Recruiting the right person is a critical process for any employer. A new recruit has the potential either to boost your business or to damage your reputation, infuriate the team and put a hefty dent in your profits. And that’s just the beginning! Implementing high standards in recruitment and selection can take time and effort but if you don’t, the legal implications of cutting corners can be far-reaching and the resultant damage to your business can be severe.
In this article we will show you how you can develop a winning formula for recruiting the right person every time, while abiding by the principles of employment legislation.
1. Know the Law
The Employment Equality Acts, 1998-2004 is a key piece of legislation governing recruitment and it applies to all employers and to recruitment agencies acting on behalf of employers. The Acts describe discrimination as the treatment of a person in a less favourable way than another person is, has been or would be treated, in a comparable situation. Discrimination (direct or indirect) is outlawed on nine distinct grounds: gender; marital status; family status; sexual orientation; religious belief; age; disability; race and membership of the traveller community.
This means that from the moment you advertise a vacancy (and at every stage of the recruitment process, up to and including employment) you must treat all candidates equally. The law exists to protect candidates against unscrupulous employers but from an employer’s perspective the practice of treating everyone equally is simply the best way of ensuring that you hire the right person.
Candidates who feel that they have been unfairly treated under the terms of the Acts may take a case to the Equality Tribunal, an independent statutory office which investigates or mediates complaints of unlawful discrimination. The penalties can be harsh and up to two years’ salary (or €12,697 in the case of a person who is not an employee) can be awarded against employers who are found to be in breach of the law.
2. Be clear about what you need
Compile a Job Description defining the duties and responsibilities that the job-holder will have and the performance standards you require. From this, compile a Person Specification outlining the knowledge, skills and behaviours that the ideal person should possess in order to do the job well. You can combine all of this information in one document and use it as a reference point when advertising, short-listing, interviewing, issuing the contract of employment and managing induction; so it’s well worth it to prepare this document at the very start of the process.
3. Be wise when you advertise
Newspaper advertising is an effective method of reaching a wide range of candidates but it’s not the only one. You can also advertise on your company website, recruitment websites, community notice boards and local radio. Your advertisement should include a job summary, a broad description of the ideal candidate and some information about the benefits of working for your organisation. In selecting advertising media or when wording your advertisement it is essential to avoid any form of discrimination – be it intentional or otherwise.
4. Be consistent and fair
If you use an application form, ensure that it is “equality proofed”. For example, questions about age, marital status or medical history should not be included. Ensure that you screen applications against consistent and fair criteria. When setting up interviews, provide reasonable and similar notice to all candidates. Ensure that candidates receive all of the essential information about the terms and conditions of the job in advance of the interview, or allow time at the end of the interview to cover these areas.
5. Ask the right questions
Using the Job Description and Person Specification as your compass, compile a set of interview questions. Depending on the level of the position, allow 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half for interview. Build in time for studying each candidate’s application. When interviewing, use a mix of open, closed and probing questions. Gut feeling is no substitute for hard evidence! Look for specific examples that will demonstrate clearly whether or not the candidate actually does have the knowledge, skills and experience that you require and give the candidate space to provide the answers. Probe each area thoroughly until you get concrete answers on which you can reasonably base your assessment.
Ask only questions that are directly relevant to the job and do not stray into personal or sensitive areas. A word of caution: despite the fact that the Employment Equality legislation has been in force since 1998, many employers are still asking outlawed questions. Examples from the hall of horrors include:
- “How could you work a late shift if you have small children?”
- “You’re not local do you think you would fit in around here?”
- “You’re 55 years old – would you not be embarrassed to be taking instructions from a supervisor half of your age?”
If you ask questions like these you are advertising your biases in full Technicolor. At a minimum, you run the risk of offending the candidate and of creating a poor impression of your organisation; at worst, you may receive a fine and a considerable amount of unwelcome publicity. You have been warned!
6. Keep notes
It is imperative that you keep accurate interview notes. File your notes and all related documentation for a minimum period of 12 months. Employers must always be in a position to substantiate their selection decisions and in the event of a claim of unequal treatment by a candidate, the Equality Officer will examine the level of detail and the consistency of all records in order to establish which side is more credible. If your notes are hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope or in the margins of a candidate’s CV, you will be starting from a minus position. The burden of proof rests squarely with the employer.
7. Make the offer
If you require employees to undergo a pre-employment medical it’s important that you make it clear that appointment to the position is subject to satisfactory medical results. Ask for the candidate’s permission to contact at least two referees and telephone them in person to verify essential details regarding the candidate’s previous work performance, attendance and overall dependability.
When requesting referees, be aware that non-Irish national candidates may have difficulty in providing references and contact details for previous employers so do not place them at an unfair disadvantage. When you are satisfied that you are making the right selection, make the offer of employment and, on acceptance, notify the unsuccessful candidates. Issue a contract of employment and have it signed by the new employee.
8. Value your new employee
Congratulations! Now that you’ve found the right person, be sure to provide the necessary induction and support. Make time to explain what has to be done and the standards that you expect. Explore together how the new person can best contribute to the success of your company and discuss what you can do to create a challenging and motivating work environment.