Recruiting for growth

Once upon a time the key challenge in growing a business was finding customers, and many businesses are still built on that basis. Sometimes that remains true, but today the growth limiting factor may be your ability to recruit enough people to deliver what you can sell or even sell what you can deliver. In other words the mantra "A successful company is built on great people is true today more than ever.  

As your business grows and new roles are created, you need to recruit exceptional individuals to fill them. To hire the right people at the right time, recruitment needs to be regarded as a critical core business process.

In this article I explore the challenge further. I share an approach that worked when I realised the growth of a reasonably scaled up business I was running was being limited by our ability to recruit. And then go on to explore ways to hone the recruitment process and put it at centre stage of your business growth strategy. We’ll also examine some of the biggest recruitment mistakes and how to avoid them, the pros and cons of agency vs. in-house recruitment, and llok at best practice for effective interviews.

Mini case study : Addressing recruitment as a barrier to growth 

In the run up to 2000 there was a very significant shortage of IT skills.  In many ways that was great for us running an IT Training company.  We could sell lots of courses.  The problem was, we couldn't recruit, induct and develop trainers quickly enough to meet demand.  It took me a little while but I soon realised that recruitment was the limiting factor on our growth. And our recruitment business process wasn't helping!

After a lot of pain we solved the recruitment challenge through changing our mindset a bit.  We decided to treat the recrutitment process as a sales and marketing process in it’s own right. We asked ourselves a number of questions including:

We ended up with a process that took less than 7 days from first contact to job offer with the potential of starting on day 8. Quite a shift from the 6-8 weeks prior to our reengineering of our approach. That plus deliberately doing marketing and PR to position ourselves as a great, indeed the best, employer in our sector radically changed things for us.

Best practices for recruiting new employees

Remember that “recruiting practices are very much a lens into your company culture” (Annie Rihn). As the recruiter, you might think that you’re the one making all the judgments, as you seek to weed out weaker candidates. In fact, candidates will be constantly making judgments about your organisation. It’s imperative that your recruitment process wins them over.

Recruitment mistakes and how to avoid them

We’ve all experienced the expense and upheaval of a poor hire decision. As they say, “To err is human…” – we don’t get it right all the time – but a well-designed recruitment process will ensure that you have the best possible chance of hiring the right people.

So, what are some of the worst recruitment mistakes to make, and how can we prevent them? Let’s take a look:

Mistake #1: An unclear job description:

If the job description you advertise is too complicated, wordy, or even biased against certain candidates, you’ve got a two-pronged problem on your hands. First, unsuitable candidates will be led to think they fit the criteria, leading to wasted interview time; second, appropriate candidates will be deterred from applying, as a result of the misleading language.

Solution: Be absolutely clear about the requirements before writing the job description. Then frame those requirements concisely and consciously, staying away from any biased language (e.g. against certain demographics). There are even software tools, such as Textio, which will help you identify phrases that are tailored to the ideal candidates. In terms of job description structure, remember that bullet points are your friend. Combine key takeaway points with the narrative to make the description clearer.

Mistake #2: Overlooking internal recruitment:

Sometimes we forget that the great employees we currently have working for us might be interested in a new role that’s created. And there are few things more likely to breed resentment than a team member feeling that they’ve been passed over for an opportunity.

Solution: Part of your business growth strategy should be to nurture the talent you already have. Integrating your recruitment process with an employee development programme will help you to discern when an existing employee is right for a new role. And this will certainly boost your employer branding.

Mistake #3: Seeking the perfect candidate:

Let’s be clear: the “perfect” candidate doesn’t exist. Waiting around for the ideal person to apply will lead to your current team being overburdened. No individual is ever going to possess the 100% perfect mix of skills, experience, and character that you would prefer. Don’t set unrealistic expectations, and be prepared to stay flexible during the recruitment process.

Solution: Decide what you’re willing to compromise and what is essential. Overall, I’d advise prioritising aptitude and attitude over specific skills or experience. Whilst skills can be learned and experience gained, a person’s intelligence, empathy, and ability to fit into your company culture is unlikely to change.

Mistake #4: Hiring people inferior to you:

For some business leaders, it can feel threatening to hire candidates with superior skills. If you’ve built up a company from scratch, it’s difficult to let go of the reigns and accept there are things you simply can’t do any more – you need a finance department, not an Excel spreadsheet. Hiring inferior people might temporarily soothe the ego, but it won’t grow the business.

Solution: Follow the advice of US automotive executive Lee Iacocca, who said, “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way”. Your business will only be successful if you hire people with exceptional skills (some of which you might share, and some not) to meet the new demands of growth. As a leader, you are the conductor; you don’t need to play every instrument.

Mistake #5: Poor communication:

I expect we’ve all experienced applying for a job and then waiting weeks, perhaps even months, to hear anything about it. Too many companies leave candidates dangling in this way – whether it’s following the initial application or the interview. It will soon send the best candidates elsewhere, taking a poor impression of the employer with them. And if you finally want to take them on, they’ll be starting the role with a bitter taste in the mouth.

Solution: Design a recruitment process where regular, courteous communication with candidates is built in; then stick to it. A well-worded automated email might be enough for early-stage applicants, but after that, you need to prioritise real personal contact. Get this right, and your recruitment process will truly stand out as a positive experience to candidates – whether they get the job or not.

Adopting a recruitment marketing approach should help you avoid all these mistakes. Each candidate is a valued potential “customer”. They need clear information about the product to know whether they want to buy it (job description) and once they’ve made a purchase they want to be sure about payment and delivery (post-application communication). Of course, you also want to nurture existing customers, as the most likely to purchase again (internal recruitment). And, naturally, you’re not going to refuse to sell your product to any but the “perfect” customer! 

So you can see that making these marketing parallels is a really valuable exercise, if you’re looking to attract the best candidates and build up your employer brand. The next question is: should you entrust your recruitment efforts to an external agency, or is it better to keep the process in-house?

Types of Recruitment – agency or in-house HR department? The pros and cons…

Outsourcing recruitment to an agency can be an attractive option if you’re a younger company with a small HR department (or even just one HR officer). In some circumstances, a larger organisation might also benefit from the specialist knowledge of a recruitment agency. 

However, when you’re looking to expand your company, investing in your own in-house recruitment processes could help to streamline business growth. It will allow you to think strategically about new roles that will arise in the future and how to fill them.

Let’s look at both recruitment methods and some key pros and cons:

Recruitment agency



In-house HR department



It’s my view that, in the context of business growth, there are real advantages to investing in your own in-house recruitment. As I observed in the introduction, recruitment should be treated as a core function of the business. Hiring the right people, with enough ability, passion, and enthusiasm, is essential if you want to grow and stay true to your brand values and vision.

Your company values should be at the front of the recruiter’s mind as they shortlist candidates for interview. To make the process more manageable, shortlisting can be done in stages: first, remove all CVs that don’t match the essential criteria; second, score each candidate against the criteria and identify the top ten CVs; finally, score the remaining CVs against your desirable criteria.

Once you’ve shortlisted the best candidates, it’s time to invite them to interview. But how can we use an interview to really get the measure of a candidate and determine whether they have a future in our organisation?

Hiring interview best practices

The interview is a component of recruitment that has stood the test of time, although technological advances mean that it may take a variety of different forms. It can be an effective way of getting beneath the veneer of the candidate’s CV and discerning their true character; on the other hand, it can be an exercise in theatrics, as interviewer and interviewee each perform a well-rehearsed role.

With that in mind, what strategies can we use to create an effective interview, which allows the candidate to shine and the interviewer to showcase the company? Here are five elements that make up a strong interview:

1. Right type: An interview doesn’t have to be one interviewer and one candidate staring at each other over a table. They come in many different shapes and sizes, and the right one to choose will depend on various factors For example, a first-round interview with an overseas candidate could be via telephone or video chat to save on travel expenses. Or you might want to interview several candidates at once, which is more time-efficient and provides an opportunity to see the candidates interact.

Whichever type of interview you choose, make sure you schedule enough time for it. A rushed meeting won’t look professional and is unfair on the candidate.  

2. Right structure: There are advantages and disadvantages to both structured and unstructured interviews. A structured interview, based entirely on pre-set questions, provides a more objective way to compare candidates. However, it can come across as rigid and impersonal.

An unstructured interview has a free-flowing format that allows the interviewer to ask spontaneous questions. It creates an informal meeting where conversation can flourish. The challenge here is for the interviewer to maintain focus on the job requirements, whilst carrying on a flexible discussion. For a happy medium, choose a semi-structured interview with a number of pre-set questions and allow time for broader conversation.

3. Right preparation: The interviewer should be well-informed in advance of the interview. Review the job description and candidate specifications so you are confident about what you are looking for. Read through any pre-set interview questions (see above).

It’s also very important to review the candidate’s application, CV, and any other relevant information. There’s nothing more off-putting to an interviewee than an interviewer who has no idea who they are. It won’t make them feel valued and your reputation will suffer if they share their experience with others.

4. Right approach: Remember that the best candidates are actually interviewing you, so your approach to the interview – professional, polite, interested – must present your company in the right light. That doesn’t mean giving the candidate an easy ride. You should still aim to dig into the details of their CV and challenge any evasive answers to your questions. But avoid being too critical or confrontational.

In addition, you should aim to express yourself clearly and avoid the use of company jargon. An external candidate can’t be expected to understand the “language” of your organisation immediately.

5.Right post-interview action: After the interview it’s crucial to meet with any other interviewers (whether on the same panel or from different interviews with the candidate) and discuss your findings and views. This will help expose any inconsistencies in the candidate’s answers (around 60% of employers have found a lie on a CV), but, more positively, the discussion will also allow a balanced, well-rounded view of the candidate to be built up.

Finally, whatever you decide, don’t leave the candidate hanging. Make sure you let them know whether they’ve got the job as soon as possible; or, if a wait is inescapable, one of your recruitment teams should still keep them in the loop.

Following these guidelines will ensure a constructive, positive interview. You’ll have examined the candidate and gained more insight into their suitability for the role, and you will have been a successful brand ambassador for the company. At the same time, the candidate will have been given the chance to demonstrate their capabilities and assess whether they’d enjoy being a part of your organisation.  

As I asserted earlier, there’s never a perfect candidate for any role. If you have five candidates with equally glowing qualifications and experience, it really does come down to character and cultural fit.

Key takeaways on business recruitment

The more talented people you have working for you, and the more cohesive they are as a team, the stronger your company will be as it grows. Effective recruitment of talent depends on building a reputation as a great employer.

As Mark Stephens of SRO comments, “Attracting the best applicants starts by creating a strong brand and that comes from what your current workforce says about you”.

If you want your employees – and even unsuccessful candidates – to spread a positive message about your recruitment process, you should certainly consider adopting a recruitment marketing strategy. Treat candidates like valuable leads, with courtesy, consideration, and good communication.

Finally, in order to select the best candidates to hire, remember two key principles…

First, don’t be afraid to hire people with superior skills or experience to you in a particular area; they can help take the company to new heights. Second, prioritise a candidate’s attitude and aptitude: how well they will integrate into the team and the enthusiasm they will bring to the role.

Bear these principles in mind, invest in your in-house recruitment processes, and think strategically about the hires you will need in the future. Treat recruitment as a core function of the business and it will support your growth.