Recruiting the right employees can be a challenge, with no guarantee of success. But using the right information and procedures will improve your chances of finding what you are looking for.

This briefing outlines:

  1. How to plan your recruitment.
  2. How to find suitable candidates.
  3. How to choose the right person.

1 Planning ahead

1.1 Recruit to meet your business needs.

  • Use your business plan to anticipate future requirements. For example, if you plan to break into new markets at any point, you may need to recruit sales people with relevant skills and experience.
  • Identify seasonal fluctuations in your business and work out how to cover them.
  • Decide on an ideal balance of full-time employees and other types of employee.
  • Decide when to recruit. For example, by analysing likely levels of staff turnover.

1.2 Recruit to tackle problem areas.

For example, poor performance may be due to employee shortages.

  • Identify employees who are not performing well. Work out if existing employees could be retrained or if additional employees are needed.
  • Consider using a qualified consultant for an objective assessment of recruitment problems, such as high employee turnover.

1.3 Benchmark salaries in your industry.

  • Read the news and job sections of appropriate trade publications.
  • Talk to your local business support organisation or Jobcentre Plus about local rates.
  • Check recruitment websites for similar jobs and salary surveys.

1.4 Set up good recruitment procedures and brief everyone involved in the process.

  • Make sure your recruitment procedures do not discriminate illegally on the basis of gender, race, religion, belief, age, disability, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, gender reassignment or sexual orientation.

Keep records so you can justify why you chose one candidate over another.

2 Defining what you want

2.1 Start by drafting a detailed job description. This is especially important for new posts and as posts change.

  • Set out the main responsibilities, and the regular and occasional tasks.
  • Detail reporting lines and team responsibilities.

2.2 In your specifications, set out the skills you want the recruit to have.

  • Use the job description to work out which skills and knowledge are needed. Identify what you need immediately, and what can be developed through training.

    For example, you may want specific experience or skills, or the ability to work well in a team.

  • The personal skills you are looking for may reflect the style and values of your business, or the balance of personalities in existing teams.

Give all skills a weighting according to their importance and decide on essential, and desirable ones.

2.3 Decide how much you are prepared to pay.

  • Decide on your offer, taking industry and local rates into account (see 1.3).
  • Link offers to your pay structures or the value you expect the employee to bring.

Beware of antagonising existing employees and ensure you give equal pay for work of equal value.

3 Finding candidates

3.1 Make use of internal resources.

  • Internal promotion is the cheapest way to recruit, and can help you motivate and keep existing employees.

    Use your training and development programmes to prepare employees for promotion.

  • Consider offering bonuses to existing employees who put you in touch with successful recruits.
  • Keep any previous applications on file.

3.2 Advertise externally, using a carefully written advertisement (see 4.1).

  • Advertise in appropriate publications. For example, target employees using national newspapers or specialist trade magazines.

    Unless you expect the candidate to relocate to your area, local newspapers may be the best option.

  • The cheapest way to advertise is on your website. But this may be inefficient if your site does not attract enough visitors. You can also advertise on job sites such as or Use your industry's business portals to find sites that cover your geographical or business area.

3.3 Consider using an employment agency, preferably with experience in your business sector.

  • Agencies can be helpful when recruiting specialist or temporary employees, or recruits from skills shortage areas.
  • Hiring temporary staff can be a good way to get to know employees before offering them permanent positions.
  • Make sure you provide a detailed brief of your requirements (see 4.1).

3.4 Use Jobcentre Plus as a cheap and fast way of recruiting.

  • It is particularly useful for finding temporary and permanent employees earning up to £20,000 a year.
  • There is no charge and Jobcentre Plus can shortlist applicants for you.
  • Find your local office or phone 0845 601 2001 to advertise your vacancy.

3.5 Build relationships with local schools, colleges and universities to attract graduates for trainee positions.

  • Be ready to interview candidates when theystart to look for work at the beginning of their final year.

4 Attracting candidates

4.1 Write your job advertisement or agency brief with care.

  • Model your own ad on the best advertisements for similar jobs.
  • Describe your business. State what you do and where you are located.
  • Detail the important elements of the job. Remember to mention attractive features - explain what makes the job interesting and why your company is good to work for.
  • Indicate the salary involved.

    Specify a range so that you can vary your final offer according to what a candidate seems worth.

  • Include any training and promotion opportunities.
  • State what you want from a candidate (eg indicate what experience is required).
  • Tell candidates how to apply (see 4.2), and the closing date for applications.

4.2 Invite applications in a form that helps you assess each candidate (see 5.1).

  • A CV and covering letter should give you the information you need to draw up an interview shortlist.
  • Using your own application form can help you get more specific information, and provides an easier and fairer way to compare candidates.

5 Selection

5.1 Use your job and person specification (see 2.2) as a checklist to help assess each applicant.

  • Look for evidence of success in previous work. Distinguish between tasks applicants have carried out and areas where they have managed the activities of others.

5.2 Prepare a shortlist.

  • Invite shortlisted candidates to an interview. Tell them where, when and how long the interview will be, what testing will take place (if any), and who they should ask for when they arrive.
  • Ask any candidates with disabilities whether they need special arrangements.
  • Send an interview pack with relevant information about your company.
  • Keep some candidates in reserve in case the most promising applicants turn out to be unsuitable.
  • Send rejection letters to unsuccessful candidates as soon as possible.

5.3 Interview shortlisted candidates.

  • Use two or more interviewers, including any relevant personnel.
  • Ask questions using your checklist.
  • Give more information about the job, and sell it to the candidate.
  • Test for relevant skills (see 5.4).
  • Record the performance of each candidate. Give each one a score, using your weighting system (see 2.2), but keep in mind that under the Data Protection Act candidates can ask to see any notes you have taken.
  • If necessary, arrange second interviews for the best candidates.
  • Tell candidates when they will hear from you. Beware of making verbal offers of employment, which are legally binding.

5.4 Use work samples or exercises to assess candidates' ability to do the job well.

  • Devise your own test, relevant to the job you are offering.
  • You can use psychometric tests to measure candidates' general aptitude, specific skills and personal qualities.

    You will need appropriate training or support accredited by the British Psychological Society (0116 254 9568).

5.5 Take up references for the best candidate.

  • Ask for written details of the candidate's responsibilities and performance.
  • Check any other crucial details.
  • If none of the candidates are suitable, start again. Evaluate what went wrong (see 7).

Proof of the pudding

Testing should be a central part of your selection process, helping you check the claims made on applicants' CVs. If you have no experience of the candidate's field of expertise, get someone who has to help you test. Below are examples of different tests.

For sales people, provide a fictional customer profile and product description, and ask candidates to prepare a presentation within a specified time.

Test accountancy personnel by printing off a profit and loss table and asking them to identify problem areas. Always check for knowledge of spreadsheets.

Ask IT applicants to look at, and suggest solutions for, problems you experience on your IT system.

Assess prospective engineers by asking them to suggest a maintenance schedule for your key machinery.

Check basic skills of office employees by asking them to produce a straightforward sample document.

6 Employment

6.1 Send an official offer letter to your preferred candidate.

  • Say when the job starts and how much time the candidate has to accept the offer.
  • State what salary you are offering and when it will be reviewed.
  • Make it clear if the offer is subject to any conditions. For example, references.
  • For permanent employees, state the length of the probation period (usually three to six months).
  • Supply written terms and conditions with your offer letter, or not later than two months after the date of employment.

    It is sensible to have a written agreement when contracting self-employed people.

6.2 Send polite rejection letters to any remaining unsuccessful candidates.

  • It may be appropriate to offer opportunities for feedback. Do so automatically for internal candidates, on request for others.

6.3 Plan a warm welcome for new employees. This can significantly improve their attitude, even if they only work for you on a temporary or casual basis.

  • Tell other employees when someone new is joining your company.
  • Show new employees round and make introductions to key colleagues.

6.4 Complete new employees' induction.

  • Provide a company handbook, information about the business, and relevant health and safety information.
  • Support the employee through the probation period with appraisals and organise any training needed.

6.5 Fulfil your obligations as an employer.

  • For example, complete appropriate tax procedures.

7 Review

Periodically review the effectiveness of your recruitment process by examining key indicators.

7.1 Analyse your recruitment methods.

  • Look at the different recruitment channels you use. Are they delivering the quality of applicant you want?
  • Analyse how many unsuitable applicants you get. Compare their applications with your advertisements. You might need to change the information you provide.

7.2 Monitor your employee turnover.

  • Interview employees when they leave and find out why.