Secure your human assets

Atul Patel, academic leader, Cass Business School
Expert advice

Secure your human assets

Finance | Atul Patel | 25 Jun 2012

Devote proper time and attention to the crucial job of recruiting new staff, urges Atul Patel.

In a recent lecture I gave on human resource management (HRM), I asked students: “When does recruitment for staff begin?” “When you advertise” came the reply.

The point at which you advertise is certainly not where recruitment for staff should begin. It begins when the ‘vacancy occurs or a new position is created’, as illustrated at stage 1 of the recruitment cycle, shown in figure 1. The figure breaks down the recruitment process into simple stages.

Finding the right person for the job has always been important, and the decision to select and appoint an individual is one of the most important employers make. This article attempts to introduce some good principles for recruiting staff.

Key drivers

Three key drivers have enhanced the importance of the selection decision over recent years.

First, demographic trends and the resulting transient nature of the labour market have led to a less homogenous workforce, placing more emphasis on the notion of fairness in selection.

Second, the need for a more multitalented, adaptable workforce, and the increasing pressure on team working, mean selection choices are more related to behaviours and attitudes than matching people to just the immediate job requirements.

And third, the awakening need to link HRM to organisational strategy means making recruitment more strategic – that is, linking recruitment to overall organisational strategy by aiming to match employees more directly with business aims and goals.

Given this, it is essential that employers recognise the need to ‘sell’ the job in question to prospective staff, thereby generating an adequate pool of applicants. A new recruit is a valuable investment; the fruits of what can be a costly and difficult appointment process. Organisations often say ‘our people are our best assets’, or ‘our staff are a source of competitive advantage’.

So, when procuring this very important, very expensive resource, it is crucial to ensure you invest sufficient time in the recruitment process and you are not pressured into shortcuts by the traditional four-week notice period that applies for most jobs.

It is imperative that employers do not rush into the recruitment process before they have explored the following four important questions:

  • Is there really a vacancy we must fill?
  • Should the vacancy be filled by a new recruit?
  • What skills and experience do we want?
  • Where do we find the right person?

These questions relate, in turn, to the four stages of the recruitment cycle shown in figure 1.

figure 1


1. Is there really a vacancy?

When a vacancy occurs there is no more than a prima-facie case for filling the gap. Recruiting a new employee may be an obvious response, but it is not always the correct one. Other options need to be investigated.

For instance, it may be possible to reorganise so that the total amount of work to be covered in a team or section is carried out by the remaining staff without replacing the leaver; or it may be possible to subcontract the work of the departing employee out of the organisation.

2. Should the vacancy be filled by a new recruit?

Once the decision to recruit to a new, or existing, position has been made, time needs to be given to collating information about the nature of the job – that is, undertaking a job analysis (figure 1, stage 2).

This most important stage quite often gets sacrificed in order to get someone into the vacant position quickly.

Time invested at this stage of the recruitment process ensures that the outputs required by the job holder, how the job fits into the overall structure of the organisation, and the contribution the job should make to the achievement of the objectives of the organisation, are all properly understood.

Job analysis involves examining a job systematically and in detail. The information required to undertake the analysis can be gathered from a variety of sources including line managers, the current incumbent, key performance indicators for the current incumbent, other colleagues, existing job descriptions, organisational plans, etc.

Exit interviews, conducted by line managers or neutral parties, are an excellent method of gathering information on how the departing employee carried out the work and how during their stay in the organisation the job changed.

A properly-conducted job analysis will lead to a well-defined job in terms of specific tasks and responsibilities, and will identify the required abilities, skills and qualifications needed to perform the job successfully.

3. What skills and experience do we want?

The job analysis leads to the writing of a job description (figure 1, stage 3), a document used to explain the job to the candidate and aid the recruitment process by providing clear guidance about the requirements of the job. The job description also forms the basis for the production of a person specification, listing the key attributes or personal characteristics required to undertake the role.

The production of a job description and a person specification has been the traditional approach to recruitment of employees. An alternative to this traditional approach, which is now gathering a lot more interest, is the ‘personoriented approach’ which focuses on the generic qualities and behaviours required by the organisation rather than those determined by a specific job.

These behavioural measures influencing job performance are often referred to as job competencies, and may include adaptability, interpersonal skills, team leadership, emotional resilience, commitment, etc.

In practice, a combination of job-specific and person-oriented approaches is probably the best. This is likely to produce people who not only can perform the job but who will also be a good match with the organisation’s values and be more likely to form productive relationships with colleagues. This combined approach to recruitment is often referred to as ‘competencybased recruitment’. The approach makes use of the traditional job description and person specification, and then adds the behaviours required to fit into the organisation.

4. Where do we find the right person?

Organisations have choices when recruiting (figure 1, stage 4). A critical decision is whether to fill the vacancy from within the organisation or to search in the external labour market.

Recruiting internally provides opportunities for development and career progression which increases employee engagement and retention, and supports succession planning. It is also more cost-effective.

External recruitment, which is a more costly option, brings an inflow of what are often completely new ideas from new employees who have not been exposed to the existing culture.

For the richest pool from which to choose new recruits, using both internal and external approaches is a safer option. This enables the organisation to compare its own talent with what exists externally, especially when recruiting after a period of stability when little or no recruitment has taken place.

As can be seen from this analysis, the recruitment process is no more than a set of routine steps which need not be complex. But getting it right requires time and careful attention; and the cost of getting it wrong can be very high indeed.

Atul Patel is academic leader for the voluntary sector management MSc course at Cass Business School  



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