How to find the right person for the job

Two simple steps.

I’ve been involved in recruitment and training recruiters for over 17 years now and am constantly surprised by how complicated some people manage to make it all. The whole recruitment and selection process boils down to 2 very simple steps:

  1. Make sure you know exactly what job you’re looking to fill.
  2. Know how to find the right person for the job,

To help you do that I’m going to try and give you some straightforward advice and some “dos and dont’s” of the recruitment process.

Job Descriptions and Person Specifications

First of all let’s clear up the differences between the two. A job description is a list of the duties the person will need to perform in the role and a person specification is a list of the attributes or skills you require in an individual.

So for example: “Accurate maintenance of the departmental sales data spreadsheet” would be on the Job Description and “Advanced knowledge of Excel” would be on the Person Specification.

There are two big mistakes employers regularly make here:

Mistake 1: They don’t spend enough time making sure the Job Description is accurate, appropriate and up to date. With the pace of change in most organisations it’s unlikely that a job description which is more than 2 years old will be accurate. It’s time to sit down and work out exactly what you require someone to do in this role. Take advice from the current incumbent, speak with the rest of your team and consult HR. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how are you ever going to find it?

Mistake 2: When writing the Person Specification they write an enormous list of “essential” criteria describing the perfect person. Firstly this is a bad idea as it seriously restricts your market and, secondly, it could have legal implications. Many managers have told me that “I listed 10 essential criteria but none of the applicants had all 10 so I’m interviewing 2 who have 8 and 1 who has 7 of them.” If tha’s the case then they’re not essential criteria are they? So what are you basing your decision to interview on? Stick to 3-5 truly essential criteria – things that cannot easily be trained and/ or are a legal requirement for the role.

For example an accountancy qualification may be essential for a senior finance officers role, but must they have detailed experience within your industry sector?

Marks out of 5.

I have seen thousands and thousands of CVs / resumes in my time. Some of them brilliant, many of them rubbish and plenty that look great but don’t actually say a lot. You’re going to need to set yourself up a simple scoring system for sorting through the CVs.

Use the Job Description and Person Specification to create a list of the 5 – 10 most important criteria required for the role and then score each CV/ resume out of 5 against each of those criteria and add up the scores. Your interview criteria are then established as “People who meet ALL of the essential criteria AND have a CV/ resume/ application form score of over XX”

By approaching the sifting process way you remain objective and are able to justify your decision should you ever be challenged to do so.

Asking Interview Questions

I’ll say this first and I’ll say it clearly: You should only ask questions in the interview that relate to whether or not someone will be able to perform the job.

Next is: DO NOT interrogate the poor candidate. Just about everyone is nervous in interviews so take time to put them at their ease, offer them a drink, smile, be welcoming. You’ll get a LOT more information from someone who is a little more relaxed and at ease.

In addition to the questioning method below you may also need to ascertain the candidate’s technical competence. To do this you can either set some form of test or, preferably, include a technical expert within the interview team

The best style of questioning is Behavioural Questioning – which sounds terribly fancy but is actually just about asking questions relating to what people have done in the past. Hypothetial questions may be useful in small amounts, but will only provide you with hypothetical answers. So what do behavioural questions look like?

Say you’re looking for someone to work in a customer facing role and you want to know how they’d deal with an angry customer. Try asking “Can you tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with an angry customer”

But don’t stop there – think “Who, what, where, when, how and why?” Who was angry? What had made them angry? When did this happen? How do you resolve the problem? Why did you chose that approach? Don’t be afraid to dig for specific information, the easiest way to sort out those with genuine skills and experience from those lying through their teeth is to push for details. The genuine candidates should have no problems answering.

Because of their very nature the questions must be tailored to the role you’re recruiting for but here are a few more Behavioural Questions to give you some ideas:

  • Describe the most sucessful negotiation you’ve been involved with.
  • Tell me about an occasion when you’ve made a mistake.
  • Can you talk me through a situation when you’ve had to deliver something to a tight deadline?
  • How do you manage the conflicting priorities in your current role?
  • What’s the most successful project you’ve been involved in delivering?
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve had to get your point of view across to someone who disagreed with you.

And so on. Run through the Job Description and Person Specification and come up with a bank of 8 – 10 questions to ask.

Don’t forget to listen carefully to the answers they give. Watch out for people hiding behind “we”. “We did this”, or “We did that” – so what? What was their role in it all? Push until you hear “I” not “we”.

And finally: Make sure you ask all of the candidates all of the same questions AND score them out of 5 as you did at the sifting stage. That way all your recruitment decisions will be objective and justified should you ever need to explain them.

I know there’s so much else too!

I could have gone on, and on, and on with this article – but I wanted to keep it focused on the most important areas, but hopefully this has given you some ideas that will help you find the perfect candidate next time you’re recruiting.

Beth Pipe is a Learning and Development Professional and freelance writer. You can find more of her professional work here: You can also follow her at @cumbrianrambler on Twitter.

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