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The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.

The Pocketblog has covered one part of the recruitment process in great detail: Interviewing. In our three-part series: ‘The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing’, we covered:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview.
    It covers how to:

    1.  Think about the job requirements
    2. Handle the advertising and admin
    3. Review applications
    4. Prepare for the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting effective interviews.
    It looks at: 

    1. Questioning
    2. Social skills
    3. Responding to candidates’ answers
    4. Inviting questions
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade, such as: 

    1. Fact checking
    2. The ‘horns and halo effect’
    3. Psychology
    4. Data protection

Lets now look at the whole process, as a series of questions.

Question 1: Do you have a vacancy?

Not as obvious as it may seem. In current times, it will serve you well to look at alternatives to just ‘filling a perceived gap’. And if there is a genuine gap, is it a full-time vacancy or should it be either joined with another or be seen as a part-time role? If there is a vacancy to fill…

Question 2: What shape is the hole?

What sort of skills, experience, personal traits do you require to make the very best appointment? Consult widely on this and consider a range of perspectives, before drawing up a job description and person specification, against which to recruit. Review your documents with some further people to confirm that your expectations are reasonable. If your person spec requires Wonderwoman or Superman, then think again: they may not be available at the moment.

Question 3: Do we need to recruit?

Before considering a recruitment process, think about the pros and cons of appointing from among ‘nearby’ staff. This can be quicker, less expensive, and lower risk. But it can also entrench biases and unproductive habits. This is a difficult decision and needs to be made in the context of internal policies and external regulation. If you do choose to recruit…

Question 4: How will we find the best applicants?

Will you do a search for the right people, or will you advertise and hope they find you? Will you search or advertise internally, externally, or both? What media will you use to advertise and what will your advert contain? How will you portray your organisation in general and the role in particular? Then you need to create the advert, or the search brief.

Question 5: What process will you put your applicants through?

The quality of your process will determine the quality of your decision at the end of it – and therefore the result. The process needs to give applicants every opportunity to show all of the assets they could bring to the role, so you can identify who offers the most. It also needs to ensure that the best applicant will want the role at the end of the process. Recruitment is sales. The process will doubtless have stages:

  •  a long list of good applications to be reviewed in depth
  • a shortlist of applicants to go through some form of interview or selection process
  • a small final list of excellent candidates to go through a last stage before decision-making

Question 6: How will you close the deal?

When you get the right candidate, you need to notify them, negotiate terms like salary and start date, and then notify other candidates. Do this well and unsuccessful applicants will still want to work for you. Get it wrong and they will be glad they failed and tell everyone they know.

Question 7: How will you welcome them on board?

This is where recruitment becomes employment – and we will look at the induction process next week.

Further Reading 

Three Pocketbooks you might like:

  1. The Listening Skills Pocketbook
  2. The Managing Assessment Centres Pocketbook
  3. The Interviewer’s Pocketbook
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The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing Part 3: Polishing Your Process

One of the most daunting tasks for a new manager is conducting their first job interviews. The stakes are high: get it wrong, and you may be stuck with a capable – but not that capable – colleague for years. Get it right, on the other hand, and you have not just added a huge asset to your organisation, but you will probably make your own life easier.

So what can you do to improve your chances of securing the right candidate?

This is the final of three articles that Management Pocketblog will offer you:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade

Polishing Your Process

As in all matters, details are important.  So let’s look at a few of them.

Checking Facts

Sadly, exaggerating, reinterpreting, and outright lying about qualifications and experience are facts of the recruitment process.  So don’t get caught by them.  If qualifications matter, make it a condition that candidates bring original copies for you to inspect.  Ask questions about experience and listen carefully to be sure the answers are plausible and internally consistent.  Always take up references before finalising an appointment.  Where possible, speak to the referee as well as getting a written statement.  It’s easier to hear hesitancy and reservation in the voice than detect it in writing.  And some people are fearful that an honest reference could get them into trouble, so a written reference can miss out important concerns.

Horns and Halos

Warning: this advice may be impossible to follow, but that doesn’t mean you should not make every effort.

First impressions are powerful – whether from the application documents or the minute they walk in the room.  If your first impression is positive (a neat application document, the same set of A levels as you, an upbringing in the same town as your best employee, the right colour shirt or blouse…) you will be constantly noticing evidence of their capability and mossing all but the boldest evidence of weak points.  This is called the Halo Effect.

If your first impression is negative (a scruffy application document, a mis-placed apostrophe, an upbringing in the town you hated when you visited, the wrong colour tie or scarf…) you will be constantly spotting more and more evidence to justify that initial assessment.  You will also miss all but the strongest evidence of real talent.  This is sometimes called the ‘Horns Effect’.

Horns & Halo

These cognitive biases – so well documented in Daniel Kahnemann’s wonderful ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – can lead to poor judgement.  Simply being aware of them can help but it is not enough.  You must strive to look for evidence that counters your first impression and keep focused on seeking the objective data you planned in your preparation for the interview.

Mini Me

It’s natural.  You want rapport with your staff, and you most easily build rapport with people like you.  So it is an easy trap to fall into, to hire someone just like you.  You’re good at your job, aren’t you?  So it stands to reason, surely, that someone just like you will also be good at their job.

No, it doesn’t.  And more to the point, someone not like you could be equally good – or better.  Diversity is what brings real strength to a team, so make every attempt to see the strengths of candidates who are different to your current team, to counter your inevitable bias to recruiting more of the same.


Psychology is everywhere, and we all learn bits and pieces along the way.  But if you are not an expert, leave your amateur analysis to the social settings of the pub, cafe and dinner table.  Not only will it not help with your recruitment, it may well get you into all sorts of trouble.

Data Protection

Data protection can also get you into trouble – as can Freedom of Information if you are in the public sector.  SO be very careful to record your notes of interviews accurately and without any inappropriate comments or doodles.  Ask yourself, how would I feel if this were on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper?  If the answer is anything other than ‘I’d be happy – I could back up anything there with real evidence I gathered at the interview’ then think again.

What Else?

One of the most valuable questions for anyone whose task it is to learn from another person.  You cannot possibly ask all the important questions every time.  So a good question to end with is:

‘What else would you like to tell us, before we finish this interview?’


’What question would you like us to have asked you
– and how would you answer it?’

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

The Interviewer's Pocketbook

The Interviewer’s Pocketbook

The Managing Recruitment Pocketbook

Or, if you are expecting to be on the other side of the table…

The Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook

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Put Yourself on Display

Just last month, the CIPD’s People Management magazine reported that one of the big audit firms has resumed its full graduate recruitment programme.  Perhaps this is a sign that the professional and managerial job market is on the move again.

If this is true, we will start to see more work going into running assessment centres.  John Sponton and Stewart Wright identify three purposes for assessment centres in their Managing Assessment Centres Pocketbook:

  1. Recruitment
    Finding the best candidates
  2. Promotion
    Evaluating readiness and skill sets objectively
  3. Restructuring
    When job roles and responsibilities are changing


More than just efficient

If you are designing an assessment centre, you have a big job.  You need to create exercises, schedule activities, secure and brief assessors and do a raft of other tasks.  These are well set out in the Pocketbook.

In all of your focus on efficiency, one thing is easily overlooked: the messages you give the candidates.  A good assessment centre will not only allow you to assess the candidates, it will allow the candidates to assess your organisation and the role you want to fill.  Everything you organise will tell them about your organisation.

So how can you design your assessment centre to fully reflect the values, culture and priorities of your organisation?  This has to be more than a few opening remarks and some posters.  Your exercises and the way that you evaluate them must be linked not just to the job requirements, but to the way you want the successful candidate to act, once in post.  Here are two examples.

School Head Teacher

In recruiting a head teacher, many schools include observations of how candidates interact with pupils in formal and informal settings.  Assessors are looking for a style that accords with their school’s values.  Many will even include pupils in the assessment process and, when they do, they typically find pupils’ comments insightful and often in accord with the far longer observations of the governors.

Management Consultants

Professional services firms take in large numbers of new graduates and all are competing for the brightest.  However, academic talent is only a starting point.  Consultancies look for a complex combination of team and leadership skills, and the ability to follow a lead, whilst also thinking independently.  Consequently they provide complex team activities with multiple observers.


What about Being a Candidate?

Whilst you can expect interviews and formal reasoning tests at many assessment centres, there is often little you can do to prepare for the assessment itself.  The following are important:

  • Practise your interview techniques and think about answers to the obvious questions
  • Make sure you have researched your prospective employer
  • Think about what questions you have for the assessors
  • Get your travel plans right

Sometimes you will be asked to prepare something specific.  If you are, you can be sure that this will be important to the assessors, so don’t leave it to last minute and then rush it.  Remember that this is your chance to really distinguish you from other candidates.

Perhaps what is most important for you is what is most important for the assessment centre.  The organisation wants to show you its values, culture and priorities.  You should aim to show assessors yours.  If they cannot see a fit then, no matter how well qualified you are, you will not get hired.  And if there is no fit, then why would you want the job anyway?  Within months, you would be unhappy.

So, here’s the deal

Assessment centres are good for candidates and good for employers.  When they are well designed, they give employers the best possible insight into candidates’ performance under realistic conditions, and they give candidates the best possible idea of what it would be like to work in the organisation.

Given the cost of recruitment, promotion or redeployment, it is best to invest a little more to get it right.

Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

As employer …

As candidate …

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