Essential guide to recruitment


Recruiting the right individuals is crucial to the success of your business. Your aim is to ensure that your employees have the skills, experience and attitude that will help you achieve your objectives.

A clear understanding of what you need is essential. You also need a recruitment process that helps you find, attract and select candidates cost-effectively.

Planning ahead

Defining what you want

Finding candidates

Attracting candidates




1. Planning ahead

Recruit to meet your business needs

  • Use your business plan to anticipate future requirements. For example, if you plan to break into new markets, you may need to recruit sales people with relevant skills and experience.
  • You may need someone with the right skills and experience for a particular project.
  • Decide when to recruit. For example, by looking at likely levels of staff turnover and identifying seasonal fluctuations in your business.
  • Decide on an ideal balance of full-time employees, temporary or casual workers, and outside services such as self-employed contractors.

Recruit to tackle problem areas

  • Poor performance may be due to employee shortages or a lack of skills and experience.
  • Identify employees who are not performing. 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.

Strengthen your management team

  • Identify the gaps in your existing team. Be objective about your own skills and experience.
  • Finance, IT, marketing and sales tend to be priorities. Support functions like HR become more important as the business grows.
  • You may want to find someone who can bring a strong network of contacts and potential customers with them.
  • If you are looking to raise money, lenders and investors are likely to look for an experienced and well-balanced team.

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 and salary comparison tools and surveys.

2. Defining what you want

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.
  • Identify who the new person will be working with and reporting to.
  • Think about how your requirements - and individuals' roles - are likely to change over time.

Set out the required skills and other attributes in a person specification

  • Use the job description to work out what you want. What is essential and what is desirable?
  • Identify what you need immediately and what can be developed through training.
  • What kind of personality and attitude does the job require? This might reflect your business needs (eg flexibility), the style and values of your business, or the balance of personalities in existing teams.

Draw up a list of criteria against which you can assess candidates

  • Qualifications are a rough guide to people's ability, interests and the standard of work you can expect from them. However, previous jobs and experience may provide a better indication of people's strengths and skills.
  • Give all criteria a weighting according to their importance.
  • It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, marital or civil partnership status, religion, philosophical belief or age.
  • Do not require applicants to have attributes that rule out a particular group. Make sure that your recruitment procedures generally do not discriminate.

Decide how much you are prepared to pay

  • Take into account what other employers are offering, in your industry and locally. Will your offer be high enough to attract the right candidates?
  • Link offers to your pay structures or the value you expect the employee to bring. Beware of antagonising existing employees by offering new recruits more.
  • Ensure you offer equal pay for work of equal value to avoid discrimination.
  • Be aware of other costs, including the costs of recruitment, National Insurance contributions, pension contributions and any perks you provide.

3. Finding candidates

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.

Advertise using a carefully written advertisement

  • The cheapest place to advertise is on your website. But this may be ineffective if your site does not attract enough visitors.
  • Unless you expect the candidate to relocate to your area, local newspapers may be the best option.
  • Special recruitment sections in trade magazines and national newspapers will help you find skilled staff. Many papers run recruitment ads for specialists in different fields on particular days of the week.
  • You can also advertise on online job sites. Use your industry's business portals to find sites that cover your geographical or business area.
  • Advertise in appropriate places. If there aren't other recruitment ads for jobs that are similar to yours, you are advertising in the wrong place.
  • Write your advertisement in a way that will attract candidates.

Consider using an employment agency

  • Choose an agency 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 Best use of agencies.

Use Jobcentre Plus as a cheap and fast way of recruiting

  • Jobcentre Plus 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.

Build relationships with local schools, colleges and universities to attract trainees

  • Get to know them, so they send you their promising candidates.
  • Be ready to interview candidates when they start to look for work at the beginning of their final year.

Network to expand your circle of contacts

  • Stay in touch with people you have worked with in the past - they might be strong job candidates in future.
  • Build relationships with talented individuals working for customers, suppliers, competitors and other businesses. If possible, keep track of individual careers, so that you know when they are looking to move on.
  • Use your advisers and investors. They may be able to recommend candidates, particularly for high-level roles.
  • Be prepared for unsolicited applications. A quick interview - even when there is no job available - will tell you whether someone might be suitable in the future.

Use social media to target and reach candidates

  • Share content online that 'sells' your business to candidates who may be looking for a job.
  • Post details online of vacancies via your business and personal social media accounts. Use relevant hashtags and keywords. Consider using posts, blogs and online chats to spread the word.
  • Use social media and online networking sites to advertise the vacancy. Most offer recruitment solutions such as LinkedIn's Talent Finder.
  • Encourage employees who are active online to promote vacancies to their network of contacts.

Best use of agencies

Provide the right information

  • Provide a clear brief on what you are looking for. Sell your business to the agency to encourage them to send you their best candidates.
  • Give agencies feedback about the quality of their candidates, so they can improve their screening procedures if necessary.

Control the cost

  • Agencies usually charge 10-30% of the first year's salary, depending on the salary involved.
  • Avoid exclusive agreements in exchange for lower rates, until the agency has proved it can provide suitable candidates for your vacancy.
  • If you are recruiting temporary or casual employees, it is cheaper to recruit in batches.
  • Be prepared to negotiate terms. For example, many agencies require payment within 14 days.
  • Negotiate a clear contract, detailing what the agency will do, what charges are payable, and what will happen if an employee leaves soon after joining you (most agencies provide a rebate).

4. Attracting candidates

Write your job advertisement or agency brief with care

  • Model your own advertisement on the best advertisements for similar jobs.

Include all the basic information

  • Describe your business. State what you do and where you are located.
  • Detail the important elements of the job.
  • Indicate what the pay and benefits will be. Specify a range so that you can vary your final offer according to what a candidate seems worth.
  • State what you want from a candidate. Set out what experience, skills and qualifications are required or desirable.
  • Tell candidates how to apply and the closing date.

Sell the job

Make the ad less impersonal by using 'we', instead of 'the company', and 'you', instead of 'applicants'. State:

  • what makes your business so good (eg expanding, financially sound);
  • what makes the work interesting and why your company is good to work for;
  • what training will be given;
  • what the promotion prospects are.

Invite applications in a form that helps you assess each candidate

  • 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

Assess candidates against your criteria

  • Use your job and person specification as a checklist to help assess each applicant. See Defining what you want.
  • 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.
  • Draw up a shortlist of the most promising applicants. Rank them in order, starting with the best.
  • Decide how many are worth interviewing.

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.
  • Interview as soon as possible, in small batches. This makes it easier to compare everyone.
  • Consider offering evening interviews for candidates that can't make it during the day.
  • Ask candidates whether they need any special arrangements because of a disability.
  • 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.

Interview shortlisted candidates

  • Prepare your questions in advance, using your checklist as a guide. For example, if you are interviewing for a team manager you might ask for examples that demonstrate their leadership abilities.
  • Plan how you will test for relevant skills where necessary.
  • Use two or more interviewers. At least one should have an excellent knowledge of any special requirements of the job. You may want to involve any key individuals the candidate would work with.
  • Start each interview by putting the candidate at ease. Tell them about your business and the job.
  • Ask questions that encourage the candidate to do the talking. Be ready to probe if a candidate seems evasive.
  • Avoid questions that are discriminatory - for example, about health, age, marital status, religion or belief.
  • Suspend judgement until the end of the interview.
  • Ask if the candidate has any questions. Be ready to give more information and sell the job to the candidate.
  • Tell candidates when they will hear from you. Beware of making verbal offers of employment, which are legally binding.

Record the performance of each candidate

  • Make your notes right after each interview.
  • Give each candidate a score, using your criteria.
  • If you think someone can bring real benefits to your business, you may want to be prepared to tailor the role to suit them.
  • Keep in mind that under data protection regulations candidates can ask to see any notes you have taken.
  • If necessary, arrange second interviews for the best candidates.
  • If none of the candidates are suitable, start again. Evaluate what went wrong.

6. Employment

Send an offer letter to your preferred candidate

  • Say when the job starts and how much time the candidate has to accept the offer.
  • State what pay and benefits you are offering and when the salary 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.

Take up references

  • Before checking references with a current employer, confirm you have the applicant's permission.
  • Ask for written details of the candidate's responsibilities and performance.
  • Check any other crucial details. For example, essential qualifications, dates of employment and salary.
  • Telephone previous employers to ask them about the candidate. A conversation can be more revealing than a written reference.

Check the candidate is legally entitled to work in the UK

  • You are responsible for checking that an employee has the necessary documents. A National Insurance number on its own is not sufficient (but a passport showing that the individual is a British or EU citizen is, for example).
  • If you want to employ someone from outside the EU, you will need to sponsor them. The employee will need to pass a points-based assessment.

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.

Plan the new employee's induction

  • A warm welcome can significantly improve their attitude, even if they only work on a temporary or casual basis.
  • Tell other employees when someone new is joining your company.
  • Show the new employee round and make introductions to key colleagues.
  • Provide a company handbook, information about the business, and relevant health and safety information.
  • Support the employee through the probation period with regular appraisals and organise any training needed.

7. Review

Periodically review the effectiveness of your recruitment process.

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.

Monitor your employee turnover

  • Interview employees when they leave, and find out why.


Expert quotes

"You can't select the right people if you don't have a clear idea of what you need. Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of your existing team against your business needs, and recruit accordingly." - Margaret Dale, HR management consultant

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