The art and science of recruitment

    Steve Jessop
    By Steve Jessop

    The art & science of recruitment (as seen through a sales pair of binoculars…)

    By: Steve Jessop

    I’ve worked at all levels of the sales discipline – mostly in business services – for well in excess of 30 years. A large proportion of that time has been as a business consultant advising and directly (i.e. hands-on) helping companies to improve sales performance. High on the list of subjects which raise their heads again and again is recruitment….

    The challenge.

    Firstly, the people doing the recruiting often do not give anywhere near enough thought to what they are doing, and why they are doing it. (More detail on this below).

    And secondly, the recruitment fraternity contains a depressingly high number of shallow, mercenary, one-dimensional operators who care only about making the placement for which they are paid. As we all know, low ‘entry barriers’ (quite literally) open the door to these poor industry standards.

    Supporting rationale.

    In the sales discipline a poor hire – or worse, a ‘bad apple’ – can do enormous damage. Just in case this needs embellishing, allow me to clarify…..

    • Alienated customers and / or other valuable prospects / contacts who may never engage with you again
    • Time and money taken to recruit the new person
    • Management and organisational time and effort needed pre and post-hire
    • Internal disruption potentially caused by an inappropriate recruitment decision
    • Opportunity cost of the above

    I imagine you get the picture…?

    The antidote.

    Given that NOT recommending an inappropriate candidate is a RESULT for you – it makes no sense at all to pay for the placement and thus incentivise only the placement. As soon as we do this we compromise the recruiter and encourage candidate bias.

    For this reason when I recruit I am paid for the process – not the placement….

    The process.

    Prepare a thorough job specification which describes the role as well as a clear and concise list of responsibilities and accountabilities. Very often all I see when I ask to look at a job spec is a loose list of tasks and a sales revenue figure…. The job spec needs to describe the role in the round -- spelling out how the job should be done (route to the results, not just the results) and clearly describe what your expectations are -- i.e. what ‘good’ looks like in your business environment. It should also give a clear indication to the new recruit of how he / she can expect to be managed.

    If the job spec is often inadequate – the person spec is very often missing altogether…!

    It’s hard to understand why this is the case. In a reasonably precise and objective fashion, we need to template the kind of human being most likely to succeed in the role. If we do not capture this we are quite clearly leaving too much to chance. I recommend that we capture:

    • The knowledge we require
    • The attitudes which are important to us (ref our company culture)
    • The key skill-sets which are the most relevant
    • And the habits which we will pay particular attention to (a.k.a. behaviours)

    These we group into a matrix, and, using descriptive paragraphs, categorise them under the following columns:

    • Desirable (what we’d really like if we can get it)
    • Essential (what we must have)
    • Unacceptable (what we won’t tolerate).

    With the above in mind we agree where our most suitable candidates are likely to be found, and the best means of accessing them. We then agree the route/s to them.

    • If the advertising route is selected, I help to prepare sharp and appealing ad copy. If we choose to use 3rd party recruiters, I carefully manage communication and expectations which includes negotiating a sensible fee structure and reinforcing our spec-based requirements. As soon as our in-tray is filled with inappropriate candidates a warning is issued, and, if more of our time is wasted after this, they are replaced.
    • Candidates’ applications are filtered and collated to prepare our short list from people who appear, on paper, to broadly meet our requirements.
    • We communicate with this list and send them company information if / as appropriate.
    • A ‘short, sharp’ telephone screening programme follows this. This is to ask questions (not provide information) and nail whether or not the candidate meets our spec. I usually carry out three of these per hour.
    • The short list from this exercise is invited to an assessment centre. The ingredients of this are:
      • Organising & managing venue logistics
      • Briefing candidates on the day (up-front and en route)
      • Instigating and managing intelligence / aptitude / personality profile testing (on-line testing & off-line interpreting -- for use on the day and afterwards)
      • Facilitating pre-prepared candidate presentations f/b Q&A sessions
      • Running a fixed number (usually 2-4 per person) of consistent subject matter, unprepared, role-plays -- using accreditation-based score sheets. For the more senior positions these are sometimes conducted in front of a panel (which can include the client's representatives) for scoring purposes.
      • Taking candidates through numeracy and literacy tests. In my experience employers rarely test basic but critical subject matter (e.g. can he / she write a decent e-mail? Is their arithmetic up to scratch? Do they understand basic business ‘measuring sticks’?)
      • Running final interviews for the short, short-listed candidates
      • Communicating with the unsuccessful candidates (after the day if appropriate) providing a de-brief as / where requested
      • Recommending (usually) one candidate for the position
      • Reference-checking on behalf of the client pre-job offer.
    • We also provide post-hire induction support to nip any early stage ‘teething problems’ in the bud typically at one month, three month and six month intervals.

    Summary.

    In addition to ensuring our short-listed players can ‘walk the talk’ by putting them through their paces, we also test them in an unprepared fashion in areas of critical capability which are often completely overlooked.

    Interestingly, over the years we have had much positive feedback from unsuccessful candidates (as well as successful ones) who have expressed their thanks for what they have learned from our recruitment & selection process.