests should not be used as a stand-alone means of decision making. When using tests it is important that the person conducting the tests has the skills and knowledge to implement and interpret them effectively.
Testing the Non-testable
We might imagine that with all the interviewing and testing going on, both candidate and employer have enough information on which to base a decision. That may be so but one never really knows what a person is like until you work with them for a period. Likewise an employee never really knows what a firm is like until maybe up to six months after his or her start in the job.
Despite the analysis, there is still an element of ‘gut-feel’. If something does not feel right (on either side) then don’t select that person. Don’t select that firm. You’ll learn later why you felt that way – when it is too late.
Making Recruitment Decisions
The selection decision should be made as soon after the interviews as possible – don’t take longer than a week or the prime candidate will get a feeling you can’t make decisions. Whatever method is used to assess suitability there should be an objective method of ranking the candidates and this should be retained as part of the campaign documents as evidence of fairness.
All those involved in the interview process from receptionist to hiring manager will have valuable insights. Use them all.
- Under Data Protection Act provisions, candidates are allowed to ask to see the any notes, relevant to them, which form part of the selection process. Interview notes should only include relevant facts and information that can be substantiated.
Body Language and Non-verbal Communication
Body language, the candidate’s gestures and expressions, can provide as much information as their spoken answers.
It is not easy to maintain eye contact with someone when there is no close relationship. However when the candidate answers the question you should expect to see them looking at you. If they are looking around the room, or past you, or at the floor, this implies a lack of confidence, lack of interest or some other irregularity.
Many candidates will actively try to sit with their hands by their side or slightly under their legs to stop them fiddling. This is a normal response for someone who wishes to curb nerves. Defensive action is something different. An interview can be seen as a hostile situation and when candidates are uncomfortable with the questions they may display defensive behaviour.
When someone folds their arms they are forming a barrier, they feel safer. Research shows that when people sit with their arms and legs folded they have a 30% lower retention span than when relaxed. The aim of the interview process is to find out as much as possible to check the fit to culture. The aim must therefore be to ensure the candidate is as relaxed as possible.
Make a note of body language and mannerisms and discuss them between the interviewers to try to make sense of them but be understanding and forgiving of minor issues.
Making the Final Decision
Fundamentally you have to make a decision. Make objective observations. Ask questions and make objective assessments about answers. Discuss the candidates’ performance. Then sleep on it to give your sub-conscious brain time to reflect on each candidate.
Always make decisions in committee with all the people party to the selection. No one person has the whole picture. Share insights. Then decide but do remember that the line manager and the hiring manager have to work directly with the employee so they must not be unhappy about the selection made.
Making the Offer
Send letters declining candidates that you are sure you don’t want. Be polite. Remember that they could be customers tomorrow or they could be hired to a position responsible for letting a large contract that you are bidding for. It would be a shame to lose out later for the sake a little effort now.
An offer normally comprises a letter of offer, a terms and conditions of employment (the contract) and supporting documents such as an employment handbook. The employee should sign a copy of the letter, sign a copy of the contract and sign to acknowledge receipt of the employment handbook.
Negotiating the Offer
There are several ways to do this but by far the best is by telephone when tone of voice and other clues about how the successful candidate feels can be gauged.
- When negotiating on the package be careful not to cause issues with current staff. It is easy to agree something that breaches equal pay and sex discrimination legislation.
- Once an offer is made this forms the basis of the contract of employment. If the offer is subject to any conditions these should be specified in the offer letter. Remember that a contract can be verbal. Offer only that which you will back up with paperwork and only that which is true.
Be ready to negotiate the offer. There is always some scope, however small, to make improvements to secure the deal.
References and Other Checks
Always make offers subject to the following checks.
Two satisfactory references. One must be a line manager from a previous employer. Never appoint without satisfactory references. A reference is best done by telephoning the referee proposed by the candidate. Take full notes during this call. Their tone of voice and other clues can be sensed to confirm the information given. Don’t accept testimonials – ‘to whom it may concern’ letters of glowing praise offered by the candidate.
Sight of the person’s passport and other documentation showing that they have the right to work in the UK. You are responsible for this check and can be fined if it subsequently proves that no such right exists.
Sight of the original certificates supporting the candidate’s claimed qualifications. If there is any doubt, call the issuing authority to check – people do forge certificates and enquiry may show exams not taken or the like.
Completion of a self certification that warrants that the candidate is medically fit to undertake the job.
- Take care here. Various legislation exists to prevent disabled people from being discriminated against. You can only ask that the person can meet the needs of the Job Description and Person Specification and these must not themselves be discriminatory.
- Take care also where candidates have criminal records. Again legislation exists to facilitate rehabilitation of offenders back into society. You may only consider criminal records if they materially affect the ability to do the job.
For senior specialist and sales roles ask about the person’s current contract of employment in case there is a ‘no-compete’ clause there that constrains the person’s activities in any way. Note that such clauses are practically unenforceable but you need to know about them anyway.
- For some roles (where the job holder will come in contact with children or other vulnerable people) CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks are needed. For some jobs such as in the security industry and in defence security clearance is needed. These are special cases but no offer must be confirmed until all enquiries are complete.
Finally do some inquiry yourself. The Internet is a powerful resource – but do make sure you get the right John Peters before you jump to conclusions.
One valuable role of the recruitment agent is that of go-between. Candidates will level with an independent third party and say things that they will not say directly to the hiring firm for fear of jeopardising opportunity.
Use such go-betweens to negotiate.
Getting Offer Acceptance
Once the verbal offer is made by telephone you can solicit an acceptance ‘in principal’ but don’t be surprised if the person says “yes, but subject to seeing the written offer”. They then have time to study it.
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It is normal for people to want to think about the offer and instant acceptance does not indicate rejection. Most people want to discuss it with friends and family before deciding.
Above all don’t worry at this stage. If you have followed a good process and done everything right, you will get acceptance.
Beyond the Offer
There’s a saying – “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings”’. It isn’t over until the person is sitting at his or her desk, driving his or her van or knocking holes in walls on the firm’s behalf. A fair proportion of appointees never join the hiring firm. They keep looking and get a better offer. Or they elect to stay where they are particularly if they get a counter offer from their current employer.
Consider that securing the services of a new member of staff is like playing a fish. You have it on the line but you need to land it. You need to continue to work the relationship to make sure your recruitment efforts are fruitful.
Once someone is in-post, manage them to make sure they are truly effective. Make sure there is a probationary period allowed for in the contract during which either party may walk away with minimal notice. And then manage the new hire properly so that you never need it.
 Davis, L (1967) Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 9, No. 2, 119-139
 Taylor, F.D (1911) The Principles of Scientific Management (Republished in 2008 by Forgotten Books, www.forgottenbooks.org)
 This is in line with ACAS guidelines
 Pease, A (1981) Body Language, How to read others’ thoughts by their gestures, Sheldon Press, London