An HR specialist from the NHS was recently telling me of a conversation with one of the senior nurses in her hospital who was trying to recruit new staff. “I’m so bored of panels and presentations,” muttered the nurse, “it’s not like the new nurse ever has to make a presentation in the job anyway.” My HR friend suggested inviting the candidates into a ward and letting the patients ask the questions. “Gosh, can you do that – it would be perfect” enthused the nurse and headed off to make it happen. My HR friend was surprise her colleague hadn’t thought of it before, but when you are in a large organisation driven by embedded processes and procedures it can be hard to kick over the traces.
Shortly after this conversation I was part of a recruitment panel at a primary school. It’s a fairly small school – 150 children – and currently has 5 teachers. One is leaving and numbers are going up so they need two new teachers. The initial job advert went into the appropriate trade press during the Easter holidays and, in addition to the usual questions, we specifically asked applicants to write a letter discussing what they perceived to be the key issues facing our school.
We got 35 applications which was easy to whittle down to 13. Easy because of the number that hadn’t included a letter at all; or didn’t lay it out like a letter; that couldn’t spell or write grammatically correct English. A few had attached an essay (which didn’t mention the school at all, obvs. borrowed from course work!). Several went on, and on…. and on. I’m not sure anyone has ever successfully bored 5 year olds into learning and the approach didn’t endear itself to us.
The short listed candidates were all invited for an informal visit to the school to see round and meet the staff. On the day it seemed a bit chaotic with people popping in and out of classrooms and wittering governors trying to make sure everyone had lots of visits. The children were unperturbed. After they had all gone everyone got together to eat biscuits and share their observations. Usually this would be a quick step prior the head teacher deciding who to short-listing, observing them teach, and having a formal interview – a process which can take several weeks. But the meeting turned into a much lengthier session as information gathered individually by the group started rolling in. Effectively the group seemed to have gathered all the information a more formal process would have examined – curriculum knowledge, subject preferences and understanding, previous experience and classroom strategies had all been covered. But much more importantly the candidates’ personalities had been observed – and judged. Individual observations – like the class teacher annoyed by a candidate that bossily told children to put their chairs away or the class room assistant that spotted the candidate that gently helped a child colour in the tricky bit of the frog life-cycle – were pooled. First impressions were discussed: the candidate in wishy-washy colours with the damp handshake; the one with terrible teeth (not because they were higgledy piggledy, we are British after all, but because they were dirty). The group were generous in wondering if candidates’ behaviour had been a consequence of nerves or anxiety – trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. By the end of the discussion there were 2 clear front runners and a decision was taken to see them teach as soon as possible. The objective of a formal interview then would be more for the candidates to ask questions.
The following day the head-teacher asked the children what they had thought of the candidates that had come round: the same two names came out top (apart from one wee girl who was of the opinion that the best person to teach her would have been “The Viv Governor” – so I’m dead chuffed!!).
The point of this story is to illustrate all those things that recruitment specialists are always banging on about in action. It matters that people do what they are asked to in the job advert; it matters that presentation is clear, spelt correctly and concise; it matters what you wear and how you present yourself; it matters that you behave in a way that is true to yourself; and it matters that you know what you are talking about. The other aspect is that, having ensured that the recruitment criteria are non-discriminatory in the first place, a group of future “co-workers” (as Americans call colleagues – but the term does somehow encompass a wider range of people) are pretty quick and effective at selecting who they would like to work with. Now we just have to hope that the two lovely candidates want to work with us…