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!

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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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Recruitment and a Positive Mindset

Totem Recruit HappyDoes your mindset make you more employable?

Traditionally we have been brought up to believe that if we work hard, we achieve more and then we might get the things we want and be happy.  But research over the past 12 years into the life habits and thinking of people who are successful, happy and fulfilled in all aspects of their lives reveals that we have this the wrong way round.

This research shows very clearly that the happiest people, or those that live fulfilled lives and have achieved consistently – they worked on being happy first.

How on earth does this apply to recruitment or even job hunting?  Here we take a closer look at the impact that bringing a positive mindset to your job hunting could have on your employment prospects.

Guess what happens if you click the image…?





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Under Pressure

eggShould we put candidates under extra pressure at interview? 

Is that a good way of assessing how well they deal with pressure in the job?  Is this also an assessment of their leadership potential?

This is a question we get asked a fair amount, because it is often a requirement of the job for people to cope well under pressure.  Our response, as usual, is a few more questions.

  • In what context is the person in their role likely to be under pressure?
  • What might the experience be like?
  • How can you simulate that particular kind of pressure in the assessment process?
  • What does a good response to that assessment look like?

These questions are critical because they can unearth different assumptions from each of the people involved in the assessment process.  In one example we heard that one assessor thought the candidates needed to remain calm and smiling whilst being fired quick and difficult questions, whereas the ultimate decision-maker was looking for someone who would take charge of the situation and ask the interviewer to ask one question at a time.

This highlights how we can come into a process all wanting different things – and of course the outcome can be a fair few arguments in the wash-up session because one person thought the candidate responded well under pressure and another person thought they did terribly.

Totem Gummi Bears

Let’s explore each of the questions in a bit more depth:

In what context is the person in their role likely to be under pressure?  What might the experience be like?

There is a difference between responding well to a tight deadline and dealing with a really difficult customer.  How we cope under pressure is not consistent across different types of pressure.  Have you ever met someone who works well against a deadline, yet cannot speak confidently to an angry person?

Or have you come across someone who falls apart when there are too many things to get done, yet they seem very happy and open discussing that with their manager or team?  These are examples of the fact that we each respond differently to each kind of pressure.  So we need to understand the kind of pressure a candidate might be under in the actual job, in order to assess the right kind of behaviour at interview.

How can you simulate that particular kind of pressure in the assessment process?

Once you know exactly what behaviour you are looking for, you are better able to design an assessment or interview process that measures this.  If it’s deadline pressure for example that you need people to cope with, then you could ask the interview question, “when have you dealt with a tight deadline?” or you could set up an assessment exercise where the time is tight and see how they cope.

Alternatively if you were more interested in how candidates cope with difficult customers or high pressure client meetings, you might have an exercise that replicates this context or ask, “when have you been in a high pressure client meeting?”

Totem Lollipops

What does a good response to that assessment look like?

With any of the examples above, it is critical for there to be agreement on what a good response looks like.  This is how you can be sure that five different assessors are all using the same criteria to make their recommendations.

Ideally make some notes on what a great response, a good response and a not-so-good response might look like, so that there can be consistent rating of behaviour, rather than a subjective evaluation of “I don’t think they handled it well.”

The point with all of this is that we each have different ideas of what we’re looking for, so we need to get all that out in the open if we are going to be able to trust others’ evaluations and comments.

If you would like support with your interviewers or hiring managers, helping them ask great questions and interview effectively, do get in touch.  We’d love to see how we can help.

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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.

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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Burning Questions

Kettenreaktion - Konzept mit ZündhölzernWhat questions your hiring managers are failing to ask at interview and how that burns through your bottom line.

How do you encourage hiring managers to interview more effectively?  Where do you start?  What skills do they need?  How will they know what questions to ask?  And once they’ve learned the skills, how can you be sure they’ll use them?!

Bringing in external consultants to interview and assess candidates can be highly beneficial for large volume and senior level appointments.  It can certainly be expensive and after that external person gives you a recommendation, what next? And what about all the other roles you recruit for?

When we ask managers to use a new system or process, we provide guidance or training.  Sadly, as with many people management skills, this tends to get missed for interviewing and hiring candidates.  So if you’re considering doing something about this, where can you start? What challenges might you face and how can you overcome them?

Getting Started

Gaining buy in to the time out of a busy workload can be a challenge, so managers will need a good reason to be doing this, seeing both personal and commercial benefits.

Companies we work with have used various combinations of the following to explain the need for change;

We need to be consistent – we don’t have a consistent view on what good looks like, so we risk making decisions that aren’t right for the whole business.

You haven’t had any support and we want to change that. We feel we’re letting you down if we don’t give you the core skills required to interview and select candidates.

We’re losing money, wasting time, making work harder and upsetting the rest of the team. Making a bad hire takes up management time, lowers morale and costs hundreds of thousands. Let’s avoid these pains by making more robust decisions – it will make your life easier.

Prepare for the future. Few other decisions we make as managers can affect the business for five, ten or twenty years. If we’re bringing someone in who might stay a long time, let’s make sure they’re the right person.

Totem Lollipops

Back up what you already know and build your skills for your future.  If you’ve been interviewing for 10 years already, you’ve probably got a way you like you do it and habits that work for you. Let’s learn from each other, find out the science behind what works and all become better interviewers, a key skill for future careers.

Learning Content

Once you have a group of people to work with, what will you cover on a skills workshop?

Two key principles are critical with this content. Firstly, make sure it is a facilitated, adult conversation. It’s easy to sound patronising without ever intending to, simply because this content can be assumed to be something we all already know.  Ask people what already works for them and what they find challenging.

Secondly, make sure the focus is on more objectively agreeing criteria and more objectively assessing candidates against that.  This is the single most important learning point, yet workshops on this topic often end up stuck on debates about whether we should put candidates under pressure or not, how we should avoid too many CVs, what to do when you know in the first two minutes the candidate is no good etc.

Whilst those questions are valid, the focus should be on the criteria for the role.

And that’s what is usually missed before and during interview – which causes bad hiring decisions and burns through your bottom line: A full understanding and assessment of the needs for the role.

Encourage hiring managers to ask questions amongst themselves before advertising a role like:

  • Why does this job exist?
  • What value will it add to my team / department / business?
  • What might be some success measures of the role?  How would I know after say 12 months that someone is doing well in this job?
  • What skills, knowledge and previous experience would be essential for someone to fulfil all of the above in my team / department / business?

And then the interview questions are written for you.  Let’s say for example that answers to the final two questions brought up things like “increase sales by 10%, so I need to see they have a track record in sales – particularly in a saturated market.”  So the interview question can be written: “when have you delivered sales increases in a saturated market?  What was the context?  What did you do?  How did you achieve growth through those challenges?”  And so on.

Or the questions raise people management needs like “turn around team performance to deliver better results (as measured through KPIs).”  The interview question could start along the lines of… “when have you turned around a team’s performance?  How did you go about it?  What was your understanding of why the team was not performing at their best?  How did the team respond to your approach?”

For fear of stating the obvious (but since when is common sense common action as we always hear?!) the simplest way to interview most effectively is to clarify what the role really needs – and ask questions against those criteria.

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