Recruiting the right people is one of the most difficult challenges an organisation can face. Making a wrong hiring decision can be immensely costly and can cause significant damage to a business. Despite this, many organisations approach recruitment in a surprisingly casual manner, often relying on little more than a general unstructured interview and possibly taking up a couple of references. A considerable amount of research has been undertaken in an attempt to identify the most effective selection methodologies. The correlation between these different methods and actual in-job performance is given in the diagram below.

As can be seen, the typical unstructured interview correlates poorly (0.16 - 0.18) with actual job performance. A correlation at this level means that the interview is actually measuring only 2.5% - 3.25% of job relevant criteria. Given the potential costs involved of hiring mistakes, it would seem sensible for organisations to invest in as many relevant checks and measures as is practical to reduce the risk. The following guidelines are intended to provide some hints as to how to avoid at least some of this risk.

Review the 'job specification'

When 'recruiting to replace', organisations have a tendency to dust off the same job specification as they used on prior occasions and apply similar criteria without considering how the nature of the role and business needs may have changed. Before initiating a candidate search to fill the vacancy, an organisation should consider restructuring or reassessing the requirements of the job. Such a review can help to clarify the current actual requirements of the job and how it fits into the rest of the organisation or department. Exit interviews, or consultation with the current job-holder and colleagues may well produce useful points that impact upon the remit and scope of the job under review. From such an assessment a robust job and person specification can be developed. Writing a good job description can aid the process of analysing the needs of the job and reveal how closely this is aligned to the core business objectives. The job description should list qualifications and experience that are requisite for the role. In addition, the personal traits required of the candidate such as their preferences for working either independently or as part of team and behavioural competencies should be considered. The latter behavioural characteristics provide an indispensable tool for selection purposes. If certain types of behaviour are essential for success in the role a selection process can be designed to extract tangible evidence from candidates, during interviews, to demonstrate their level of competence and capability in 'soft' areas such as goal orientation, decision making, people development and interaction etc. 

Recruitment and Selection

Salary package should be determined bearing in mind factors such as scales, grades and negotiated agreements, as well as market rates and skills shortages.

There are several ways to attract candidates and the best medium for recruitment is the one which reaches a large target population at the least cost. Several methods can be employed such as referrals, the internet (e.g. job sites, social media, employer's website), local newspapers, radio, television, Job Centres, private employment agencies and recruitment consultancies, national newspapers, specialist or professional journals and executive search organisations.

Once candidates are selected for interview purposes, appropriate tests such as ability or aptitude tests, personality measures, references, work-sample exercises and interviews can be applied to select the best candidate for the job. The selection criteria and the tests should be validated to ensure that they are truly job relevant and not biased in any way against protected categories (gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief etc.).

Conducting the interview

It is advisable for managers and supervisors to receive training in interviewing skills. The goal of the interviewer is to gain an accurate impression of the candidate to be able to decide whether he or she fits the job and person specification. The following guidelines may be worth noting:

  • Put the candidate at ease;
  • Describe the format of the interview so the candidate knows what to expect; 
  • Avoid hypothetical questions - hypothetical questions do nothing but generate a hypothetical answer;
  • Avoid taking an aggressive, interrogatory approach;
  • Ask questions on subjects familiar to the candidate;
  • Probe the candidate using open-ended questions that cannot be answered by 'yes' or 'no' - i.e. Who...? Why...? When...? What...? How...? Where...?;
  • Look for specific examples that demonstrate the candidate's competence and ability. The example below gives an example of a 'competency-based' question designed to extract evidence of a candidate's 'coaching style:


  • Ensure there is enough time at the end of the interview for the candidate to ask you questions;
  • Inform the candidate when he or she can expect a decision;
  • Remember that when interviewing you are representing your organisation and its 'brand'. Be courteous and 'sell the Company' even if the candidate is inappropriate for the position.


Following the interview, it is vital that the interviewer records his or her thoughts and observations on the candidate's performance, particularly if the candidate is to be rejected. Once a decision has been made, aim to inform the candidate as soon as possible on the outcome. For successful candidates, the next step is to send out an offer letter with package details and organise an induction programme for their first day at work.

References and checking

A current employer should only be approached for a reference once express permission has been obtained from the candidate. Though generally confidential, they may be called as legal evidence in any discrimination claim. A request confirming dates of employment, job title and particular skills should suffice and hence there is no need to ask for personal and subjective information about the candidate. Any particular qualifications, training or licences may be relevant information to the job, and hence it is reasonable to ask candidates for proof and inform them that copies of any relevant documents will be held on their personnel file.

Although job offers are sometimes contingent upon the receipt of satisfactory references, this is not always advisable as there is no legal requirement for the former employer to provide one. Furthermore, if a referee indicates the applicant is unsuitable and if the job offer is withdrawn as a result, the organisation could face legal action by the candidate on the basis that it may have inferred an incorrect interpretation of the contents of a reference.

The importance of fairness in the selection process

The legal responsibility lies with the employer to ensure that no unlawful age, sex, race or disability discrimination or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or religious belief occurs in the recruitment and selection process. Active measures to promote equality of opportunity can be implemented. For example, employers may offer management development training for women where they are under-represented in management grades. Employers can also solicit applications from those groups that are under-represented in the organisation by making it clear in job advertisements that applications from a particular group will be particularly welcome. However, 'positive' discrimination (as opposed to positive action) is unlawful and whilst applications may be particularly welcome from a particular group the selection criteria must not be biased in its favour. Application forms that test literacy levels where this is clearly not a job requisite are particularly vulnerable to discrimination claims, as are 'old-style' ability tests that are largely based on Western cultural syllogisms. If information relating to gender, marital status or ethnic origin is gathered as part of the selection process, the employer should clearly state that this is for the primary purpose of monitoring the company's equal opportunities policy. Consideration should also be given to the requirements of the Data Protection Act in such circumstances.

Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 (as amended 2004)

It is a criminal offence to employ those applicants who do not have the express permission to live or to work in the United Kingdom. This applies only in relation to employees who started work for the employer on or after 27 January 1997. Employers must seek documentary evidence that any prospective employee is permitted to work in the UK before employing him or her. Further information can be obtained via the official helpline on 020 8649 7878.

Criminal Records checks - Police Act 1997 (as amended 2013)

Employers may be required or able to seek a The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check on applicants for certain positions. Disclosures are permitted mainly for positions where the job holder's duties will involve contact with vulnerable persons (children and vulnerable adults) and within certain professions (e.g. law enforcement, accountants, financial services etc.)