Why Succession Planning Is Necessary As Part Of Your Recruitment Toolbox

Succession Planning has been around for years.  It has traditionally been something which is only done in larger organisations and if you are in a smaller business you may not think it is appropriate for you.

If this is the case, you might want to think again.  If you want your business to grow and develop in line with potential future opportunities and challenges, then you need to have succession planning in your recruitment toolbox.  Otherwise, you may miss out on a pool of talented, skilled and enthusiastic candidates for your current or future critical rules.

In my two decades as a Human Resources partner, I have seen succession planning in many different businesses.  Where it is done well, it can really ensure that a business is well-placed to take advantage of new opportunities.  It can also remove some of the worry about losing critical skills and experience.

By the end of this article, you will know why you need to include succession planning as part of your recruitment strategy.

What is succession planning?

You need to identify the roles which are critical to your business .  Then you need to plan how you would fill those roles effectively if the current job-holder were to leave the organisation.  This is not just about your managers but any role which requires specialist skills, where speedy recruitment may be difficult.

In the past succession planning was only done by larger companies.  Now, however,  it is recognised as a crucial business tool for any size of business.  Your succession planning should be part of your recruitment planning and strategy.  It is a mix of recruiting externally and developing suitable internal replacements.

For internal candidates, it is an opportunity to gain experience and training in suitable areas to enable them to fill future roles.

Part of your Recruitment or Total Talent Management Strategy

Total Talent Management helps you to consider alternatives to recruiting a direct replacement when someone leaves your employment.  It includes temporary cover, contractors, apprenticeships, work-placement, even automation.  It should also cover succession planning and looking at internal talent.

Every organisation needs a healthy mix of internal and external recruits.  Your current employees have critical business knowledge, are engaged and enthusiastic about your business.  They have skills and experience gained in your workplace.  Knowing that they feature in your succession planning  will make your staff feel valued and is a great way to retain and encourage your current employees.

On the other hand, you also need to bring in new talent, with different ideas and a different approach.  Otherwise your business will stagnate.

Identifying your key roles

The first step is for you to identify the business-critical roles for which you need potential successors.  This may mean one specific role (normally a senior manager), or it might mean a group of highly skilled specialist roles.

Some of the roles may require similar skills to other roles in the business.  If so, then you could consider developing one or more individuals who could fill more than one of those roles.  For instance, there may be a specific technical skill which is part of several different roles.  That skill may be hard to find in the recruitment market.  You could develop someone internally, including giving them some experience in using that skill.  Then you have a candidate all ready to take on any one of those roles should someone decide to leave.

What should be included in a succession planning programme?

There are a wide range of things which could be included in succession planning, depending on your individual business needs.

You may need to arrange some formal training for the identified individuals.  Alternatively,  some informal training from the current job-holder might be enough.  You need to ensure that you include some work experience so that the individual becomes adept at using their new skill in the workplace.

You may need to move people around, so that they get experience in different areas of the business.  Or you might be able to move them sideways into a new role where they can use their new skills.  Where applicable, you might even consider promotion.

It might be worth thinking about secondment.  This could be internal, if your business is large enough.  Alternatively, a smaller company might look at collaboration with another business in the same or similar industry to provide secondment opportunities for employees from both companies.

Who should be a successor?

There is no given way to decide on who is suitable for a succession planning programme.  It should be part of your discussions with your employees – whether formal review sessions, or more informal regular “chats”.

You need to identify whether people are interested in being considered as a successor for one or more roles.  The system must be transparent and all employees need to understand it fully.  This includes the effect it might have on their work life and, potentially, their home life.  For instance, they may need to work different hours.

What are the benefits of succession planning?

Succession planning is a way to include your current workforce as part of your recruitment strategy.  You may already be employing the perfect candidate for that highly skilled role.  It would be a shame to overlook them because you had not planned properly.

Your first action needs to be a review of your business-critical roles.  If the current job-holder left and it would give you a major problem, then succession planning may well need to be your next step.

Of course, succession planning can help you to fill a potentially difficult role.  But the other benefits of a bit of planning are more intangible.

You can give yourself the comfort of knowing that you have a contingency plan in place.  That should save a few sleepless nights. At the same time, your employees will feel valued and engaged.  They will go the extra mile for you, and your productivity is likely to increase.   Your business can grow at the pace you want with plans in place to cover potential future skills gaps.

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The Truth About Zero-Hours Contracts

In recent years there has been a great deal of discussion in the UK press about zero-hours contracts and how they are used to exploit workers.  It is rare to find a positive word and there have been calls for such contracts to be banned.

Yet the majority of people do not even know what a zero-hours contract is.  And many of those who actually work on such a basis are quite happy to continue.  So what is the truth and should you consider offering zero-hours contracts to your employees?

In my many years of working in Human Resources, I have seen examples of zero-hours contracts which work extremely well for all parties. I have also seen evidence of exploitation.  The devil, as they say, is in the detail.  As with all things that involve people, the key is common sense, flexibility and  good intentions.  Where those factors are brought into play, this type of employment contract can work really well.

By the end of this article you will understand what is involved in  zero-hours contracts.  You will know the advantages and disadvantages of using them and what the changing legal picture around them looks like.

What is a zero hours contract?

There is no legal definition of  a zero-hours contract.  It is just a contract between a business and a worker which outlines how the work is done. So for employees it is an employment contract, but unlike other contracts of employment it does not specify a number of hours to be worked.

Typically, such a contract is offered where work fluctuates and an employer cannot anticipate how many hours per week might be needed. So in some weeks there is a need for, say, 37 hours (a full-time week) and other weeks might only require a few hours – or even none at all.

The benefit (and sometimes disadvantage) of such an arrangement is that there is no guarantee of any paid work at all in any given week.  For the employer, the benefit is that they only have to pay for work when it is needed.  For the worker, the advantage is that they can fit work around other commitments.  This type of contract is popular with students who can work and still find time for their studies.  Some parents of young children or people with caring responsibilities like these contracts.  It means they can manage work to fit around family or other commitments.

The agreement between the two parties is that the business may ask an individual to work for them, but there is no minimum number of set contracted hours.  The contract states what the individual will be paid if they do any work.  It also covers what will happen when they turn down any work that is offered.  There is a statement about what will happen if there is a change or cancellation of the work.

What are the advantages of a zero-hours contract?

If care is taken with introducing a zero-hours contract, it can be a working arrangement which works successfully for everyone.

For those who have read any of my previous articles, you will know that my first advice is always to consult with your employees .  If you have the kind of fluctuating work which would lend itself to this type of contract, then talk to the individual(s) concerned.  You can agree what might work for them as well as for your business. Beware, though, that this type of contract is not suitable for everyone.

Some people value the flexibility which allows them to balance work with studying or with caring responsibilities or other commitments.  But there are other ways of providing such flexibility.  In addition, there are other considerations with regard to things such as mortgages and other personal financial commitments.  Where possible, you  should accommodate the hours which individuals tell you they need to be able to work.   This will lead to a happier workforce.

For some workers, this might not be the only job they have.  They use it as a way to top up their income without having to commit to a specific number of hours per week.   For others, it may be a way to gain experience in a specific type of job or industry.

Why are zero-hours contracts not suitable in some cases?

If you want to use zero-hours contracts, then you must ensure that you provide a contract which details what the payment will be for any hours that are worked.  You must also  agree and specify what will happen when work is cancelled at short notice.

Someone may have to make specific arrangements in order to be able to do the work on offer (childcare, for example).  It can be costly and difficult if the work is cancelled with little notice.  It is sensible to agree between you what is workable notice and what is not.  Where the notice you can give is shorter than the notice period agreed in the contract, then you may want to agree to pay compensation.   Whatever you do agree with an individual, this must then be spelled out in a written contract.  That will avoid any conflict at a later date and will  help to give the worker some confidence in the arrangement.

For some people, the variability of the work and thus the earnings can cause financial hardship and contribute to stress and anxiety.  Where people have financial commitments, mortgages, loans, etc, they need to have a regular income and zero-hours contracts cannot supply that.  They may also need to show regular hours in order to be able to access such financial arrangements.  You should discuss these things with individuals prior to agreeing a zero-hours contract.  That will help to ensure that they have taken these factors into consideration.  A failure to do this can contribute to mental health issues, such as stress, depression or anxiety.

Things to consider when implementing a zero-hours contract arrangement

There are some things which any good employer will consider before implementing such a contract:

  • Think about the nature of the work you have on offer and how it fluctuates. Will this be a short-term issue, or do you need a longer solution?  Does the type of work lend itself to being carried out on this type of contract? Does the work have to be done by a specific deadline?  Are there other types of flexible working arrangements or employment practices which might suit this type of work?
  • Consult with the individual(s) who will be impacted. Does this type of arrangement work for them?  Have they thought about financial implications?  Do they need to have a guaranteed minimum number of hours?  How much notice do they need for some work to be offered? How much notice should you give if you need to cancel the requirement to work, or change the number of hours?
  • Consider the employment status of the individual. Will they be an employee of your business?  Or will they be self-employed and providing work and invoicing direct or through a third-party?  Can they refuse work offered?   What happens if they want to do some work for other people?  Can they provide a substitute if they are not available?  Will they provide their own equipment and tools?

Other things to think about

  • Make sure the contract  is clear about the agreed terms, particularly the employment status, the payment due and any cancellation agreements. If you agree a minimum number of hours, then you must specify that. You must also include provision about the obligation or otherwise to accept work offered.
  • If you intend that the worker will be an employee of the Company, then you are required to provide an employment contract which includes terms and conditions of employment in line with other employees.
  • It is helpful for you to regularly review the situation with the employee.  This is a chance to decide whether the employment relationship has changed and whether the arrangements still work for both parties. Such review should be on an annual basis, at least.
  • You may need to provide training to line managers to ensure they understand the implications of zero-hours contracts.  They need to know how to manage the work and the individuals who are contracted to do the work.
  • You should ensure that people doing the same job, whatever their employment status, are paid comparable rates of pay.

The changing legal picture

Since 2015, if someone is employed under a zero-hours contract, then it is against the law for their employer to prevent them from working elsewhere.   So an employer cannot include a clause in a zero-hours contract which excludes the person from working somewhere else.

In July 2017, the Taylor review on modern working practices was published and the UK Government has issued its response.  Many of the recommendations have been accepted by the government and some are currently under consultation.

The two major proposed changes with regard to zero-hours contracts are:

  • To give workers, including those on zero-hours contracts, the right to request a more predictable contract;
  • The possibility of paying a higher National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage for hours which are not guaranteed as part of the contract.

Beneficial for business

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in UK has called for zero-hours contracts to be banned.  One of the reasons cited is that their research shows that most workers on zero-hours contracts feel exploited and want to be able to work more hours on more stable contracts.

Since 2017, the fast food chain McDonald’s has offered its  UK workers the option to move from zero-hours contracts.  Workers can move to fixed contracts with a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week.   McDonald’s has offered this change because some of their staff complained that they had difficulty in some financial arrangements  because they lacked guaranteed employment.

McDonald’s ran a trial across some of their sites, but 80 per cent of workers in the trial chose to remain on their current contracts.  This is in contrast to the TUC findings above. McDonald’s now offer employees the choice.

The benefit to McDonald’s has been an increase in employee satisfaction.  They believe this is because they consulted with staff about their hours.

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Apprenticeships, Interns, Work Placements – What Is The Difference?

There are so many different ways of employing graduates, school leavers, or people who are still studying.  So what is the difference between all of these different work placements? In some industries, these students or ex-students are the mainstay of the business.

You have some work which you think might be suitable to offer on this basis, but it is confusing to know whether to offer an apprenticeship, an internship or a work placement.  Or maybe you just need to advertise the role as normal. Then  anyone can apply,  whether or not they have recently been through the education system.

By the end of this article, you will understand the different options. And you will know which one is the most relevant route for you to explore in your business.

Apprenticeships are for manual work, aren’t they?

You may think that apprenticeships are only for manual work.  The short answer  is “No, they are not”.  An apprenticeship can lend itself to any type of work which requires training in order to do it properly.

Traditionally, apprenticeship was the route for working in manufacturing or construction.  In recent years, though, apprenticeships are offered in a wide range of industries, from IT to marketing, to accountancy.

How long is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is for the longer term.  Generally at least one year.  More often two or three years – depending on the level of the qualification achieved by successful completion.

An apprentice is your employee.  They must be in a real job which offers the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills they need to pass their assessment.  As an employee, they must be paid in accordance with National Minimum Wage regulations.   Additionally, you must offer apprentices the same terms and conditions which you offer to other employees in similar roles or grades.    But an apprentice must spend 20% of their time in formal training.  You must pay them as normal whilst they are training and you must also fund the training, with some help from the UK government.

The advantage is that you grow your own skilled talent, with the skills your business needs.  You improve your staff retention and productivity and you can reduce your recruitment costs. If the apprenticeship works well, it is common for employers to offer a permanent role, even promotion, to an apprentice once they have finished their apprenticeship.

What is an Internship?

You may want to offer an internship to an undergraduate or student. They can be offered to other people as well,  but are normally offered to students.  An intern would normally work for you for a fixed period of time – normally between one and three months.  This is a way to employ students during term time (usually part-time), or during their holidays.  It is a chance for them to learn about your industry and to gain some experience of life at work.  It is also a chance for them to learn about interacting with others in the workplace.

How does an internship benefit the employer?

As an employer, the advantage is that you benefit from the intern’s labour.  It is up to you what level of work you give to them.   The emphasis is on the training they gain, rather than the type of work they do. You may start off with fairly basic photocopying, filing, etc.  Then you can move them  onto more in-depth work as they prove their capability. Many companies employ interns for a fixed number of weeks or months to support a specific major project or event.

It can also help with recruitment costs further down the line as surveys show that graduates often return for permanent employment once they have completed their education.   The advantages are obvious – you already know the person and they understand your industry and company, not to mention the job they will be doing.  They will require less training than other candidates.

Even if the internship is only for a short period, it can really benefit the individual by providing a range of transferable skills and helping them to network and build valuable connections.  It can even provide employment references.

Do I have to pay an intern?

There is no obligation to pay an intern. You may have seen some discussion in the press about whether it is exploitation to offer only voluntary internships.   As a result, it is more and more the norm for employers to offer payment for internships. In industries where there is competition for student labour, it is beneficial for employers to pay well for internships.

How is a work placement different?

A work placement is often arranged through a school or university and is a short term placement of a student in the workplace.  The placement may only be as short as a week or a couple of weeks, especially if the student is still in school, rather than further education.

A placement is really only a chance for the individual to get a taste of the world of work.  It may be their first exposure to arriving at a set workplace at a set time.  They may have only had limited interaction with adults other than parents and so it is a chance for them to test out life skills such as personal interaction.

As an employer, you may get some fairly basic work achieved, although you need to try and give an overview of the whole company or industry.  This is part of introducing young people to the type of work they may consider in the future, so a broad view is helpful at this stage.  If you can make their time with you interesting and they learn something, then that is even better!  You need to consider this as part of your overall recruitment strategy.  If you engage their hearts and minds while they are young, they will come back to you for permanent work once their education is finished. Alternatively, they might be future customers.  So you would be wise to make this a positive experience.

What about University work placements?

In a similar fashion, you may be asked to offer work placements to students as part of their University studies.  If it is a requirement of their study, then the University will have set ideas about what they need you to provide as an employer.

The placement might be needed for a few weeks, either during term-time or the holidays.  Alternatively, depending on the course the student is following, there may be a request to offer work placement for a day per week over a set period.

There is no obligation – or even expectation –  to pay for work placements, particularly where you have been approached by a school or university for a short-term placement.  The exception to this would be where a “sandwich placement” of a whole year in industry is a requirement of the course.  If you are providing work for a student for a year, then you would be expected to pay a reasonable wage in exchange for their work.

Can a small business offer any or all of these opportunities?

As a small business, you are in a great position to be able to offer students some fantastic practical experience.  The very nature of a smaller business is that you are more likely to offer the chance for people to work on their own initiative and to develop their own ways of working.

If you get the right person, who has a good aptitude for learning and for the type of work you do, then you may find they are a real asset to your business.  It is common for smaller businesses to offer permanent employment to people who they have supported through an apprenticehip.  Or to employ someone who has been an intern or had a work placement with them.

At the very least, you may find the same person comes back year after year, holiday after holiday for the chance to work in your business .

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Pre-Employment Checks Made Easy

Many organisations in the UK carry out pre-employment checks on prospective employees.  Most recruiting managers ask for references from previous employers and may ask to see a passport or some other form of identity.

But there are a whole range of checks you could carry out – and some are a legal requirement.  This article will help to explain what you should be checking (as a UK employer).  It also looks at what you should avoid!

Why do you need to carry out pre-employment checks?

You have found your ideal candidate and made a conditional offer of employment.  But you need to check out a couple of things before you can confirm the offer.  Employing someone is a big investment and you will want to safeguard your business.  Otherwise,  recruiting that individual could have a negative impact.  It could even prove to be a costly mistake.

But background screening can be complex.  It is easy to cross the boundary and breach data protection laws. This article will give you a brief overview of what you should and should not be checking.

As with any contractual negotiation, you need to carry out due diligence.  You want to ensure the candidate is not likely to bring the company into disrepute.  You want to avoid them having a negative impact on colleagues or customers.

Additionally, employers need to comply with  some legal requirements.  This iwll  depend on the type of business and work the individual will be doing.  For instance, you may need to check whether an individual has a criminal record or a poor credit reference.

Legal checks you must do

If you are in the UK, you have the legal obligation as an employer to carry out checks to ensure that a potential employee has a right to work in the UK.

You must apply this to every potential employees, regardless of their race, nationality or ethnic origin.  It is important that you don’t assume someone has the right to work.  If you neglect to do this, you could face a discrimination claim.

It is also important to keep records of these checks, with copies of the documents provided by individuals (such as passports).  If asked, you must be able to prove you did the check.  The fine for non-compliance is up to £20,000.

Pre-Employment Checks which depend on the specific job or industry

There are a number of other checks which you may need to do for the specific type of work or industry. This includes things such as criminal record checks, health checks, credit checks.

For example, the job might involve working with vulnerable adults, or children.  Or it might be in security or policing.  In those cases, specific checks may include criminal record checks.   Or if the job is in finance,  then  you may need to do a credit check.  You need to ensure that the type of checks you require are in line with the responsibilities of the job or industry in which the person will be employed. You should not be doing checks unless there is a specific need for them.  Otherwise you may break data protection laws.

If the role involves driving, then you may want to check their driving licence and whether they have any driving restrictions.  You might also do a health check.

Health checks should only be carried out if there is a legal requirement for them (for example doing eye tests for commercial vehicle drivers).  There may be a job related requirement for a health check (for example, if there is an insurance requirement for some aspect of the role).

Pre-Employment Checks for any employer

There are some checks which you may want to carry out to ensure you are hiring the best person for the role.   Things such as reference checks come under this heading.  But remember there are still pitfalls you need to avoid when carrying out these checks.   You may need to withdraw an offer based on the outcome of pre-employment checks.  If so, you want to be able to avoid potential liability for things such as loss of earnings, or injury to feelings.

As an example, most employers carry out reference checks as an effective way of checking the suitability of a candidate, but you must avoid asking discriminatory questions.

Likewise, you might carry out social media screening and decide not to employ based on something in their social media history.  But you must beware of any kind of bias based on such things as religion or sexual orientation evidenced through their social media.  If an applicant can successfully argue that your decision not to employ them was based on some discrimination, then compensation (potentially unlimited) may be payable.   This is the case even if the individual has never been employed by you.

Educational Qualifications

It is sensible to check up on the educational and other qualifications which an applicant says they have.  If your vacancy requires someone to have a specific qualification to be able to do the job, then you would be wise to check that the preferred candidate does actually have that qualification.  You need to beware of a check on the web, as there are some websites now which provide fake certification, for a fee.  There are even realistic university websites, which are fake. So don’t rely on the documentation provided by candidates, or on a website to verify the qualification. It is worth doing a check direct with the University or issuing body.

Potential pitfalls for recruiters

When you are carrying out pre-employment checks, you must be sure they are in line with data protection legislation. In general terms, this means that you must only carry out checks which are necessary.  You must carry them out fairly, lawfully and with transparency.   Any data which you record and keep on employment records must be kept up to date and must be accurate.   It must not be kept any longer than is necessary and it must be kept secure.

You must beware of discrimination in your recruitment process as a whole.  With regard to pre-employment checks, you must be sure not to only target specific people or types of people.  For example, don’t do health checks only for older people.  Don’t do right to work checks only for people you think may not have the right.  You must also be careful not to discriminate against a candidate who has a disability if that disability would not stop them from being able to do the job.

To minimise your risks, you should make sure anyone involved in the recruitment process has been properly trained.  It is also a good idea to keep records of the recruitment process and all steps taken.   There may be some cost involved in this, but it will minimise the danger of legal action and will be a saving in the long run.

In conclusion …

It is tempting for an employer to carry out a wide variety of pre-employment checks to make sure they are recruiting the right candidate for the job.  But there are pitfalls in this area and it is sensible to only carry out checks which are necessary.

This area is something to consider as part of your recruitment strategy and it is certainly worth ensuring that any staff involved in the recruitment process (including doing the checks) have been trained properly.

If you spend a little time on making sure you do the right pre-employment checks, then you will minimise the chances of legal challenge.   Additionally, you are being fair to all your employees and maximising the likelihood of taking on the right employee for the role.

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Recruitment Challenges – Getting the Job Done

British industry is facing worsening recruitment challenges, particularly in manufacturing and the service sector, according to the latest BCC Quarterly Economic Survey.

The survey of 6000 companies across the UK gave several potential reasons for these difficulties.

In addition, employers are facing unprecedented difficulties as a result of uncertainty around Brexit and whether they will be able to recruit EU nationals in future.

But all employers are in the same situation and are trying to recruit in the same difficult market conditions.  Yet some are managing better than others and it may be a good time to look at why this is.

If you are struggling to recruit, then maybe the first thing to do is to hold a mirror up to your business.  There may be some pointers there which can help you to improve your success in dealing with your recruitment challenges.

They are looking through your window…

It is important to consider your online presence as a key recruitment tool as well as a marketing tool.

Statistics show that 90% of candidates, particularly the Millenial generation, consider an employer’s brand when applying for a job. But this is not something to consider at the last minute when you are about to advertise a vacancy.  It is something which needs to be worked at and built up over time, so that the face you show the world is a genuine reflection of your Company.

Are you really clear about what you want?

The first recruitment challenge you face as an employer is to know what you are really looking for.

Are you asking for the right qualities?  Have you worked out exactly what the job entails? Do you know what, if any, qualifications are actually a requirement of the job (rather than a “nice to have” option)?  Can the job be done part-time, or by job share?  Is it short-term, or longer term? 

Ideally, you need to think about this when you produce your recruitment strategy, when you do your business planning and when you have a new vacancy.  What you needed for the job in the past may not be the same thing you need now.

Have you looked at all the options?

Maybe the most important consideration is whether a current employee can do the job, with or without some training.  It may well be more cost effective to train someone up than it is to recruit someone new.  Again, this is something you can look at when you are looking at your recruitment strategy.   

If you cannot redeploy an internal candidate, can you restructure how the work is organised?  Can it be spread between several different people?  Can all or some of the work be automated in some way? Does it need a permanent employee, or can you use someone in a work placement, or an intern, a contractor or an agency temp?

Does your advertisement describe the job properly?

This is where a well-written job description is critical. If you are not careful, the language you use in the job description can alienate half of your potential pool of candidates. It could prevent them from applying at all.   Your language must be inclusive and avoid gender bias. Additionally, there is some belief that men will apply for a job when they only meet two thirds of the qualifications, whereas women will only apply where they meet 100 per cent.

Try to avoid being too picky.  Does your job really require a first class honours degree?   Is it really necessary to have experience in a similar role, or can someone be trained quickly?

I saw a post on LinkedIn recently from a job seeker who said it would be really helpful if employers included a salary band in the advertisement.  I accept that his is a matter of some debate, particularly where an employer cannot afford to offer a high salary.  On balance, I agree with the job seeker in question. It is a waste of everyone’s time if someone goes through the whole interview process and is offered the job, only to turn it down because their salary expectation was much higher than can be offered.   This is also disappointing for all parties.

Are your interview skills the biggest recruitment challenge you face?

You are going to be the line manager of the new recruit and so you want to make sure you get the right person.  But are you the best person to make that decision?

We all like to think that we are fair and make unbiased decisions, but unconscious bias is a trap for us all. We have evolved that way, so that our brains can quickly sort through information and come up with an answer.  But the answer we come up with may be the product of years of conditioning. 

No matter how open-minded you believe you are, you will have judged someone within seconds of meeting them, based on a whole range of subconscious issues. You may well be aware of the need to ignore first impressions, but we all judge people on gender, age, race, social class, wealth, political affiliation, accent, educational levels, physical attractiveness and a myriad other things.

How can you avoid this bias?

Where possible, it is helpful if you can involve other people in the recruitment process.   Make sure applications have names, ages, gender and race obliterated when they are reviewed.  Match them against a series of questions.  

If possible, ask someone else to review the applications separately to you. Try to get someone else involved in the interview process with you.  Then don’t compare notes until the whole process is complete.  If you are the boss, let others give their views first so that they are not influenced by what they think you want them to say.   They might spot something you don’t see. 

Other hazards to avoid

I have discussed before the need to show off your business and the vacant role to their best advantage. If you were trying to sell your house for the best price possible, then you would spend some time and effort in preparing for the sale.  It is the same with recruitment – you need to make sure the candidates see a place they want to work in and where they will feel welcome.

Finally,it is critical that you let people know your decision.  Give a call, by all means, and make a verbal offer, but make sure you follow it up in writing, quickly.  If the candidate is good, they will have their pick of jobs.  You may find they have accepted another offer if they have to wait too long to hear from you.

Courtesy and common decency also says that you should contact the unsuccessful candidates and let them know why they were not the first choice.  You want to keep them interested – you never know if they will one day prove to be the ideal candidate for a future job with you.   It would be a shame if they don’t apply because they don’t like the way you treated them this time.

Finally…

There is no quick fix for this problem and the approach required will depend on the sector and size of the organisation involved.  Recruitment is not an overnight issue that only needs to be considered when you have a vacancy.  But no matter what the size of your organisation, it is vital that you have a recruitment strategy and that you review and revise it regularly.

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Successful Recruitment – Can you heave a sigh of relief?

It was a successful recruitment exercise. You have filled your vacancy and have a new employee starting in your organisation.  You breathe a sigh of relief and get back to the normal workload, which has been building up while you have been going through the recruitment exercise.

Measuring Successful Recruitment

Beware though – getting the person through the door and into the vacant role is only the first measure of a successful recruitment programme.

As part of your recruitment strategy, you defined what successful recruitment looks like and how you measure it.  There is no standard answer to this question, but some of the considerations are:

  • Is the hiring manager happy with the recruit?
  • How long did the process take?
  • Was it a positive experience for the candidates, even those who were unsuccessful?
  • How long should the new employee take until they are productive in their new role?
  • How long do they actually take until they are productive?
  • Do they fit in with the rest of the team, or has the recruitment solved one problem only to bring another in its wake?
  • How long does the person stay in their role?  If it is less than one year and you have to go through the whole process again in a few months, then is that a successful recruitment?
  • Is the customer happy?

Nurturing Successful Recruitment

You might want to consider what you can do, or if there is anything you can provide for the new recruit to settle quickly and be happy in their role. What steps can you take to give your recruitment process a better chance of success?  Is there any equipment, information or training which would enable them to pick up  their job more quickly and easily?

Analysing the Data

If you want to measure the success of your recruitment strategy, then you need to keep some data to analyse.  As a part of the recruitment strategy planning, you need to consider what measures you will want to use and how they can be analysed.  For example, you may need to think about how long it is likely for an averagely able person to be productive in any given role.  Is the role customer facing?  Are there skills you would expect any candidate to have, or do you need a training plan for new people into the role?

Next Steps

Initially,  you need to  consider how you can help the new employee to fit into your organisation quickly.  Is there any information you need to give them on Day 1 – and if so, how is that given to them?  Do you need to allocate a “buddy” or mentor for your new employees?  Is there any specific training that is needed for their role, or for the work place in general.  For example, what is the fire drill process? Where is the first aid kit? Are there any specific health and safety rules?

But now we are moving away from recruitment and stepping into the world of retention and how to keep your workforce happy, engaged and motivated.   We will be delving deeper in future, but for now I am staying with recruitment  as there is more to share in later posts.

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The Art Of Conducting An Employment Interview

You may think you are good at interviewing people.  After all, you usually manage to recruit someone suitable and you have always enjoyed the interview process. 

But do you know what questions you should avoid asking?  Some things are inappropriate, others could potentially be illegal to ask about. 

Avoiding complaints – or even legal action

Jobseekers have some of the same protections at interview as employees do at work. For example, you cannot ask someone if they are pregnant or are planning to start or increase their family.  If a woman is evidently pregnant, or mentions that she is, then you must not discriminate against her. 

Many employers believe that it is OK to ask about pregnancy.  They also believe a woman should disclose the fact she is pregnant, or trying for a family.  It is not OK.  It is potentially against the law and you cannot take pregnancy – or potential pregnancy – into account when considering whether or not someone is the best candidate.  There is no obligation on a woman to disclose her situation or plans.

Beware discriminating against somebody in interviews

Additionally, you need to guard against discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity or religion.  The important thing is the skills, experience, aptitude and enthusiasm to do the job.  Why is the colour of their skin, or their accent or their religious practice something which you would want to take into consideration? Those are not things which you should be asking about in interview (or at all).  Of course, you may need to check that someone has a right to work in UK, but that check should not be part of the interview.  The question should be asked of every candidate, regardless of the colour of their skin or their accent.   Guidance on this check is available on the UK Government web site.

What about aptitude tests and skills assessments?

If your budget allows for it, you may want to run aptitude tests and skills assessments.  A variety of these are available in the recruitment market.  It is true they can be a useful pointer, but remember that they are only ever a snapshot of that particular moment in time and the same questions to the same candidate would probably get different results on a different day. 

Candidates are already nervous and some are intimidated by these kind of tests.  Many people cannot see the point of them and, as a result, some don’t take them seriously.  External events can affect the way a candidate will answer a question.  If they have had a difficult time with a previous employer, then that can affect how they will answer. 

So is there any point in running these tests during the interview process?

The real benefit of these tests is for you to run them prior to the interview and then use the results to inform your interview questions.  So if an assessment brings up an area of concern for you, then ask questions around that area of concern to try and get to the truth of whether it is a real block for the candidate or just a temporary diversion from their normal reactions.

Softer skills

As well as checking out the candidates’ ability to do the role you are offering, it would be wise to use the interview process to check out their “soft skills”.  Do they have emotional intelligence?  Are they able to relate to other people? Are they able to react in a professional manner to a difficult situation? The answers to these questions will help you decide who will fit best into your team and who will be most comfortable with your company’s culture.

Making the decision

If there is a candidate who is clearly a good fit for your role, then the choice is an easy one.  More often there are two or three “possibles” who each bring a particularly useful skill or who have the right personality. But there is also often something about each one which is not quite what you had hoped for.  This, of course, is your perception and may not be the reality. 

It may be that you are still searching for that perfect candidate who doesn’t exist.  My best advice in this situation is to choose one of the candidates and make an offer as quickly as possible.   If you take too long to make a decision, then you risk all of the suitable candidates accepting an offer from another employer.   There is nothing more offputting for a candidate than to be kept “hanging” without a firm decision either way.  That is not very good for your reputation as an employer. 

Giving timely feedback after the interview

Finally, if a candidate has made the time and effort to come to an interview, then the very least you can do for them is to give them speedy and honest feedback from the interview.  If they are a definite “no”, then tell them and tell them why (honestly).  If you felt someone else had skills or experience that were a better fit, then tell the unsuccessful people why.  It is not very helpful to be told that you are “not the best fit” without being told what it is that you need to work on for another time.

Once the successful candidate has started in the job, then you need to look at the best way to retain their interest and enthusiasm.  But that is for future  articles.  If you want to be sure of getting that help when the time comes, then please sign up to our mailing list.  

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Attracting The Right Candidates

You want to attract the right candidates to apply for your vacancies, so that you have a choice of suitable people to fill vacant roles.  But there is a very high rate of employment and the recruitment market has got more and more difficult.

You have spent time producing a recruitment strategy and you have up-to-date job descriptions for your roles, so you are all set to start recruiting whenever the need arises.  But how can you make sure you attract the right people to apply?

Your online presence

We would find it difficult to operate without the internet in all aspects of our lives these days .  Much of our shopping is done online and we find our life partners, book our holidays, download our entertainment, all online.   We read the news, make appointments, market our products.  It appears that there is no aspect of life which is untouched by the internet.  This includes business, and recruitment.

The first place people go when they are job hunting is the internet.  Firstly – and obviously – we check out what vacancies are out there and find out who is recruiting and how to apply.  But we also do our research about employers online.  This means that employers need to have a strong and compelling presence online to be sure of attracting candidates. They will want to understand who you are and what you do.  They will want to gauge your culture and the treatment you give to your clients and employees.  So your website is a key recruitment tool, as well as a marketing tool.

Employee advocacy

Another key to successful recruitment is your employer reputation.  Your current and previous employees are your best advocates.  You can be sure they will tell the world about you, whether you are good or bad to your employees.  There are websites where people can tell the world which are good employers and who are the ones to avoid (and why).  Your Company may not have featured yet, but you should always remain aware that it could do so. 

In any event, employees use social media to tell the world all about their lives and some do not seem to avoid telling the most intimate details.  So you can be sure that they will be praising or destroying you online. They may not even intend to give you bad press, but the wrong impression given can potentially cost you the chance to employ someone who would be an ideal fit.

Social conscience

You may not have given much thought to your company’s social conscience.  If you are only a small venture, then you may not have the resources available to make a big splash in the charitable sector.  I get it – you are busy and spend all your time running your business.  You haven’t got time to get involved in charitable causes as well.

But this is an area where potential employees are more and more likely to judge whether or not they want to work for you.  And as a bonus, your clients are likely to be interested too…

So your online presence probably needs to include some reference to your sustainable credentials, your impact on the environment, or your contribution to the social fabric of society. 

Every company, however small, can reduce their water or electricity consumption, save postage stamps and give them to a charity, or have a charity collection box.  If you don’t have anything in place, then you might want to ask your employees for ideas and input and then write an item about it for your website.  But my advice is to make a genuine effort.  Your employees, clients and candidates alike will see through any attempt to pay lip service to having a social conscience.  If you can show that you love the world and want to do your bit (however small) to help improve it, then your employees will love you.  It will also enhance your reputation with your clients.  

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A Recruitment Strategy – Why Would I Need One?

We all get nervous about job interviews.  Even the most confident amongst us may feel slight anxiety about putting ourselves in the limelight, centre-stage, with a potential audience of several people. Our working lives, skills and experience are put under the spotlight and we may need to answer questions where we are unsure of the required answer.  It is a stressful process, even if you don’t consider the pressure about making sure you get offered the job.

We tend to forget, though, that it is also a nerve-wracking process for the person who is conducting the interview.  We are trying to show off the Company in its best light, to be sure of enticing the right applicant.  In all likelihood, we are anxious about making the “wrong” decision and offering the job to someone who then cannot do the job, or is a troublemaker of some kind.  Additionally, we know the cost of the whole process, and the additional cost if it all goes wrong.

Why do we leave such an important decision to chance?

Given the importance of getting the right person in to fill a vacancy, we should be making sure that the interview process is the very best it can be.  We then have a better chance of making the right choice.

Yet few interviewing managers have undergone any training in how to conduct an interview.  We don’t know  what type of questions to ask, or how to assess the candidates against each other. Sometimes we are not even very familiar with the role we are trying to fill.  So the interview process becomes a lottery and business suffers as a result.

Alternatively, we put the whole process out to a Recruitment Agency or third party.  This is fine and can work well, but they need to be properly briefed about the vacancy and the type of candidate who would fit in with our needs and ethos.

A bit of planning can work wonders

Often the problem is that someone has resigned and there is a need to fill their shoes very quickly.  So we rush to get an advert out there and try and fit interviews in as quickly as possible.  Otherwise the work doesn’t get done, or the team are put under pressure to cover the work of the vacant position as well as their own work.

Resignations always come at a bad time (there is never a good time!).  As a result,  the recruitment process is always done in a bit of a rush and in addition to the day job.  It is always an inconvenience.  This is never a good environment in which to make a critical decision which may reverberate in the company for years to come.  We may be lucky and recruit the best employee we have ever had.  Or we may end up trying to pick up the pieces from the tornado we have unleashed.  More often, reality is somewhere between these two extremes.

The obvious way to avoid some of this angst is to have a Recruitment Strategy, which you review regularly to make sure it still works for you.  You do financial planning and marketing planning regularly.  So why not review your recruitment process?

What does a Recruitment Strategy look like?

There is no set way to plan your recruitment, but there are some things you need to consider when setting your strategy.  It is not a good time to do this when you are desperately rushing to fill a vacancy.

Some things you may want to consider in your Recruitment Strategy:

  • What are the key roles, which must happen even if the current incumbent leaves or is ill?
  • How can those roles be covered in the short-term, while you are recruiting a permanent replacement?
  • Have you got up-to-date Job Descriptions for all of your roles? How are they kept updated?  Are they realistic, or are you looking for the impossible?
  • Do you use a Recruitment Agency? If so, how well do they know you and your business?  Do you keep in regular contact with them?
  • What sources will you use to find potential candidates? See my recent article about this issue.
  • Have you got a template advert, which includes the benefits of working for your organisation?
  • Have all of your recruiting managers had training in carrying out interviews?

Once you have a Recruitment Strategy, it is much easier to keep it up to date.  You should review it regularly (at least annually, depending on your business).  It can become an invaluable tool in helping you to manage those unexpected vacancies so that you can recruit the best and most loyal employees.

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