A Guide to Recruitment

Totem-Recruitment 400x265Where To Start When Recruiting

Whilst we don’t want to teach you how to suck eggs – whatever that means, we do often get asked what simple steps can be taken to make a more robust hiring decision. So here they are.

Great performance at work comes from the three components of What, How and Why.  Whether we are recruiting a new colleague or managing an existing one – we will need to review all three aspects to develop a great performer.  To start with, put yourself in the position of the new recruit and ask yourself these questions.


What do I need to do?  What am I expected to do?  What are the objectives, measures, KPIs?  What is most important?

If I had been doing this role for 12 months and was getting great feedback, what would I have achieved?  How would I know I had achieved those things?

What about after 3 years?  What would I hope to achieve by then?  How would I know I had achieved those things?


How do I need to be?  How do I fit in with the culture here?  How do I connect with the values here?  How am I expected to behave?


Why do I need to do it – and why in that way?  Why does this role exist?  What part do I play?  Why is that important?

Next you’ll need to write a Job Description that works.  Most often job descriptions end up being dusty documents in a drawer – yet we can get far better use from them for recruitment, performance management and development – it might be useful to have a peak at this PDF.


What Selection Method(s) should I use?

Years of research into selection methods used across all sorts of businesses and job roles has revealed that the more structured the assessment process, the better we can predict how well someone will perform in a job.  The highest prediction comes from combining a few key methods and we strongly recommend a structured interview and a work sample test.

A personality profile can also be extremely insightful when identifying someone who is the right fit for your business.

Work Sample Tests

The idea of a work sample test is wonderfully simple: “The greatest test of how well someone might do in a job is the test of seeing them do the job.”

What aspects of the role you are recruiting for could you test – in a real situation or perhaps in a role play or desk-based exercise?  Ideas could include:

  • Giving the candidate a customer or client role play to perform in
  • An in tray exercise that requires candidates to sort and prioritise a workload
  • Asking the candidate to prove their claimed experience by using software or IT system

The best work sample tests feature as much reality as possible – so add in the kind of questions people usually ask and the challenges faced – cover the What, How and even the Why by asking questions afterwards – “why did you choose that approach?”

You should have in mind what a good performer will look like from the job description questions – so that ideally you can objectively rate candidates against these criteria (rather than just deciding who you liked).

Overall you will have a ‘gut feel’ for who may be right for you – which is fine as long as you back that up or challenge it with evidence.  Great recruitment practices are about sense-checking and challenging that intuition with more objective information – so that you know you’ve made a good quality decision for your business.

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Assessment Design

Totem-Gold-400x265How Do You Select For What You Really Need?

Let’s assume you’re already confident with your starting point for recruiting, and if not we suggest you jump to this page for the basics but if you are, you might benefit from building on that with this little article.

Quite often when we’re recruiting we spend the minimal time exploring what we need up front, we take a gut feel approach to the needs of the role, dust off an old copy of a job description and then run a standard interview to select the best candidate.

There’s a huge amount of evidence that suggests that if you take this approach, your new recruit will fall flat on their face within months of taking up the role.  But there are some simple steps you can take to designing your recruitment process that will yield far better recruitment results.

We’re not simply talking the all-encompassing Assessment Centre here, they can often be too wieldy and over the top for a number of different reasons.  It may be that the position is quite junior, and an assessment centre costing more than the actual salary of the role is unjustifiable, or it may be the sheer volume of candidates you need to wade through is too high…

But there are some golden nuggets and best practices we can take straight from a well-designed assessment centre, and apply to them to situations that require a little more flexibility.

Assessment centres often get good press from employers because they give you the opportunity see how a candidate performs over a longer, and more consistent window.  The value of this is quite high as you can see how a candidate will actually perform, rather than how they say they can perform.  One major drawback to simply using an interview!

Totem Gummi Bears

Start by being particular when choosing the competencies for any given role, being mindful of the requirements for the job – does it involve planning and organising? Motivating others?  Clear communication?

There are a surprising range of possible competencies and the ones which are relevant to a particular job are determined through job analysis.

In recent conversations with our clients, particularly those seeing a resurgence in hiring activity, such as Retail and Professional Services, we’ve come across two recurring challenges:

  • How do we measure remote management, inspiration and engagement of people when we don’t all work together in a store or office?
  • How do we measure adaptability in client meetings or face to face customer conversations?

Similar skills, different contexts.

For these two examples, a structured interview combined with a work sample test are going to be extremely insightful for finding the best candidate – perhaps just as useful as a more expensive, full-blown assessment centre.  The difference being that an assessment centre is measuring a wider set of competencies and takes a long time, whereas here we’ve paired it down to strictest essentials.

If you’re recruiting for a role where you need to see how a candidate reacts in a critical situation faced frequently in the post, it might be worth you using one of these work sample tests.  Think about that situation that can make or break someone in the role, and design an assessment that helps you pick the best candidate.

So how do you design a strong, robust work sample test?

Here are some top tips:

Write out and agree what behaviours you’re looking for – so you’re creating your scoring forms.  Be really specific eg “asks the client what their measures of success would be,” or “explains their key message to the store manager over the phone, then asks them what that means to them and how they can implement it”

Create a scenario typical to the role that someone can step into for the purpose of the assessment “eg you’re in a field management position and need to call one of your store managers, or you’re about to meet a client who has let you know they’re not happy.”  Write a more detailed brief about the situation and what you want them to do

Check that the scenario and the brief you give the candidate, gives them the opportunity to display all the behaviours you’re looking for

Observe each candidate in the scenario and score them against your pre-agreed scoring forms.

Using the above method, you’ll be to reduce the amount of time and spend on assessment centres and quite importantly, you’ll be supporting the hiring manager to really focus on the core elements of the role they’re recruiting for.  That’s extremely helpful for overcoming the classic “I like him” or “she seems like a good fit.”

To get in touch with Totem about your assessment design needs is simple, click me!

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Ability Tests

Ability tests measure a specific aptitude – an inherent talent.

If we are using ability tests to screen candidates for a role, we need to be really sure that we are screening for the right thing. Is a verbal reasoning test score really the measure of a great manager?

What are Ability Tests?

Tests are carefully and robustly designed to measure abilities objectively, and they must be completed under exam-like conditions to ensure the environment is as consistent as possible for all users.

Remember that ability tests only predict one small aspect of job performance – so you’ll need to have a clear idea of what else is critical to success in the role

What value do they add?

When the right test is used for the right reason, the validity can be greatly improved. This means that a correctly chosen ability test can measure how effective a person might be in a role better than any other single selection method. The key is in selecting the right test, and in recognising that the test only predicts one small aspect of overall performance.

For example, verbal reasoning test scores have been found to link strongly with job performance in management roles. This is hardly surprising given the demands on a manager’s communication skills. That said, verbal reasoning is only one part of overall management skill. Knowing a management candidate has strong verbal reasoning skill is a great start. What else do they have?

Ability tests add value to your selection process by telling you very quickly whether a candidate holds the inherent talents that are critical to success in the role. A common and valuable use of ability tests is in high volume recruitment, where it is great to use ability tests as a sifting tool.

What’s the downside?

Candidates tend to really dislike taking these tests, but then, those that are successful tend to consider that they have really ‘earned’ their place in the next stage of your process.

The major risk with these tests is that choosing the wrong test could mean that you are selecting against the wrong criteria.

How to gain maximum value

  • Complete a thorough job analysis before choosing test
  • Use tests as one part of your selection process, as they only measure one aspect of performance
  • Improve candidate perception by ensuring they know how the test relates to the requirements of the role and by giving them feedback
  • The BPS (British Psychological Society) ensures robustness in the design, publishing and use of ability tests – so make sure you use BPS approved tests, administered by BPS qualified users
  • Constantly review the process – are the tests providing you with strong candidates for the next stage of your process?
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Assessment by Design

Totem-AC 400x265How do we go about designing an Assessment Centre?

It’s probably best to clarify what we mean by Assessment Centre – because others may describe them as development centres, others still as screening days.  What we’re talking about here is taking a group of people and assessing their skills and behaviour against certain criteria.

It could be that you’re recruiting for hundreds of store managers, or you’re looking at the development needs of two or three senior law firm partners – the premise is the same (the execution is obviously different!)

So what does make a great performer in certain roles?  Does ‘good performance’ mean the same thing if the role is say, externally or internally facing?  How does geographic location effect performance – and the assessment?

And let’s make it super interesting, are there differences across the brands being represented if you’re working in a multi-brand organisation?

In order to better plan recruitment and development activity across your organisation, you’re going to have questions similar to these.  You’ll probably have some baseline performance measures in place already – think competency framework here, but is that framework up to the job?

The outcome you’re looking for here is a clear understanding of the consistent and individual behaviours that differentiate high performance – leading on to a better selection or development process for every role under the microscope.

Jelly Bean Diversity

So where to start? 

First up is understanding what good performance actually looks like in your organisation or a specific role.  Start by reviewing any key metrics you use across the roles and then sense check them with a few key stakeholders.  Take the time here to conduct a few exploratory interviews with line managers, regional managers etc – the feedback from these sessions will give you a deeper and more realistic understanding of where your exiting metrics are and aren’t working.

From this you will have a clear sense of how to identify the measures of great performance and where to explore specific behaviours and contexts.  This will enable you to invite the right people to focus groups.

Which leads us on to step two, focus groups.  Having identified high performers using the metrics from step one, you’ll need to run focus groups with these people to understand what they’re doing in more detail.

It’s a great idea to include high performers across brands, roles and locations (if applicable) in order to understand where there are consistencies and where there are important differences.  It would also be ideal to meet with line managers of high performers to understand their perspective too.

Your role in these groups is to use a range of job analysis techniques to understand the what and how of high performance.  What are people doing that’s delivering the strong metrics?  How are they going about it?  What are the behaviours that make a difference?

Totem Gummi Bears

Now you’ve done the hard work, it’s time for step three and the design work itself.  A good place to start is with a little job analysis.

Think of this analysis like a funnelling exercise.  You need to filter through all the talk about what good looks like to find the highest differentiating characteristics that are consistent across roles, locations and brands.

Once you’re clear on these differentiators, you can begin choosing exercises that give the candidate or attendee the best opportunity to show the desired skills or behaviours.  For example – if charming and disarming customer service is a key requirement for a role, give the candidate a role play exercise with a potentially awkward customer.

You could also choose from a more formal face-to-face assessment, an actual staff interaction or possibly some form of desk analysis if that is relevant.

Particularly in assessment centres, it’s vital to give individuals two opportunities to show the behaviour that you’re after.  Sticking with the customer service role example – some individuals may perform poorly in a face to face environment, but excel in a contact centre environment so build this flexibility into your assessment centre.

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What is Potential?

ladder 400x265Research and recommendations on defining and assessing potential.

The research on potential from two big hitters in management consulting, YSC and Korn Ferry has many companies combining their two famous models. But what does that really mean and how can it work?

YSC’s model of Judgement, Drive and Influence (JDI) shows us the most critical attitude, behaviour and skills required for successful leaders. In any situation a leader finds themselves in, these three qualities will be required for success. We need to be able to recognise problems, analyse information and produce solutions.

We also need the self assurance and ambition to move things on and get things done. And we need strong emotional intelligence to take people with us and gain buy in.  As always, there will be some of these things each of us is naturally better at, and some we will need support with.

Interested in Personal Masterclasses?

YSC back this up with impressive breadth of study across nations and industries, and the practical application of that research is clear and straight forward.

So what about Korn Ferry?  Equally robust with their breadth and depth of research, it is a different model and set of qualities this company raises up as critical for success.  Learning Agility is the ability and willingness to learn from experience and later apply that learning to succeed in never faced before situations.

Totem Gummi Bears

It is precisely because leaders are always facing new situations they have never dealt with before, that this curiosity, appetite for learning and speed of learning application, is key.  The first time a department head is asked to set up a new unit in an emerging market, most of what they know goes out the window. What makes me successful here does not usually make me successful there.

Korn Ferry have identified different types of agility, and again each of us are stronger at some of these than others.

So to be successful we need to be agile or quick to learn and adapt, with regards to people, change, mental problem solving and delivering results.  Two great models, well researched and backed up.

It’s not surprising then that many businesses are combining these two models to give an over arching definition of potential. But how exactly does that work?

Depending on the preference of the business it can be YSC with a bit of Korn Ferry, or Korn Ferry with a bit of YSC.

We have come across more companies taking that first approach.  They assess potential by interviewing against judgement, drive and influence, and add in deep dive questions on learning applied within each of those qualities.  The important thing to ask is what are we trying to achieve?

If we want to select people who might have the potential to be successful future leaders in business x, then arguably we should conduct our own research on what makes success here. But that can be costly and difficult to future proof.  So instead many of us work with a best fit model, that we tweak to better fit our culture and estimated needs for the future.

With the budget and resources to put to it, doing your own research, backed up by the expert findings from these companies, can be the best option.  And if the resources aren’t there, so much insight is available from this research, you can still have something built for you on that basis.

We’ve used both approaches and every client is simply happy to have something bespoke for them, safe in the knowledge it has been built on solid foundations.

Totem Lollipops

But after all that, here is a very different way of thinking…

What if instead of starting with a company’s or academic’s review of what success looks like, and assessing who has the potential to meet that list, we started with the individual?

What if we asked each individual where their potential for growth might be?  And supported every individual to become their best self?  This is the other angle of potential… The more human side, which taps into the statements that come up with every model of potential or success… Some of us are better at some of these things than others.

So rather than trying to help everyone grow five aspects of learning agility, on top of judgement, drive and influence, what if we simply helped them tap into their own natural potential?  This would be a significant shift from the current thinking around models of potential, and yet it seems more realistic.

We know from Gallup’s Q12 and wider research into strengths, that doing what we do best every day is critical to great results.  So let’s work to those strengths and natural potential.

Perhaps once again there is an opportunity to combine the ideas.

With a model of potential based on JDI and learning agility, combined with a focus on understanding where an individual’s natural potential lies, maybe we find the answer we really need: Who has what it takes?

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Personality Profiling & Gaining Buy-In

Jelly Beans TotemWhen you recognise the value personality profiling can add, how do you sell it in?

At first glance, you’re trying to offer a process that adds time and money to recruitment. How could you possibly sell that idea?  Unless you are talking to someone who has previously used and found great value from personality profiles, these tools are at best a mystery, at worst, a waste of time.

Most people will at some point in their career have had contact with a personality questionnaire. To know what you are dealing with, it is therefore useful to ask the individual what experience they have had of these tools before.

The difficulty here is not that the tool is no good: It is all in the execution. Personality profiles are extremely useful when applied correctly, but through lack of time or experience, this is often not the case.

Make sure you are clear about the profiling service you are offering, how it adds value, how it works and what each party will receive. Then you can sell the benefits.

Benefits to the business

  • Find out information about candidates’ working preferences quicker and more efficiently than through hours of interviewing
  • The candidate receives feedback, providing a positive image of the business
  • Receive a report about candidates’ likely areas of fit to the role and tips on areas to question further at interview
  • Feedback from a business psychologist can reveal factors about the candidate that an interview wouldn’t necessarily provide. For example, their anxiety levels, social confidence, team approach and leadership style

Benefits to the candidate

  • Complete an online questionnaire and receive feedback on working preferences, providing useful insight into personal fit with the company and role
  • The feedback is a real two-way process and provides an opportunity to add “flesh on the bones” of the profile and explain responses
  • As the feedback is with an external business psychologist, there is the added benefit of gaining their insights based on a range of organisations and industries
  • As the recruiting manager is looking for someone that really fits with the company, the successful candidate will therefore be much more likely to enjoy the work and environment

Starting a conversation about profiling

This may be a helpful start…

“We now offer a personality profiling service, which allows you to learn more about a candidate in less time.”

If you would like more guidance on asking the right interview questions to really get under the skin of the candidate, we provide a service that can help with that.


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Situational Judgement Tests

“Organisation can never replace good judgement” – Louis D. Brandeis

What is managerial judgement? Is there really a right answer to the question of how to deal with critical incidents at work such as an underperforming team?

What are Situational Judgement Tests?

Known as SJTs, these tests measure managerial judgement, looking at how individuals would respond to certain scenarios. This can be further broken down to: Managing objectives, people management and reputation or corporate management.

You can buy off-the-shelf SJTs that will measure candidates’ responses against a set of pre-determined ‘best practice’ answers. Quite often though, companies require something more specifically designed to their own context and ways of working.

What value do they add?

Management of budgets, people and performance is a challenge to all new managers. We know that five years’ management experience does not necessarily make a good manager. SJTs allow you to test how someone would deal with the kind of issues common to business management. Or if you create a bespoke test, you can measure directly how someone would deal with your specific issues.

As with all psychometric tests, the value-add is in saving time. By using an off-the-shelf or investing in a bespoke SJT, you find out quickly how someone would deal with issues, rather than having to go through lengthy interviews. It is how we deal with these critical incidents that defines our success as managers, so you could do with knowing how well a candidate will match your needs – before it’s too late.

It’s not the only thing that matters, but most businesses face those times when management judgement makes all the difference. Are you recruiting people that shine at those critical moments?

What’s the downside?

SJTs can be expensive to design for an organisation, as they need to be tested for psychometric fairness with a pilot group – involving time and money. If you are therefore more likely to use an off-the-shelf SJT, it is wise for you to check that the scenarios used in the test are relevant for the role you are recruiting for. Make sure you get the right test to measure the right thing.

As with all psychometric tests, the main risk involved is that recruiting managers focus only on one aspect of success. Every psychometric test should be used as part of a wider process to ensure all priority aspects of a role are tested in recruitment.

How to gain maximum value

  • Analyse the needs of the role to fully understand what needs to be measured
  • If judgement and decision-making are key to success in the role, gather information on the kinds of decisions that make a difference and the contexts and scenarios managers deal with
  • Based on this information, review the off-the-shelf SJTs available for suitability – and if nothing is right, speak to a business psychologist about having a test designed for you (and if this turns out to be too costly, ask their advice on how else you might measure what you need)
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