How to recruit staff: the pre-interview process

This is Chris Smith’s third piece on how to recruit staff. Make sure you also read his first piece on how to write a good job description, and his second piece on attracting the best candidates.

So far you’ve have nailed the job specification, placed the advert and the CVs are rolling in, well done!

What next?

The number one golden rule at this stage is to make sure you’re ready, willing and able to deal with the response you get.

Essentially, you’re now the window into your company, and the way you deal with applications will reflect on your company’s brand.

Respond to everyone

First things first: be respectful enough to respond to each and every candidate. After all, they’ve taken the time to apply for your job.

Even if the response to your job is high, every applicant merits a response. It’s a simple, common courtesy and you will do your brand and yourself no favours if you don’t get back to candidates – just think of all the chasing calls you’ll get, and you’ll get a reputation for not responding. And finally, remember that some of the applicants may be your best and most loyal customers!

To be clear, this response doesn’t have to be complex. Have ready template letters and auto-responders set on emails.  Remember that even if they’re not right for your business today, you may want them to apply again tomorrow – so tread carefully.

Get your house in order

When you begin screening candidates, the first key thing to do is to make sure that this time blocked out for everyone relevant, and that all parties are available to feedback, as appropriate. There is no point in teeing-up candidates for an interview by a line manager who hasn’t been involved in the selection process.

Sift through applications

It isn’t that hard to match a CV against your job spec – you know what skills you’re looking for and if they’re reflected in the candidate’s CV, then great! That said, remember that the CV is not the person you will interview, it’s only a document! So don’t rely just on the CV – 90 per cent of people who get jobs never look perfect on paper.

So the message is to decide on what your core requirement is and go from there. Also think about applicants from “parallel industries” – they may not have worked in your vertical, but ask yourself how transferable their skills may be? An outsider with a different approach/way of doing things might just be the thing your business needs.

Unfortunately, the process of sifting through interviews isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. The important thing to remember when screening applicants is that they WANT the job – and this may mean that they embellish their achievements and tweak their CV to look just so.

As such, be ready to pick up the phone and check details with a candidate. A common smoke screen people put up is their salary, so make them aware that if they are called to interview you might want to see some recent payslips/commission statements. 

Also let candidates know that before they enter the interview process you will (where appropriate) be doing some or all of the following:

  1. Confirming qualifications
  2. Taking at least two employer reference – but follow these up properly!
  3. Conducting the appropriate legal checks and “right to work” checks
  4. In a client facing role, asking to speak to at least two of their clients
It’s also worth using the web to check out a candidate. Once you have an initial group of candidates that you like the look of on paper,  take the time to put their name in a search engine and see what comes back. But don’t put too much emphasis on this – it will only help to stop you making the odd howler here and there.

Prepare for interviews

When you have selected your shortlist to invite to interview, make sure that you’re ready for them to come in.

  1. Red pen “interview time” in all the relevant parties diaries
  2. Red pen “feedback time” where you get everyone’s thoughts – strike while the iron is hot and do this within two hours of the interview
  3. Make sure you have the right environment available for the interview to take place
  4. Without fail, ensure the candidate knows what you’re expecting from them on the day. If you want them to bring examples of work along, etc, let them know – don’t just assume! Similarly, if it’s a four-part interview with tests, let them know at the outset!
Finally, don’t invite swathes of people for interview – time is one of most valuable currencies, so spend it wisely!

This is the second in a series of “common sense” recruitment tips. Next time we’ll be looking at the interview process itself. Chris Smith is the founder of recruitment marketplace yourpeoplemarket.com. Before this, Chris was joint founder of ecrmpeople, which he grew into a £12m company over seven years.

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