Five key steps to a successful hiring and recruitment campaign

A vital recruitment tool that you need to be using is a task-based assessment that is not only a barrier to poor candidates, but is a great way of highlighting a really good candidate. But it’s not that simple. Before you even get to that stage there are a number of steps that you must follow to design a successful recruitment strategy.

Here are the five key elements:

1. DEFINING WHAT YOU NEED – Clear objectives, a job description, a person specification that defines the person you need in the role, including their profile, to get everything achieved in the way you need it to be done.

2. RESEARCH– Information specific to each post that tells you if the kind of people you need are available, where to find them, what package they need and any specific issues you might have filling this post in your location.

3. ADVERTISEMENT – An advertisement that only attracts the kind of people you are looking for, not hundreds of unsuitable candidates. Even adverts can be designed to attract candidates that have the right characteristics and deter those that don’t. Pretty neat,huh?

4. LOW OR NO EFFORT FILTERS –Ways of filtering your candidates that require little effort so not searching through mountains of resumes and CVs, making it as easy as possible to identify good candidates quickly and early in the process and reject the poor ones.

5. CANDIDATE ASSESSMENT– A method for assessing candidates objectively against all your criteria (which could be 50 or more). This needs to be easy and quick to do so you can tell at a glance which candidates meet your criteria and which don’t.

The core purpose of a hiring or recruitment process is to find new employees who will achieve the objectives and goals you have, in the way that you need them to be achieved. In other words, to do exactly the job you require.

Remember, when you use all of these five steps all of this is done before you even see the candidate.

Using an effective process it’s quite possible to filter out most of the poor candidates very early on, so you can focus on a small number of promising applications and be very thorough in your assessment of them.

I would put money on the fact that anyone who made a bad hire wasn’t using a thorough process including all the steps I’ve listed.

“How is this better than picking people out from their CVs like I’ve been doing for years?”

To give you something more concrete, here are a few examples of how modern hiring and recruiting is being used to find the right candidates with less time and effort than it often takes to get the wrong ones (notice how these examples are not limited to particular roles or steps in the process, they cover a wide range of tools and jobs):

A poor candidate applies and is directed to your web-based assessment. He or she does not even bother to fill it in because he or she can’t answer the questions, so is immediately eliminated with no effort from you. In fact you are not even aware it’s taken place because it’s completely automated. (NO EFFORT FILTERS)

The results of a web-based assessment from a good candidate with the skills you are looking for arrives. You quickly scan the table of the results that includes 20 other candidates and can instantly see the candidate with the best answers. Notice you have not had to trawl through any CVs or resumes trying to work out which is the best.

Three candidates move forward to an audio interview. You get a table of the results which have already been assessed for you. You merely have to confirm which candidate you would like to take to final interview, the rest is automated.

You have a candidate for a receptionist post. As part of her final interview, you put her on the desk for half an hour. During that time she sells £400 worth of products (absolutely true story). You now have some really useful and reliable evidence about her sales skills.

Instead of a pile of resumes and CVs from people who only vaguely seem to meet any of your requirements, you get the details of a small number of candidates with clear evidence on how they match up to your agreed criteria.

If I haven’t convinced you that this is a better way then I wish you the best of luck. If I have convinced you and you would like to know more about how to do this then I’ll see you soon!

To your success,

Nancy Slessenger

Should you ask all candidates the same questions?

My very first job as a school governor (equivalent to a school board member) was to recruit a new deputy head.

It was quite clear who the best candidate was and I can say, without doubt, that we recruited the wrong candidate. I arrived at the meeting and was given a piece of paper with my question on it. I had to ask all the candidates this one question. My other eight colleagues had their own questions, which they also put to each candidate.

The candidate was sat on a chair in front of the long table where we all sat.

I could not believe that people were still using this process.

When I asked the other governors about their method they told me that this was ‘fair’ and we had to treat all candidates the same. This is to completely misunderstand the whole recruitment process.

The purpose of the interview

In this case (because the process was so poor and the interview was the only screening we were using) the purpose of the interview was to identify if the candidate could do the job.

Instead of asking about actual experiences and finding out what the candidate had achieved, we were asking “What would you do if…?” questions whose answers were completely unreliable (this was clear from the performance of the individual we recruited).

How can it be fair to ask different questions?

Your objective in this kind of interview is to identify if the candidate has specific skills and behaviours. To do this you need to employ your investigative skills. Many candidates have excellent experience, but are poor at letting you know. So you have to dig.

Now it may be that you start off with the same question. Here’s a recent example:

Have you made any unpopular decisions?

Depending on the answer of the candidate, you really need to follow this up with very different questions:

Candidate: Yes

Interviewer: What was the most difficult?

Candidate: I don’t think so

Interviewer: What about decisions that your team or boss did not immediately like?

Candidate: Unpopular with whom?

Interviewer: With your team.

Now it may be in this case the interviewer thinks the job is going to involve lots of unpopular decisions because that’s what it would be like if he did the job.

But usually you are asking about unpopular decisions because it is likely to lead to examples of the specific skills you are looking for. These could possibly be negotiation skills, resilience or communication skills.

But let me take you back to some recruitment I did where we were looking for managers with just such skills. My client defined “resilience” and being able to keep calm and to your course of action in the face of hostility. I had designed a very robust process for these candidates.

They had to take part in various activities and role-plays while we observed them. Every now and then we would see candidates where we could find no examples of resilient behaviour through the entire day. Not because they weren’t resilient, but because they were such good negotiators that they never encountered the hostile behaviour that other (often more argumentative) candidates seemed to attract.

So a really skilled candidate would have found ways to make “unpopular decisions” palatable and may not even see them as “unpopular”, which would mean you would not get very useful evidence from this question.

Different questions

You need to have a selection of questions so that if you do not get examples of the behaviours and skills you are looking for from the first question, you have plenty more areas to search in. This is not cheating and it is not treating people unfairly.

When I prepare lists of questions for clients to ask their candidates in the final interview, I make sure there are alternatives if first one doesn’t give you the information you need. This is much fairer to the candidate who just hasn’t had the experience you are asking about. It’s also fairer to you, because it means you are more able to find the candidate you need.

What happened to the candidate who should have got the job?

In case you are wondering about my original example here, the candidate who should have got the job, Liz, was already head of science at the school. She didn’t get the job because she was “too good in her current role, we can’t afford to lose her from that”.

Of course we did lose her – she went to another school as their deputy head and I’d be very surprised if she didn’t go on to be an excellent head teacher. She did well but we lost a very good member of the team.

Employee Review and Appraisal Comments

18 Examples of What Not to Write

Have you ever had a comment like one of these made about you on your employee review?

  • “An invaluable member of the team.”
  • “Exceeds expectations.”
  • “Happy and cheerful while interacting with colleagues and managers.”
  • “A great listener.”
  • “Thinks about the happiness of colleagues.”
  • “A real team player.”
  • “Seeks opportunities to improve learning.”
  • “Passionate about working at this company.”
  • “Demonstrates a can-do attitude.”
  • “A complete professional in her field.”
  • “Always eager to help.”
  • “Strives to work well with every colleague.”
  • “Extremely gifted and talented.”

You may think these comments sound helpful, or at least professional. The truth is, they’re awful. Ditto with these negative comments:

  • “Has developed an atmosphere that does not promote innovation.”
  • “Always misses deadlines and is constantly behind on his objectives.”
  • “Always leaves everything to the last minute instead of working to a plan.”
  • “Communication is an area that must improve this year.”
  • “Should improve his time management.”
  • “Refuses to implement training and almost always goes back to his old habits.”

Some Closing Tips

  1. Before you write anything about an employee, ask yourself: “What is it that I want to accomplish by writing this? What new outcome do I want?”
  2. Instead of a box on your performance review form labelled “Comments,” call it “Results,” “What happened,” or “Achievements.”
  3. Know what the forms in your organization are for. Some managers treat them like records to be used in a criminal trial. Their real purpose is to reinforce good performance and to correct poor performance.
  4. When working with an employee who is having or causing problems, I often ask to see his or her performance review forms. I’m looking for trends:  Is this is a sudden aberration or a long-running downward spiral? Is there any evidence that a manager has tried to help this person? Well-written performance review forms will always make this clear and evident.
  5. Deal with employee issues immediately. Keep accurate, factual records of the employee’s actions and outcomes, and keep thorough records of the steps you’ve taken to remedy the issues. If problems escalate, doing that could save your skin. But more importantly, it’s an effective way to get employees back on track to performing well.

How To Find Out What People’s Values Really Are

Values tell you how people are likely to behave

When I am working with clients on objectives, it often helps to clarify the difference between Values, Behaviours and Objectives:

  • Objectives are what you need to achieve
  • Behaviours are how you do it
  • Values are why you do it that way

Know what their values are

When we are recruiting or dealing with new people it can be very helpful to find out what their values are. The key is to ask the right questions.

Just ask the right questions

Most people will happily tell you if you just ask. This is because we all tend to think that our values are right and are shared by everyone else.

How to ask questions to discover values

Get the individual talking about something they have done, preferably in a difficult situation. Then ask them why they did it that way. It’s a very useful interview technique.

An example of how to find out values

I once observed a candidate, a woman called, Esme, doing a role-play, a task that formed part of an interview process. She wore a bright red suit and matching stilettos. She was playing the role of an administration manager dealing with a surgeon, Dr Kildare, her task was to persuade him to meet the new targets.

Within a few moments she was shouting and screaming at a surprised Dr Kildare. Then she lifted him up by his lapels. His feet were dangling in the air.

After the task the director and I interviewed her. Up till this point she had been the leading candidate. I asked her why she had handled the meeting with Dr Kildare as she had.

She would have got the job

Had she responded that she was very sorry for the way she had behaved, she was just nervous and it had not gone as she had planned, she probably would have got the job. However, that was not what she said.

‘You can’t negotiate when you only have 25 minutes with someone.’ She told us authoritatively,

This told us all we needed to know about her values. She didn’t get the job.

Another example of how to discover values

More recently I was interviewing candidates for a client and we asked one of them why they had lied to a client. ‘Well, they’ll never know.‘ She said with a shrug. The candidate who got the job, when asked about her behavior in a rather difficult situation had quite a different response: ‘Once you’ve promised something to someone, that’s it. You must keep your promise.’

Find our more about questions and which ones to ask in this booklet:

Questions made easy

The more experienced I get, the more I realize that questions are the answer to most problems and difficult situations. Using questions instead of telling people things is more effective in most communication situations from negotiation to learning, from interviewing to coaching and in virtually all difficult situations with anyone who is behaving badly.

This booklet, for just £6.25, contains my top 22 questions gathered over many years, variations on them and when and where to use them.
Armed with these you can deal with most situations. Some are gems that will work in many different situations (so you will find the same question in several sections); others are for more specific use.

In this booklet you will find:

  • Four questions to help you to identify objectives and goals
  • What not to ask in performance reviews and appraisals (and why)
  • Six questions to ask in performance reviews and appraisals
  • Questions to help you formulate development objectives
  • 31 questions for Coaching & Problem-solving
  • 2 questions to establish training needs and learning objectives
  • The questions not to ask when establishing skill levels
  • 10 questions to find out what someone can really do
  • Questions to help learning including a worked example
  • Questions for learning reviews
  • Questions for  when your mind goes blank
  • Questions for panics
  • Questions for dealing with situations when someone has behaved badly
  • Questions for Interviews to identify skills and behaviors
  • Questions for interviews to identify values
  • Questions for dealing with performance issues
  • Questions for when you need answers, action or help (and what not to ask)
  • Questions to get decisions
  • Questions to persuade others
  • Questions for sales situations (with a worked example)
  • Questions for negotiations
  • Tips on the easy ways to come up with the right questions and get the right answers
  • A summary of the 21 standard questions you can modify to suit your situation

The Deadly Self-Appraisal Form and How to Fill It In

How to make the most of your appraisal or performance review

Your System

Check how the appraisal system or performance review works in your organisation. Often these things will have been updated with new forms and new ways of doing things since you last used them.

Pay particular attention to

  • What the paperwork involves – the appraisal comments you will need to make
  • Where it goes
  • Who needs to fill in what
  • Any performance rating system you have

Appraisal form answers and answering questions in ‘self-appraisal forms’

Sometimes the questions on these forms are really hard to answer. In the first one I ever had to fill in myself was a statement asking you to:

‘List your three worst failures in the past 6 months.’

My colleagues and I wasted hours trying to think of ways to answer this without incriminating ourselves.

If you have something like this, stick to the facts and just say what you did. It may well be followed with a question asking you what you’ve learned from the experience or what you would do next time. Even if there isn’t one of these questions, make sure you have the answers ready for the appraisal itself.

Here are some real appraisal form questions with tips for answering them:

Has the past year been good/bad/satisfactory or otherwise for you, and why?

This can be very difficult to answer if you are the kind of person who tends to hide their light under a bushel. Even if you find it easy to tell others how wonderful you are, be wary of answering this question. It’s best to stick to the facts, rather than give opinions like ‘Quite well’ or ‘Fantastic’. Use the examples you have gathered.

What do you consider to be your most important achievements of the past year?

Think about what is most important for your organization and where you have contributed the most to the organisational goals. Use examples and facts.

What do you like and dislike about working for this organisation?

No need to tell you to be careful here! However, if this question is genuine and your manager really cares, this could be a useful opportunity. It would be easy to sound negative in an answer to this question. So instead of risking that, phrase your concerns as suggestions.

What elements of your job do you find most difficult?

Again, stick to the facts. It might be good to phrase answers in terms of what development or training you would like.

What elements of your job interest you the most, and least?

Stick to the facts when you describe these elements, especially the ones you like the least. Say ‘The job involves repeating the same task 153 times a day’ rather than ‘The job is boring’

Or ‘I find communicating with the purchasing department takes up two days each week and would rather spend that time working in the lab’ rather than

‘I hate dealing with the idiots in purchasing’

What action could be taken to improve your performance in your current position by you, and your boss?

A useful phrase here might be:

‘It would be helpful if my manager could….’

‘I would like to develop my skills in YYY… so that I can XXXX’

Stick to suggestions rather than complaints.

What kind of work or job would you like to be doing in one/two/five years time?

Many people find this very difficult to answer. Especially if they are quite happy in their work and have no ambitions to progress or are near retirement. In this case it’s OK to put that you enjoy your current role. You might want to say that you look forward to new developments in that role if it’s appropriate.

What sort of training/experiences would benefit you in the next year? Not just job-skills – also your natural strengths and personal passions you’d like to develop – you and your work can benefit from these.

Think about what you need to be able to do in your job over the next year and identify some training or other kind of development

Score your own capability or knowledge in the following areas in terms of your current role requirements (1- 3 = poor, 4-6 = satisfactory, 7-9 = good, 10 = excellent). If appropriate bring evidence with you to the appraisal to support your assessment.  The second section can be used if working towards new role requirements.

These kinds of questions can be very hard to answer. Make sure you have clear definitions of all the skills and behaviours on any list. Also get hold of the standards expected for your role. Then ask your colleagues to help you if you are not sure.

To get help with appraisal training contact us.

To your continued success

What is the difference between objectives and KPIs?

A Grapevine reader sent in a question asking what the difference is between objectives, goals (or aims) and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is.

This is a common question, so here is an answer for you, in case have been wondering.


Objectives are what you need to achieve.


KPIs are like your car speedometer or fuel gauge

KPIs are the measures that tell you if you are on the way to achieving your objective or not. They are indicators and they give you an indication of what is going on.  

You can think of them as being like your fuel gauge or speedometer in your car.

Key Performance Indicators are just a form of feedback. Don’t be confused or put off by the words. Feedback is just factual information about what you said or did that enables you to make decisions about what to do next.


Your sales objective might be: 
$100,000 of sales by December.

Some KPIs could be:

  • Invoice size
  • Number of orders
  • Churn rate (how many customers you lose and gain over a period of time).
  • Average order size
  • Number of repeat orders from a particular client

If you think about it, none of them on their own will tell you if you have achieved your objective on their own. The average order size may have increased, but if you are getting fewer orders, this many not give you the sales you need. You may be getting some repeat orders, but they may be very small orders, or not very many orders.

The important thing is to choose measures that are relevant to your objectives and check that they really are telling you what you think they are telling you.

The purpose of the KPI is to provide you with information that helps you to work out how to achieve your objectives.


Imagine you need to be at a meeting by 3pm and you are 30 miles away. You have cut things a bit fine. One useful indicator might be your speed of travel. However, if you are heading in the wrong direction, this is not very useful to you. You need the direction too.

So make sure you test that you are getting the information you need before you start relying on it.


Objectives, goals and targets are much the same thing and often used interchangeably.

However, some organizations have their own definitions of each. Sometimes people use “Goal” for the top-level objectives.

Personally, I always think ‘targets’ are what you aim at, but don’t necessarily hit (certainly this applies in my limited archery and darts experience).

Aims are the other side of targets from objectives, in that they seem less precise or firm. They are what you are ‘aiming’ for, but may not achieve. So I prefer to use ‘objectives’ when I am talking about the things I need to achieve.


Make sure you have clear objective and that you have KPIs or feedback set up in order to help you to achieve them. Test that you’ve got it right before relying on it.

Remember, Key Performance Indicators are just one form of feedback. You may well need others as well.


Getting your objective right isn’t always easy. Our handy booklet “How to Write Objectives That Work” will walk you through 55 simple tools and techniques to ensure that you get your objectives right. It’s short and to the point so you can quickly find the help you need. And of course we’ll show you just what to do with those really difficult objectives that people struggle with.

You’ll discover:

  • The key steps to take to write any objective
  • 7 key words and phrases you must avoid when writing objectives and what to do instead
  • How to make your objectives SMART

And much more.  Get “How to Write Objectives That Work” now


Feedback makes more difference to performance than anything else. You can make drastic improvements to the performance of your team just by making sure they are getting the feedback they need. But feedback done badly actually reduces performance.

“Feedback for the Faint-Hearted” is a simple, step-by-step guide will take you through the tools and techniques you need in order to give feedback that really does make a difference in a way that is a lot easier than you think.

You will discover:

How to give feedback without causing office or awkward situations
The three key things you need to get across when giving feedback
What feedback really is

Get “Feedback for the Faint-Hearted” now.