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Top 10 tips on beating the recruitment lottery

As Mathew Rock reported in his editorial, Luke Johnson wrote an interesting article in the FT about what makes a great entrepreneur and how difficult it is to “spot a winner”. For business owners, selecting really good people is one of the hardest, yet most vital tasks we face.

The implications of getting it wrong can range from merely annoying to totally catastrophic. As we often refer to it as the “recruitment lottery”, surely the key has to be to find ways to narrow the odds?

I recently heard a great story about Pret A Manger, co-founded by entrepreneur Julian Metcalfe. Before their formal interviews, all candidates (for any position within Pret) are sent to work on the shop floor for a day and the employees get a say on whether that person should get hired. One candidate was going for the position of FD – he may have been great at “cooking the books” but his attitude failed to impress in the kitchen, and so he was not selected. Pret’s head of communications reportedly says: “You can’t hire someone who can make sandwiches and teach them to be happy, so we hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches”. Assessment days, if you can do them, are a great selection technique.

Each year a large proportion of my time is spent interviewing, whether that be external candidates for new roles, existing employees for career progression or managers for companies we are seeking to acquire or partner with.So here are my top tips on recruitment:

1. Find out why they are there – it’s not always as it first seems.

2. Put the CV to one side and find out who they really are and what makes them tick before you assess their relevant experience/fit with the criteria for the role.

3. Test how much research they have done on your organisation and ask for constructive feedback on their first impressions of your organisation. A lack of research often suggests a lack of interest.

4. Ask them identify their “comfort” and “stretch” zones. Ask them questions such as: “How would your boss, peers and team describe you?” “What do you think they like/not like about you?”

5. What were their best and worst experiences at work, the biggest mistake they’ve ever made and what have they learned from this?

6. Ask how they deal with conflict, with examples.

7. Explain the process. Don’t just rely on one interview. Ask other colleagues to see the candidate too.

8. Interviews are obviously a two-way process as both parties are making an investment. Remember, it’s not the Spanish Inquisition. Whether they join you or not, you want them to leave with a really good impression of your business. So make sure there is time for the candidate’s questions. The quality of these can often be a really useful part of your assessment.

9. If they got the job, how would they approach the first 30, 60, 90 days?

10. Apply the “plane test”. Could you survive a short haul, transatlantic or around-the-world flight sitting next to them” If you have any negative vibes during the interview, don’t rationalise, just don’t select them.
Sadly, there is no foolproof technique and hopefully the above points will help narrow the odds considerably, particularly when coupled with thorough reference checking.

If you realise you’ve got it wrong, painful as it may be, the best advice is to part company early rather than hope things will improve.



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