Deconstructing Recruitment

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Recruitment, one of the principle functions of HR, has become such a sophisticated and involved process that it is now handled mostly by specialist people who know the questions to ask and the qualifications that matter to the role. Whole businesses have proliferated, worth millions, which do nothing more than offer specialist recruitment services. The reason it is such a weighty topic is obvious – having the right people work for you will make the difference between success and failure.

There have been numerous articles written on recruiting in HR publications across Europe, and even more on the internet. Besides from some notable exceptions, few have impressed me. An overreliance on buzzwords and corporate phrasing (“Reach out and pick a dynamic candidate who’s core competency gives them an attitude of thinking outside the box, enabling them to synergise rapidly with your business ecosystem!”) might be good for grabbing the reader’s attention, but such articles do nothing to advance the readers actual knowledge of the topic. One of the problems is that a lot of these articles are simply stealthy advertisements with email addresses or clickbacks to recruitment agencies, so exist to sell the process as opposed to inform about it.

As someone has done a fair bit of recruiting, let me try to inform, or at least illustrate the enormous amount of variables involved that make recruitment such a massive task.


Recruitment is as much art as it is science, and good recruiters will work tirelessly perfecting their craft. A good recruiter needs to be able to do far more than just handle interviews well. Whether they’re pow-wowing with managers to understand the business and the role or project they are trying to fill, sifting through potential candidates CVs and trying to isolate those with the skills the company requires, or using their promotional and influencing skills to sell the role to the candidates they speak to, a recruiter needs to be skilled in multiple fields. For many roles, especially those of a specialist nature, it is definitely a candidate’s market. So a good recruiter needs to understand the market, the candidates, and the employer brand, then have the ability to bring it all that together.

The rise of the robots.

To assist the recruiter in his or her daily toil, there are an array of IT solutions. Most companies now have sourcing software or ATS (applicant tracking systems) that can do a whole host of things, from sifting via keywords, scheduling interviews, providing reams of reports to sending out multiple rejection emails all at the same time. With a click of a mouse your advert can be posted on multiple websites to cast your net as wide as possible. Whilst this cuts down on manual work we need to remember that, as with any technology, it is only as effective as its creator. Yes, you can post multiple adverts all over the net but if they are poorly written, littered with mistakes, or really don’t show off your employer brand then you are not going to attract the best people.

Champions of automation would argue that ATS reduces bias in the selection process as it takes away the human element, so theoretically will lead to more diverse workforces and less nepotism. I can see the argument for this, but ultimately the system is dependent entirely on the information entered into it. If your software is using keyword searches based on your job descriptions, the influence and potential bias has already taken place. In fact, I contend that using keyword searches can ultimately lead to a less diverse workforce, as we are trying to find the perfect fit rather than find a candidate of quality and ability. Furthermore, trying to find the perfect candidate that matches most precisely with a particular job description runs the risk of potentially missing out on so many great candidates from different industries, or with different technical expertise that might compliment the existing team. I’ve seen great candidates apply for a role and, following their interview, been offered a different role within the organisation, and this happens quite regularly. The interviewer has perceived something in them that would have potentially been discounted in an automated process.

I’ve seen great candidates apply for a role and, following their interview, been offered a different role. The interviewer has perceived something in them that would have potentially been discounted in an automated process. @EineKatzeZuViel Click To Tweet

A new and somewhat unforeseen issue with ATS in the EU is the emergence of GDPR. It is no longer legally possible to keep the records of former applicants on file any longer than necessary without their consent, and even with consent there can be a whole bunch of caveats and difficulties. A database of candidates, an electronically stored buffet of talent if you will, is now not really an option. The good news is that many ATS products are adapting to comply with new GDPR rules. The bad news is that this can increase the cost of using them.

I have found that ATS or other IT solutions to recruitment work best when you’re trying to recruit a lot of people quickly. So mass manufacturing for example, where you know you’re about to get a lot of applications in a short space of time with many of them being unqualified or unsuitable. Having a computer sift through them is far quicker and easier than having someone manually do it. They also work well in very large companies with an array of different sites such as retail or fast food chains, which have a constant turnover of staff. But, in my opinion, as the seniority of the role you need to fill increases the usefulness of IT solutions diminishes. It also should be remembered that, while they might save on recruitment time, ATS systems do come with a price tag attached.

Counting the cost.

Recruitment, even with the best recruiters, systems and recruitment processes, is often a time consuming and costly endeavour. No matter how little your company cares for data or metrics it is likely that, in some form or another, it will tally up the cost of recruitment. For many organisations the costs of recruitment are considered to be the basics of agency costs or advertising fees. More analytical companies might delve into further detail, such as predicted costing based on the estimated time to recruit, which could include a payback period on the ATS. But many organisations fail to factor in the hidden or associated costs of recruitment.

When considering the total cost of recruitment we need to also consider in the time it takes to recruit, either from when you carve out a new role in the organisation or when one of your current employees is promoted or moves to pastures new, to your new recruit joining the team. Costs can quickly start to accumulate in this period. There is the time recruiters or managers will spend sifting through CV’s, there will be first screens, technical assessments and final interviews, not to mention the time taken to provide feedback to candidates who didn’t make it. All of this will take people away from their other tasks and need to be considered when looking at the costs of recruitment.

On the other hand, a failure to recruit can also be costly. Do we have current employees juggling more than one role in an attempt to keep things going? Chances are both roles will be suffering, and those covering are potentially working excessive hours to the detriment of not only their health but also their productivity. In such circumstances hiring new staff can be even more difficult, as the very employees who will have to vet and train prospective employees will be the ones who have very little time to spare for the recruitment process. They may also be inclined to take the first person through the door if they find they have too much to do and are desperate for some relief.

Then there is the interview stage. Taking candidates, sitting them down, talking them through their work history and experience, and assessing whether they’re suitable for the job. This is actually the fun part for many of us. Interviewing potential candidates is something I’ve found a lot of HR professionals quite enjoy. Meeting colleagues is interesting, and meeting people you might get to work with even moreso. At higher grades, however, multiple interviews are usually necessary with several managers. And then you have the inevitable “wash-up” meeting to decide which candidates have made the grade and which haven’t. If you’ve interviewed 3 or 4 candidates, each of which have might have possibly spent 6 or 7 hours with your company with various senior staff, that could represent up to 30 hours worth of work from key staff.

So to try and save time (and money) and make the process as effective as possible for both the business and candidate we need to be clear from the outset what we are looking for. We have all seen job adverts and job descriptions with a variety of tasks included. We need to ask, does this really reflect what we want them to do and how we will measure their work performance? It’s vital to sit down with the hiring manager and talk about the role, identify the best people to assess technical/professional expertise from the outset, and ensure all relevant staff know in advance what the company should be searching for. This is also vital for the candidates contact with your organisation – if you don’t have these basics prepared from the very start then the whole process is going to be a mess. Not only do you risk losing the candidate but also potentially damaging the reputation of the company.

Given the difficulties, costs and potential issues connected with growing the workforce, do we have other options?

So to try and save time (and money) and make the process as effective as possible for both the business and candidate we need to be clear from the outset what we are looking for. @EineKatzeZuViel Click To Tweet

A different approach.

Sometimes it is wise to try and avoid recruitment altogether. Redeployment of staff, retraining current staff to handle a gaps in your workforce, or possibly promoting staff to these roles and hiring staff to replace them (thus reducing risk as the newly created vacancies aren’t as senior) should all be considered if you find your company has a shortage of manpower or if your people think expanding the workforce will be risky or difficult. To achieve this effectively requires a HR department that intimately know and understand the business, the people and their aspirations, and have a handle on workforce planning.

One other interesting and often effective possibility, though sometimes full of problems, are employee referral programs. One huge advantage here is that your staff know both your business and the person they’re referring, so theoretically you’ll have an employee who will already know a bit about what they’re supposed to be doing and who they’re working for, and will find their feet quickly and easily. One massive disadvantage is simple nepotism. Friends and family can make the worst co-workers, particularly when things have gone awry at work and accountability is required. In such instances people are reluctant to speak against people they’ve had a hand in recruiting, both because they want to protect their friend and don’t want to admit to the company that they made a mistake in recommending this particular person.

Professional networking presents another opportunity for recruitment. Many sites will excitedly exclaim that this is a new phenomena, whereas in reality it is a very old practice, but there is no doubt the emergence of social media has made this a widely available possibility across entire industries and across the borders of countries. There are professionals from all walks of life on LinkedIn, Twitter, or writing blogs. Social media makes finding great candidates for high-end or specialist roles much easier. Not only can you get a good indicator of their particular skills or expertise through their social media posts, articles, or blog entries, but you also know you’re getting a candidate who is interested in their work and career above and beyond it being a mere way to earn money between the hours of 9 to 5. Additionally, if you reach out into professional networks you will raise the profile of your organisation among other professionals.

We live at a time when there are a bewildering array of options to recruit. From businesses made for the task, through to software which will supposedly do the searching for you, to social media solutions like LinkedIn and Glassdoor. Paradoxically, recruitment appears to have become tougher, not easier. Perhaps, in being told so frequently we can have the “perfect candidate”, we’ve come to expect too much from recruitment and too little from training and development? Whoever you recruit, they’re going to need a period of familiarisation and on-boarding, so the aim of getting someone to start at maximum productivity is a fantasy. Even breaking even on productivity for a candidates first week would be a challenge in a lot of cases. Training is inevitable, and potential is far easier and less costly to find than perfection. When I interview recruits, whilst their technical expertise and professional experience are important, I look at their attitude to personal development, their professionalism, and their capacity to learn as the most vital attributes. If they have these, than any other flaws or weaknesses can be worked around. So maybe it’s time to rethink recruitment culture?

Perhaps, in being told so frequently we can have the perfect candidate, we've come to expect too much from recruitment and too little from training and development? @EineKatzeZuViel Click To Tweet

About the author:

Author Sarah MurrayI’m a HR professional, currently in Germany and formerly of Britain, and I’ve worked in many businesses across multiple sectors, though mostly in tech, manufacturing, construction, and engineering sectors, as well as dabbling in law. I’ve cut a swathe through a multitude of companies, leaving restructured, merged, and smoothly running and efficient departments in my wake. I’m also on a quest to put the “human” back into HR, and to build HR departments that are not just seen as a tool of the management but as a department which ensures that people have as positive a journey as possible throughout their working life. I work in Berlin, and live in Hohen Neuendorf with my family, cats, and an abundance of giant wasps.

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