Ask anyone running a successful organization to identify one of their most important assets and they should all have one answer in common: their staff. The people who work in an organization have a powerful and direct impact on how well a business does. So why is the recruitment process so often rushed (at best) and, at worst, careless and neglected?

It often amazes me that relatively little time and effort are put into finding the right people for key positions. Despite the advances made in areas such as profiling and psychometrics, most companies' recruitment strategy consists of the traditional interview, with perhaps a presentation thrown in if they want really to put the candidate through his or her paces.

Spend time making the right investment

Consider how much time your organization allocates to finding the right candidate. Half a day? A day? When you consider the impact that a key member of staff could have on your organization in the long term, this really is not very much. I believe that the recruitment process should be comprehensive and diagnostic. Of course, very real constraints of time and money do have to be taken into account, but your staff are an expensive investment so you really want to arm yourself with the tools to make an informed decision. An interview alone simply is not enough.

While the interview has long played a significant part in recruitment, and will continue to do so, the challenge is to include other stages that enhance the overall process. This way, the interview becomes a more effective tool because of the quality of the conversation it drives. Ultimately you are looking for the perfect “fit” between the candidate's capabilities, expectations and aspirations, and the current and future requirements of your organization.

In broad terms, there are five additional alternatives to the interview that I believe enhance the process:

1. Reverse the process. The interview enables you to learn a little about the candidate and what he or she has to offer, but it is equally important to give your prospective employee the opportunity to learn about your organization and his or her potential role within it. In order to match ability, aspiration and opportunity, there needs to be a structured process for the exchange of information. Allow the short-listed candidates to meet the relevant potential colleagues. Give the meetings structure so that the candidates understand your organization's ethos and goals. This will also give your candidates a clear idea of the skills, experience and aptitudes necessary for the post. In addition, as a two-way process, it gives the recruiter an informed picture of a candidate's approach, attitudes, expectations, beliefs and values – key considerations in determining the fit between individual and organization.
2. Capability testing. An interview is a snapshot and, ultimately, a performance. Experienced interviewees may be adept at telling you what they think you want to hear, and the interview process rarely gives a detailed insight into what a person can really do. But capability testing does. Start by deciding the key criteria (skills, knowledge, experience, values and so on) for the position, then design activities to test them. Make the activities practical and realistic to test the skills that candidates will need for the position. This gives you an insight on how a person would perform and what he or she could bring to the post. You can choose to design these in-house specifically for a post or buy them fairly cheaply.
3. Psychometrics. Psychometrics are widely used, but are rarely exploited to their full potential. Essentially, psychometrics allow you to look beyond the skills and experience that a candidate has and assess his or her overall potential. They provide objective, scientific data about a candidate and can help to predict how that person will perform in a given situation. Psychometrics analyze how people see themselves, what qualities they have and how these qualities can enhance or undermine their performance. They also add more value to the interview process as the results often throw up queries that enable you to ask more relevant and penetrating questions in the interview.
4. Research tasks. We have never before had such ready access to so much information, but this can bring its own problems. The ability to manage and present knowledge has become a key skill in successful organizations. While an interview allows a candidate to offer a view of his or her experience and capabilities in this area, it cannot demonstrate how he or she would go about researching, managing and communicating information in practice. To see this for yourself, give the candidate a project to research, then observe and assess his or her ability to manage the process. Does the candidate ask the right questions? How does he or she go about collating and evaluating all the data available? How would the candidate analyze, distil and present that data to others? Asking a person how he or she would do it is simply no substitute for seeing him or her in action.
5. Recruitment centers. Recruitment centers combine the previous four steps, plus interviews and two-way feedback and, if you can afford the time and cost involved, are simply the best way to go. The specific recruitment criteria you have identified should be the starting point for a series of activities that are geared to give a more complete picture of a candidate: how he or she performs; what the person's current skills are and what he or she has the potential to do in the future. The range of observations, interviews, scenarios, tasks and assessments will give you a truly rigorous assessment of a candidate's capabilities.

Ultimately, if you want to be confident of getting the right person in a key post, you need to be prepared to put in the time and effort to the recruitment process. While the interview will continue to be a significant tool in the recruitment process, take time to consider your current practice, to decide if you are really doing enough to make the right candidate choice. After all, the investment you make now could be repaid tenfold in the future.

Tim Barnett

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