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As a team manager, one of my key responsibilities is recruitment. It’s also one of the most rewarding. I get to meet some really smart people and hopefully find one who’s a great fit for our team. I’ve sat on a lot of interview panels over the years, for lots of different roles, and I’ve gained a fair amount of experience along the way.

For my team’s most recent round of recruitment, we went the extra mile and I invested a lot of time and effort into learning how to do a recruitment exercise well. This highlighted some glaring errors in our previous endeavours and resulted in me re-writing the entire suite of recruitment documents we use. For reference, the resources I referred to are listed at the end of this post in the Further Reading section.

As such, I thought I would share some of my experiences and insights into the recruitment process, highlighting the priorities and pitfalls as I see them. This post focuses primarily on the perspectives of a recruiter, but should be of value to people on either side of the table.

Job advertisements

This is where the recruitment process begins – in the production and publishing of job adverts. It’s essential that you make a good job of these. They represent your ‘first impression’ that you’re giving to prospective candidates; if you want the best applicants, your literature needs to make it clear why you’re worth working for. It’s a common misconception that there’s a glut of talent out there that needs to be filtered. Unless you’re a mighty tech giant like Amazon, Facebook, or Google, you need to be doing everything in your power to attract good candidates.

Job advertisements tend to be the place where you have the most freedom. Job descriptions and person specifications often need to fulfil HR requirements, so are often a little more structured and less flexible. Still, don’t underestimate the value of having a clear and well-written job description.

The most crucial piece of advert-writing advice I can offer is this: make sure your advert focuses primarily on what the job is and why it will challenge the candidate. Minimise descriptions of what the “ideal candidate” should look like – that’s what the person specification is for. Besides, person specification is very much about filtering, and that’s not what you should be doing. You’ll likely want to say a little bit about the sort of person you’re looking for, but it’s not the most critical part – save it for the person specification.

Instead, spend your time and effort talking about what challenges and opportunities are on offer in the role. Talk about the team and how it fits into the bigger organisation; talk about what facilities and amenities are available nearby. All of these things incentivise people to consider your vacancy seriously.

My final piece of advice for job adverts is: always include a section about equal opportunities and diversity. Omitting this will put many candidates off before they even apply, and you definitely don’t want to be doing this. You should be encouraging applications from as far and wide as possible.

Job descriptions

Job descriptions are usually mandated by your HR department, and likely have to fit a standard template. It’s easy to dismiss the JD as a mere formality and simply throw something together. In my time, I’ve seen countless job descriptions cribbed from previous examples, with constantly growing requirements that render them ever more unrealistic.

In an ideal world, you’d keep your job descriptions updated and review them at least once or twice a year, to ensure that they accurately reflect the activities of your team. As time goes by, roles inevitably evolve, and the job description is meant to be a living document that reflects those changes.

In reality, JDs far too often end up gathering dust, only to see the light of day when it’s time to recruit. Even if you don’t review your JDs regularly, at least take the opportunity when you’re recruiting to examine them and ensure they accurately reflect the roles your team are expected to fulfil.

Job descriptions are invariably comprised of a job purpose and key accountabilities. Depending on your organisation, they may also include a person specification (I’ll discuss those separately in the next section). These are all quite distinct aspects, and it’s important that you consider that when deciding what content to put where.

The job purpose should explain what the job is for: like the advert before it, this is a golden opportunity to sell the role. It should be inspiring and convince potential candidates that it’s something they could really make their own. A dull job purpose will just turn candidates off. The key accountabilities define the primary functions required to fulfil the job purpose. Remember, these are key accountabilities, so you shouldn’t go into excruciating detail – four or five areas are probably about right.

If it’s been a while since you looked at your job descriptions, it’s almost certainly worth starting afresh from the blank template instead of modifying a long-outdated one. Put some thought into what role you need to fill – it’s rarely the same as it was the last time you hired. What will they be doing? If they’re joining a larger, fairly homogenous team, what does that team currently do? Once you know roughly what the job description should look like, then it’s time to review the old JD. If parts are still relevant, by all means crib them – there’s no need to re-invent the wheel.

Person Specifications

If job descriptions have a reputation for being merely copied and pasted, person specifications are even worse. It’s tempting to put every little thing into one, but it’s essential that you keep in mind that you’re looking for real people, not some mythical superhero who can do everything. I can’t state this enough – talent has to be attracted! Don’t build your recruitment process around filtering. I recently undertook an exercise with my team where I printed off the person specification and asked them to mark them as either fully-met, partially-met or unmet. The results were enlightening, and some requirements were clearly unnecessary.

It’s likely that you’ll have sections for essential and desirable criteria. For a person specification to provide maximum value, the essential criteria should be restrained. Remember that every essential criterion is another reason for a potential candidate not to apply.

If a candidate meets all the essential criteria, but few to none of the desirables, that should indicate that they’re capable of doing the job after your standard suite of training. Indeed, I recommend basing your desirable criteria on your training objectives. Don’t be afraid to make your desirables section larger than your essentials one, but don’t go overboard – make sure that any skills you’re asking for will bring clear benefits.

Finally, a word about experience: it’s commonplace to see jobs advertised with time-based requirements – at least 5 years of X, at least 18 months of Y – and these are often very poor metrics for measuring skills. Would you rather have someone with ten years of bad habits, or someone with the aptitude to become proficient quickly and learn good habits from the start? Talented people with long experience in a post are probably looking for a more senior role anyway, not the same job somewhere else. In fact, many of the good candidates you can hire will be people from less-senior roles looking for something more challenging – they won’t have the experience, but might well be perfectly suitable.


In summary, there are two key points that I consider to be most important:
1. You want to encourage applicants, not filter them out. Keep your requirements realistic and remember that just because a candidate hasn’t done a role before, it doesn’t imply they aren’t capable.
2. Your literature is an advert. It should be engaging and exciting, not a dry collection of buzzwords. Don’t mindlessly recycle old literature – candidates are always told to tailor their applications and CVs, and we should show them the same courtesy.

That about wraps up my first post on recruitment – hopefully you found it worthwhile. Of course, there’s more to it than the literature, so expect to see future posts covering some of the other aspects.

Further reading

If you found this post insightful and are interested in more detail, I recommend watching Lou Adler’s videos on “Performance-Based Hiring” available on (membership required)

I also strongly encourage you to look at the writings of Liz Ryan, founder of Human Workplace. Liz has written some excellent articles about how to recruit and retain great staff. You can read some of her works on LinkedIn and Forbes.

Posted in Best Practice, Management, Recruitment.

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