There is nothing more disruptive to teamwork than finding you have employed a person who does not fit in. The best way of avoiding mistakes is to take the selection and interview process very seriously indeed. Yvette Essen reports.

Finding the right staff is a job in itself. Much time, money and effort can be wasted on employing the wrong people, and when things go wrong, tensions and charged emotions can not only affect the ousted employee, but may rock the boat for those that stay behind.

Recruiting procedures are more important nowadays than ever before. Even when conducting interviews, the employer needs to be wary of the questions asked and the job specification provided to prevent a later onslaught of discrimination and unfair dismissal accusations.

Finding the right person to fill a vacancy and become part of a team is not an easy task. But there are ways of finding the ideal candidate and convincing him or her that you are the company for which they want to work. For a start, it is fundamental to advertise the vacancy in the right place.

Workthing.com's director of business development, Harjinder Singh-Heer, says: "You can be very smart and targeted about the way you spend money on recruitment, so think about advertising on internal notice-boards, in relevant newspapers and on the internet.

"Don't just put down the basic job details, such as day-to-day responsibilities, but give the candidate an impression of future career progression opportunities and a hook concerning what sort of organisation you are."

As soon as an employer lets the word spread they are looking for someone, they need to think about how to narrow down the number of contenders.

Senior recruitment consultant of Abel McKenna, Michele Emmett, says: "Application forms are probably the most widely-used device for screening applicants and can yield a wealth of valuable information."

Getting people to write out their personal and work-related details not only helps find out about candidates, but provides a framework for conducting a selection interview. It also gives information required for personnel records, should the individual be successful.

Emmett adds: "Although the specific areas covered and the details required will vary between organisations, there are content areas which should be covered by any form."

Screening recruits
Personal data such as full name, contact numbers, state of health and whether they have a driving licence should be included. Sections on education (institutes attended, qualifications, grades, offices held) and occupational history (job positions, main functions, salary and reasons for leaving a current employer) are also fundamental.

It is also worth knowing what the applicant does to relax (hobbies and interests) and what the present position is (when can they start working, referees, preferred salary and where they heard about the vacancy).

Once the employer has sifted through the pile of curriculum vitaes and applications, the interview process is the next crucial stage.

A problem is that some bosses have never been trained to conduct interviews, which requires different skills. A consultant at Law and Finance International (LFI), Teresa Carr, says: "You need to get a balance between a human resources and line manager when doing an interview as you have to make sure that the person can do the job but will also adhere to company procedures."

Conducting interviews
Using an agency can be helpful to pre-screen potential recruits. GAAPS International Special Actuarial Recruitment Group has two qualified occupational psychologists they send to clients at a rate of £1,000 to £1,500 a day to discuss the position they are trying to fill, draw up the questions they should ask and suggest ways of conducting the meeting.

Managing director of GAAPS, Dr Geraldine Kaye, believes it is vital that face-to-face meetings are held in different ways.

"The questions should vary according to the position," she says. "It really depends on what sort of person the employer is looking for," she says.

"For example, some jobs do not require an outgoing personality but someone with complex mathematical skills and concentration. However, if they are dealing with the public they must be able to do half a dozen things at the same time.

"You must know what you are looking for. Draw up a list of qualities that the person should have so you have a measure to check if that candidate is suitable."

Employers should also look through the curriculum vitae carefully, noting any achievements, gaps or areas which need expansion or explanation. Preparation is vital, no matter how junior the position.

"It is just as important when recruiting a fresh graduate, as they may be in the company for far longer," says Kaye. "If the employer makes the wrong decision, more harm can be done in the long run."

The interviewer needs to prepare before the event, and not by just jotting down a list of questions in advance. Creating the right environment is also a key which is often overlooked.

Carr of LFI explains: "The employer needs to balance a professional interview with being in touch with the person and making them feel relaxed. It is a very daunting and frightening experience, especially for younger candidates.

"Give the person enough time to think, talk back and ask questions. Ask them about something they know about to start with, to get a feel for how much they understand and to break the ice."

According to director of Hays Inter-Selection, Richard Griffiths, research shows the majority of interviews get interrupted by someone else coming in or by a phone call.

"Candidates should be given an environment where they can be successful," he says. "There should be a structure, so the person who is being interviewed knows what is going to happen and can get the most out of it. Some people give more thought to buying a stereo than finding staff. It is a matter for both sides."

An employer might also want to use additional tests to check the person is suitable. There are lots of different assessments available, including psychometric tests, verbal reasoning and numerics. Griffiths believes for some positions these can be essential.

"It is vital to get someone numerical if they want to work in credit or if it is an analytical type of role," he says. "People do need to have a way of constructing a more detail-orientated interview."

Employers should not forget that if a person is a very good candidate they will have different companies after them. It might also be worth asking if they have applied for other jobs and if they have any other interviews lined up.

Questions worth asking
TRYING to come up with questions to keep the conversation flowing for at least half an hour can be tricky, especially if you rarely conduct interviews and the candidate is shy.

The aim is to make the candidate feel at ease, while trying to find out more about their current situation, view of the job on offer and whether or not they are a future investment.

Here are some typical questions which may be worth asking.

  • Where do you aim to be in three years time?
  • Why did you choose insurance as a career?
  • What have been your major achievements in your education/career/life to date?
  • How ambitious are you and what are your goals?
  • Why are you looking to leave your current employer?
  • Why are you interested in our firm?
  • Why did you choose this specialist field?
  • When was your last pay review? How much was it and when is your next one?
  • What attributes would you bring to this firm?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What would your friends say they are?
  • What motivates you?
  • Give an example of using your initiative in your career.
  • How do you spend your spare time?
  • What is your perception of our firm?

    Source: Hays Inter-Selection

    Psychometric testing
    TESTS can help determine whether a person is suitable for a job. They help examine the skills, knowledge and abilities of prospective employees according to pre-determined, objective guidelines.

    There are many kinds of ways to check a person's compatibility for a position. These can be broadly divided into two sections - aptitude and group intelligence checks or personality, interests and individual intelligence tests.

    But what are the pros and cons of assessments?

    THE PROS
    Psychometric tests can help the employer:

  • select staff who are more capable and motivated
  • measure attributes which are difficult to assess by other means
  • distinguish between otherwise similarly qualified candidates
  • make unbiased, job-related decisions, which in turn can enhance the organisation's overall image as an employer.

    THE CONS
    However, there are disadvantages. These include:

  • a tendency to overly rely on tests for selection purposes. Tests can only indicate which individuals are most likely to do well.
  • no test can point with certainty to those people who will do well, so they should not be used exclusively.
  • many people react negatively to the idea of a test, while some just do not perform their best when doing them.

    Source: Abel McKenna