Recruiting right: what to consider when hiring new staff

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In the run up to, United, We Publish, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions on UNITE-focused topics such as training, pay, employment law and flexible working. This is a guest post by Douglas Williamson on what to consider when you’re recruiting. Douglas is design manager at Macmillan ELT. He started his career at Butterworth Law Publishers and since then has worked for Longman, HarperCollins and Heinemann Education. He has been a union member from the start, and has just retired from the Unite National Committee for the Graphical, Paper, Media and IT industries.

When Stephanie Hall from HarperCollins covered recruitment and selection in her talk at the BookMachine event in August, I was reminded of the unfortunate number of times, as a workplace union rep, I’ve been asked to accompany members in disciplinary procedures relating to performance.

In my opinion, performance-related concerns should be dealt with under appraisals and training, not warnings and dismissals. But, having said that, as the tales of alleged inadequacy unfold, the thought that most often comes into my mind is that if the managers had been skilled at recruitment, this wouldn’t be happening as often.

My experience in our industry has been that, generally, management training takes a poor second place to technical training, although in the days when HarperCollins was still Wm Collins Sons & Co, it had an excellent management training scheme with at least two days devoted to recruitment and selection. I hope HC has continued that programme.

It’s been said – whether it’s true or not – that when a manager needs to fill a vacancy, the favoured candidate will be the one most closely resembling the person who has just left. But what about potential? Recently a trend has emerged – the ‘must have X years experience’ syndrome. Surely it’s in our interests to look for qualities that we can develop? A recent graduate might have those qualities, so why should they be discounted for lack of experience? Of course, developing them requires personal investment by the manager, and sometimes financial investment by the employer. It’s usually worth it.

Recruitment is among a manager’s most vital tasks and they should be given the support and training by their company to recruit well. Give it the priority it deserves and avoid ending up in a performance-related disciplinary where the union rep is thinking that, actually, the incompetent one in the room is you. Maybe the HR exec is thinking the same.

Another concern for me are recruitment ads that glamourise the job. Right at the beginning of an interview, I always tell the candidate to regard it as a two-way process – they should be interviewing us, interrogating aspects of the advertised role to establish whether this is the right move for them. People often relax if they too feel they have the power to say no.

Trust your instincts. Many years ago, we devised an elaborate points-based system for scoring candidates in interviews. In one of the first recruitment exercises where we implemented it, we discovered that the person all of us most wanted to hire had scored badly on points. Having spent time devising the points system, we were reluctant to abandon it, so we hired the highest-scoring candidate, who turned out to be a disruptive influence in the team. We ditched the system.

Finally, I don’t know what the rules on giving references are any more but, always ask for them and follow them up.

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