From Our What'sUp? Workshop 9 June 2021 

There is an abundance of advice on how to write job specifications, advertising for suitable candidates, interview techniques and setting up employment contracts, but the question that we bounced around the Headspace forum was “when recruiting, how can we spot gaps in people’s experience, even if they are on their CV?” With a secondary concern about how to keep the employees once you’ve recruited? 
 
Our panel were unanimous that a good job description is essential. However the caution there is that often this is a very proscriptive definition of how someone should behave and carry out the tasks necessary. That’s fine for appointments at a relatively low responsibility level and to fit in with a specific system, but small businesses often need to have flexibility and innovation, so making the actions too rigid is going to both attract the wrong type of candidate and could demoralise in-post. Being clear about the goals and outcomes rather than the method to reach them is likely to bring more fresh ideas. 
 
Often it can be tempting to give a broad definition of the skills of the person who last vacated the post. Don’t do it! They left for a reason and may not have been the perfect fit. 
A good job description, to include liaisons and reporting structure, also provides a framework for both you and the employee in a few months, to assess whether it’s working for both parties, or whether things need to be adjusted. 
 
What’s on their CV? If you engage someone who’s worked for one of your competitors, or has a few years in your industry, then obviously they bring a key advantage. However that knowledge and skill wasn’t gained through YOUR system and instead of training them to seamlessly work within your business, you may have a lengthy period of retraining whilst they “unlearn” someone else’s approach. Don’t automatically assume that the experience is going to be relevant. 
 
Testing the attitude. A face-to-face (or equivalent) meeting or interview is essential, and sometimes it’s worth carrying out more than one meeting – sometimes the response of a nervous candidate at first interview is a marked contrast to a second interview where you may see a different, and maybe undesirable, side to this person. Whilst their CV usually offers a brief outline of the places they’ve worked at, durations and types of work, this is a very curated potted history. Naturally the indicators whether they have the education, and likely exposure to the type of environment and work that you would like them to do for you, should be included on the CV, but there’s no substitute for the in-person meeting to get an honest “feel” for: 
 
Could they mix as a team member with the others of your team? (You could involve your existing team in part to help in the assessment; after all, you are selecting a potential colleague for them) 
Do they have the right attitude? Do they see this as just a “job” for which they are paid for their time, or do you get the feeling of passion in what the company wants to do? A “Can Do” attitude isn’t taught, whereas skill gaps can be filled by training. 
Do they have the right values? Your own values are important to you, and ideally everyone will share the same values. However, this is the real world. How far are you prepared to compromise on some of them? If you don’t consider values, you could be in for a rocky relationship. 
 
It’s worth bearing in mind that the interview is not a one-way process. You are, in practice, assessing each other. Whilst you have questions for them, to establish what their ambitions, skills and values are, they need to know more about what you expect from and for them. Introducing hypothetical or real scenarios into the interview can give you an insight into how they think, approach problems and communicate. I would suggest that this can also be a valuable icebreaker and discussion topic, but also helps to understand what sort of learning style works for them. 
 
Once you’ve selected the right candidate, are they going to live up to their proclaimed performance, your expectations, and, importantly, will they fit in? Change is hard for everyone, so adapting to include a newcomer to the “tribe” takes time, as does the opportunity for the newcomer to demonstrate their worth, so a probationary period is a good idea. Not only from the practical and legal employer’s point of view, but also indicating that each side needs to have a say, so the new employee knows that within that probationary period, if they don’t feel this is the right fit for them, there’s a lot less hassle, and less long-term commitment. Reviewing performance is a good idea, and it can be useful to allow feedback, because fresh views on what someone sees within your own business can often initiate valuable changes. 
 
At the end of the day, there is no magic bullet for selecting and retaining employees, but the key is to have patience and clarity; if you can’t communicate what you want, then how are they going to work it out? 
 
Overall the greatest test is “Values”. Know your own, be clear what they are, and try to select employees with similar ones.  
 
The rest can generally be trained. 
 
 
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