GUEST BLOG: How to recruit the right people

Recruitment decisions will make or break a company, so get them right. I did what felt was right in this area and with a sixth sense, and possibly again thanks to my own lack of experience, I did not follow a traditional process in an interview.

Firstly, the entry point test. Before we had the luxury of a receptionist, I went out of my way to surprise an individual in reception by being the person to answer the door - I usually interviewed at the back end of the day.

By seeing how someone reacted to a stranger, and particularly by seeing whether I could put someone at ease before our chat began, I could gauge a great deal about their ability to cope with differing situations.

It's all in the handshake

The handshake matters, big time. A firm grasp, not over strong, confident, for a reasonable period of time, without hanging on (and certainly not a wet lettuce): those are my suggestions.

It is also important that someone looks you in the eye as they shake your hand; there are bucketloads of individuals who look anywhere but in your eyes. This is part of making a good impression from the outset.

Interviewing is about an exchange of information in order to get to know someone. You need to plan the skills you wish to know about - what behaviours or characteristics will be important and a good fit with your company culture. You cannot simply follow a standard format for interview questions and expect to find the right people unless your template is customised to the role and type of person you are looking for - which is possible. I would also say that for some roles a template system is entirely sensible as a way of scoring to ensure each individual receives a fair and even approach.

Interview few, score all

In terms of numbers, I would never now interview more than a very short list of people.

Strong recruitment is the foundation of a good business and we came to use a specialist, but in the early days, when we did all this stuff in house, we spent too much time interviewing too many people, and shortening the list by applying a simple 'marks out of ten' note on CVs worked really well for us.

To give some idea of how our shortlist could work, I would perhaps score energetic sporting individuals who were making sales applications more highly than those who were interested in less energetic pursuits: energy levels were important in sales and that was one way of assessing them. I also looked for people who customised their application for a particular role rather than adopting a blanket approach to sending out their CV.

Modernity of layout and the opening phrase about ambition would also be important, but for me consistent loyalty in previous roles was a great indicator of someone's character or ability to get on with others. Incidentally, I think the old handwritten letter revealed a great deal about an individual.

Think carefully about the place you interview people in. This can affect the impression someone gives you - and the impression you give them. In the early years, I once got feedback that someone who had done a good interview had not taken the role as she did not like our offices, and I remember thinking at the time that it had been a lucky escape.

We needed people who could see through the low-cost, somewhat haphazard Victorian office facility we had at the time. If someone was that particular about the environment, then they would find the duck-and-dive, money-focused, lack-of-glamour set-up we had too much to deal with. We were not skin deep.

Follow your instincts

Every time I've gone against my gut feeling I've made employment mistakes, and every time I've taken a calculated risk based on instinct I've been proved right. So even if it feels scary or seems risky, if your gut is telling you to go for it, do it. If you don't, you're likely to live to regret it. And who has time for regrets?

I recruited one of my sales staff for the Dubai office in a highly unlikely way - a great example of going with your guts rather than with what one might call a formal policy on recruitment. I was travelling economy on an Emirates flight to Dubai and when my computer ran out of battery power I asked the business class staff to plug it into the power source in their galley. After about an hour I went to retrieve my laptop and get back to work.

I was standing in the galley when a man came through. He was quite drunk, gave me his cup and asked me to hold it while he went to the toilet. When he returned, he realised I was not the hostess he thought he was handing his drink to but another passenger, and looked somewhat surprised. We started to chat - his drunken state allowing him to drivel through a nonsensical chat-up conversation - and I discovered he was a Dubai rep in the same trade. (In fact he was terrified of flying and had to get drunk to get on board any plane.) I explained that I was looking for a sales person in Dubai and he mentioned that he knew someone who might be interested. We exchanged cards.

When the plane arrived I travelled straight down to Hong Kong and when I returned to Dubai I set up a meeting with my acquaintance to discover more about the market. I will never forget his shock at meeting the woman he had tried to pull on the flight out - but through our accidental encounter I was introduced to the man who eventually became Pacific Direct's Middle Eastern General Manager.

Lara's laws

  • Recruit well - employ the best you can and you will go further, faster and can expect greater returns.
  • Trust your team.
  • Go with your gut instincts.
  • Take calculated risks in recruitment but when you are wrong make swift decisions to remove new people who will not be team players. You may outgrow individuals as your company develops; some will simply not step up - but there are responsible and intelligent ways to manage staff transitions into and out of roles to the benefit of all parties. Honesty favours the brave.
  • Keep things open - time and effort and an open communications policy will save you valuable time and money.
  • Focus on what you personally do well (which is not always the same as the things you actually like doing) and employ others for the stuff they are good at. You will inevitably be doing too much, be too busy at times. At these points always ask yourself whether someone else could be learning from the challenges you need to let go.
  • Never expect other people to do things you are unwilling to do yourself.
  • Grab opportunities and have a continuous improvement culture. Do not forget to educate yourself - your skills and abilities will need to change and/or be refreshed as the business grows.

Smarta has a copy of More Balls Than Most by Lara Morgan to give away. Enter the competition here.

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