Hiring right: the key to a successful workforce

We explain how strategic hiring and interviewing - including for onboarding and probation - can help you to select the best candidate for the role and wider team.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Hiring the right people is a tough challenge for business owners, and even supposedly strong leadership teams can get it wrong (just look at the constant coming and goings in the UK Cabinet Office). If you’re lucky, you’ll realise someone is a bad fit during probation

But occasionally, it might be months before you realise a replacement is needed, during which time insurmountable damage may have been done. So how can you avoid this outcome? 

There are many factors that influence how well someone will perform a role beyond skills and experience. They also have to believe in your mission, align with the company culture, and work well with colleagues.

Find someone who can do it all, and you’ve hit the jackpot. Yet, thankfully, it’s not all potluck. With the right strategic approach, SMEs can lay the foundation for long-term growth and prosperity. Read on to find out how.

Why is hiring the right people important?

Hiring the right people is crucial for any organisation's success. It's an investment that can bring about a multitude of benefits, including:

  1. Greater productivity: hiring individuals with the right skills, work ethic, and experience leads to improved output and quality of work. If they can handle tasks on their own, this will  also relieve managerial workloads by reducing the need for additional training and support
  2. Reduced turnover: for every right hire, there’s an avoided mishire that could have led to a disruptive firing or resignation down the line. That’s why hiring right reduces turnover rate, saving on resources spent recruiting and onboarding new staff 
  3. Improved innovation: appointing the right person to a role, rather than the one you like the most, eliminates bias and ensures a diverse team with multiple skill sets and perspectives to ultimately foster an organisational culture of innovation and creativity
  4. Stronger team dynamics and morale: a team of competent and compatible workers will naturally lead to a positive and supportive work environment, boosting morale and overall job satisfaction
  5. Long-term growth and sustainability: strategic hiring can rapidly accelerate progress towards the company-wide or departmental SMART objectives, as you’ll be able to identify the types of personalities and skill sets required to meet goals

How can you identify the right candidates for your business?

Making the right hire requires strategic planning. It’s about matching the unique strengths of the recruit with the needs of the organisation – not necessarily finding the most qualified or even the most enthusiastic candidate.

After all, even Batman accepted that he might have been the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. Here are three top tips for businesses to identify the right candidates for optimum employee performance:

1. Clearly defining the job requirements and responsibilities

Know what you’re looking for. Ironing out the particulars of what qualifications the recruit should have will enable you to zero in on the type of applicant you are hoping to attract, allowing you to craft an accurate and enticing job description that finds the right eyes. 

Organise your description so that it answers the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ of the job:

Step 1. Why do you need to hire them? Identify what is missing from the team, department, or company, and how the talent gap might jeopardise operations or growth objectives. For example, do you need to increase brand awareness? Hire a marketing manager or social media specialist.

Step 2. How will they contribute to the overall success of the company? Pull from your business Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to clarify how the new employee should accelerate progress towards meeting these goals.

Step 3. When and where will they work? Define the typical work schedule of the role, as well as whether it is in-person or in-office. Consider the wider team they will need to work with, as well as who they will report to and, if relevant, who they might supervise.

Step 4. What are the essential duties of the job? Define the functions that the employee must be able to perform in order to be successful in the role day-to-day. Explain how they service an overall goal (eg. phone answering for improved customer service).

Step 5. Who should the candidate be? Outline what experience you expect them to have, values they should embody, and broader professional goals that might be relevant. Highlight the necessary training they might need to specifically integrate with your business.

2. Developing a thorough recruitment process

One of the most useful procedures you can instil for human resource (HR) management is an effective, streamlined recruitment process. This is a series of steps designed to take the hiring team from job posting and advertising, through to passing probation.

Luckily, if you’ve completed the above, you’ll already have an established job definition to work with, which means you’ll have completed the first two steps: planning your recruitment process and writing the job description. The next steps are as follows:

1. Target candidates via a well-placed job advert. Locate where you will be most likely to find top candidates and market the position here. This might be a company website, LinkedIn, via networking contacts, or even social media. 

Remember to also include materials like your company mission statement and core values. In today’s labour market, candidates are increasingly prioritising meaningful work, which means this information could be critical for securing their buy-in.

2. Screen CVs and applications. Screening typically involves reviewing CVs, cover letters, and other application materials. An informal call with the job seeker may also be conducted during the screening phase.

Screening is also the optimum time to inquire about salary expectations. If the company has a very different view on what the position’s salary band should be, it is preferable to identify such discrepancies early on, rather than after a more extensive interview process.

3. Conduct interviews. Plan the format and duration of the interview, considering role requirements, candidate background, and any references provided. Prepare a list of questions that the CV wasn’t able to answer, such as motivations for leaving a previous job.

In addition to a Q&A, various assessments may also be employed to evaluate a candidate's technical or professional competencies. We’ll explain more about how best to appraise a recruit’s performance in the section below.

4. Make an offer. After the interview process, the team should score each candidate on their performance to arrive at an overall ‘winner’. Now, it’s time for the exciting part: extending a job offer.

Whether by phone, email, or in-person, give details of remuneration, notice period, and start date. Any information should also be sent over in written form to record what was discussed. Once the employee contact has been signed, the deal is done – you’ve made your hire!

3. Using a variety of assessment methods

Most of us think of the standard question-and-answer format when picturing a job interview. But today’s recruiters are increasingly recognising that not everyone excels in this setting. 

Adopting a multi-pronged assessment approach is now seen as the fairest approach to ensure that certain personality types are not unduly favoured. Relying solely on interviews could overlook the strengths of candidates who are less eloquent or outspoken, for example.

Cross-referencing the results from numerous tests also promises a more engaging experience for candidates, who feel their skills and abilities are being thoroughly evaluated.

Here are five common tests and exercises to introduce during the interview stage:

1. Skills tests: in technical roles, it is very common to have candidates take a skills test in subjects like mathematics, coding, or even machine operation. This is to assess whether the bullet points they’ve bragged about on their CV are real, so it’s a good idea to introduce it between the screening and interviewing stages.

2. Psychometric tests: personality tests aim to uncover an applicant’s interests, values and motivation.There are no wrong answers in a personality test. The results are intended to inform managers about how the applicant might fit together within the broader team, not whether they have ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ the interview.

3. Case studies: closely related to a skills test, the employee is given a real-life situation that they would face in the role to demonstrate their expertise. For example, a PR manager might be asked to complete a press release for a client within the typical timeframe and setting the role would require.

4. Trial shifts: most commonly used by firms in the service industry, trial shifts are a chance to put the interviewee into action to see if they have the necessary skills required. Be aware that employers are advised to pay workers at least the national minimum wage for any trial shifts they are asked to undertake, in order to avoid a potential legal entanglement.

5. Presentations: particularly for more senior roles, many employers ask candidates for presentations as proof of how they might carry out complex managerial tasks, like project management. Presentations take time and effort so be wary of giving the new hire too much to complete. Some applicants may be put off by a task that will take days to work up.

Hiring mistakes to avoid

Finding that dream hire who ticks all your job role boxes is every business owner’s wish. But it’s worth questioning if a new starter’s outstanding CV and years of experience will actually translate into a productive, motivated worker.

Just ask Erik ten Hag, who signed the headstrong Christiano Ronaldo for Manchester United in 2021. One year later, Ronaldo, considered one of the best footballers in the world, jumped ship after the club scored its worst Premier League season in history.

Aside from giving Manchester City fans a big laugh, Ronaldo’s quick hire-and-fire cost the club millions of pounds and significantly damaged its reputation as a top destination for Premier League players. 

Learn from ten Hag. Here are five steps that small business owners should take before you sign that line on the employee contract:

1. Spot the skills

Everybody likes the personality hire. But it’s important to find candidates who have the skills and experience necessary for the position, not just those who seem like they’d be a good laugh at the lunch table. Use multiple assessment methods to test out these practical skills in a real-life situation, and ascertain that the recruit is capable of what they claim to be.

2. Consider your team

A caveat to the above; you don’t want a ‘high performing negative’ who may be good at their tasks, but disruptive to the workforce. Psychometric tests tell you the characteristics of a recruit so you can see how team characteristics might slot together.

Like cooking a meal, the key ingredient to a successful team is to balance out the flavours. As sweet goes with sour, generous executives go well with frugal accountants.

3. Slow down

In today’s competitive landscape, and when you have a vacancy that is negatively impacting output, it can be tempting to say yes to the first CV that comes your way. But recruitment is not a race. Take time to properly screen every application before you make your judgement. Screening AI tools can dramatically speed up the process by evaluating resumes at scale.

4. Don’t ignore RTW checks

Right to Work (RTW) checks are part of the pre-employment screening process when hiring. They are a legal requirement for employers to confirm that a person has the right documents to be employed in the UK. If you are found not to have conducted a Right to Work check, you may receive a penalty notice from HMRC. Depending on the circumstances, the fine can cost up to £20,000.

5. Question your gut

There is no point in engaging in a lengthy and admin-heavy recruitment process if you make your final hiring judgement based on gut feeling. Every assessment of the candidate should be based on objective criteria, not personal bias.

It has become common for assessors to ensure that there are two to three people in the room during an interview. This is called a ‘panel interview’, and it can help reduce the effects of any one individual's biases during questioning.

Setting an effective probation period and objectives

Viewed by many as an extension to the recruitment process, probation is the critical period when a newbie enters, and learns, their new role. During this time, their manager will closely monitor how well they have taken to the position and the workplace.

At the end of a set period of time (usually one to three months), the person will then either pass or fail the probation and be let go from the workforce.

Whether or not a person passes their probation is a useful test of whether they were ‘a right hire’. That means, while it might not be part of the standard recruitment process, probation is worth considering in your hiring strategy.

To set an effective probation period and objectives, employers should consider the following:

  • Length of probation: clearly define the length of the probation period (typically ranging from three to six months) considering the complexity of the role and the need for thorough evaluation
  • Probation objectives: establish objectives that align with the new hire's work responsibilities and the company's overall goals. These should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound)
  • Regular feedback: employees are closely monitored during probation, making it an ideal time for spotting early issues or concerns. Managers should schedule regular meet-ups to prevent long-term performance issues and track progress towards goals
  • Document performance: so that managers do not make a snap judgement on probation pass or failure, it is helpful to keep a record of the new hire's performance to inform decisions at the end of the test period.

Conclusion

Making the right hire sounds like an empty instruction. After all, when would you ever aim to choose the ‘wrong’ candidate? But in truth, how you approach your recruitment process directly impacts if a candidate excels in the role – or flatlines, to your team’s detriment.

Strong employee performance is directly linked to positive business outcomes. By following the tips and strategies outlined in this guide, you can avoid costly hiring mistakes and build a team of talented and dedicated individuals who will help you achieve your business goals.

Hiring FAQs
  • How do you recruit the right candidates?
    Writing an accurate and relevant job description, posting the job advert in the correct location, and conducting careful CV screening, are all important steps in the recruitment process that companies should take to source the best candidates for a role.
  • How do you know if a candidate is right for the job?
    An effective way to confirm a person’s aptitude for a role is to assess them using multiple methods. Aside from a standard Q&A, the five most common interview techniques include skills tests, psychometric tests, case studies, trial shifts, and presentations.
  • What are the common errors in recruitment?
    Common errors in recruitment include not validating a person’s skill set; not considering personality clashes in the wider team; rushing the recruitment process; ignoring background checks like Right to Work; and evaluating recruits on subjective, not objective, criteria.
Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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