Getting recruitment right

Danny Sherwood - 1 December 2022

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You’re hiring and want to find the best people for the role. How do you find someone you know will be good at the job?

This article looks at how we’ve developed a different kind of recruitment process – one that attracts a more diverse range of candidates, is more inclusive, and is more effective at finding the right person for the job.


I’ve applied for a lot of jobs. This is partly because I like learning new things, and partly because, as someone with a disability, there are extra barriers in the way of me finding good work. I have spent many hours working through applications that don’t seem to give the most useful answers to the question “would this person be good at this job?”. 

So when I had the opportunity to develop a different kind of recruitment process, I was excited to put my personal experience to work. This article discusses the process we put together for a recent round of recruitment, and what we learned.  

At Co-create we aim to be actively inclusive in all that we do. This means making an effort to understand things that might make it harder for people to take part, and then working on ways to overcome those barriers.

“If you can open up your role to people who have been excluded from other opportunities, you might well find yourself competing with no one for some excellent people.”

Open up the role to a wide pool of candidates

We believe that the decision about whether a person gets a job should be based purely on whether they can do the job – not influenced by their race, gender, or other characteristics that don’t impact on the role. 

Opening up to the widest pool of candidates possible leads to the best candidates coming through to the end of the process. And, if you can open up your role to people who have been excluded from other opportunities, you might well find yourself competing with no one for some excellent people. 

Job applications can take a lot of time, which not everyone has to spare. Some people work very long hours or have children, friends and relatives to care for. At Co-create we’ve tried to design the process so that each stage is relatively straightforward, and we filter out people who won’t make it further through the process so that they won’t waste their time (it saves us time too).

We also do our best to signal to people that this job is genuinely open to anyone who can do it well. In our adverts we include this statement:

“We welcome applications from people who are often underrepresented in consultancies; including (but not limited to) people who experience racism, people with disabilities or long-term health conditions, neurodiverse people and LGBTQ+ people.”

We know that statements like these are only a part of the picture, but it still feels important to say.  We did receive applications from a diverse range of candidates during this process, so something is working. For our next vacancy, we’ll advertise on job boards specifically targeted at the people listed in our statement.

Only assess the things you need

On average, men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the essential requirements and women will apply if they meet 100%. 

It seems reasonable to generalise this to other categories of people whose personal experience gives them reasons to think they might not be given equal consideration to others.

It’s hard to work out what an organisation really needs if they have listed 25 essential characteristics (and another set of “desirable” ones). So applicants find it harder to apply, and you’ll spend more time processing applications from people who don’t have the things you really need. 

It’s not easy to keep the number of things down – as we put a person specification together, we keep finding more things we feel we need. But we try and be strict  with ourselves and ask ourselves “is this really essential? If a candidate didn’t meet this requirement straight away, is there no way they could do the job well?”. A further filter is whether we can really assess for that attribute using the process we’re using. If not, we drop it from the person specification.  

Observe the things you need directly

I used to be a musician. If someone wanted to book me, they wouldn’t ask for a written application and panel interview – they’d listen to me play. This isn’t possible with all parts of a role, but where there is something you can observe directly, take the opportunity. 

At Co-create we do a lot of facilitation. We’d seen over time that the confidence with which a person talked about their facilitation did not necessarily match their skills and manner as a facilitator. In our most recent round of recruitment, we introduced an additional stage where we ask potential associates to facilitate something for us. 

This has worked really well. We got a lot out of the sessions, and in the process of assessing people’s facilitation, we learned a lot about our style and needs. 

Make sure you’re assessing the right thing

Ask someone to address their interpersonal skills in an application, and what you’ll learn is their ability to write about their interpersonal skills. If that’s what you need, great. But if you need to know about their ability to communicate with others face to face, you’ll have to find another route. Once you’re aware of this one, you can spot it everywhere, and you can usually find a way around it. 

We wanted to interview people, but agreed that “responding to surprising and odd-sounding questions about yourself in front of a panel” is not an essential skill for any of our roles. So we gave people the questions in advance, along with a brief description of what we’re looking for in an answer. This approach helps to level the field in interviews so you can all focus on the things that relate to the role. 

“It felt like a mini experience of what it might feel like to work alongside you.”

a new Co-create associate

Be aware of the messages your sending

Remember that the makeup of your interview panel gives a message about your organisation. If your panel is not very diverse, think about asking someone else to join you. You won’t represent every identity, but the more diversity candidates can see, the less they are likely to feel that the job is only for a certain type of person. 

Currently at Co-create, the core interview panel is two white men (which doesn’t mean we don’t also have more marginalised characteristics, but they aren’t immediately visible). We don’t know how this affected people’s experience of our most recent round of recruitment – no one commented on this during our review process. But as I write I realise we didn’t ask them about this issue directly, and recognise that this would be a hard thing to feed back on if not explicitly invited to do so.

For our next round of recruitment, we’ve invited someone who is not a white man to sit on the panel with us, from South Yorkshire Housing Association’s independent panel members.

What have we learned?

Following our most recent round of recruitment, I’ve spoken to successful candidates to learn more about their experience (in future I’d also like to speak to unsuccessful candidates). Developing our recruitment process will always be a work in progress, and I would never claim that we’ve thought of everything, or developed the perfect process. I’ve really enjoyed learning from the the people who’ve gone through this with us, and will apply what we’ve learned to our current round of recruitment. 

On the whole, this approach seems to have been successful. Candidates reported a largely positive experience, for example:

“I found the method of using different stages with activities designed to engage us in facilitation and get to the heart of our skills inspiring. It felt like a manageable and effective way to enable us as candidates to demonstrate our skills without being overly labour-intensive.”

Louie Stafford
new Co-create associate

The extra stages in our process did add a challenge for some, so we’ll think next time about how we can streamline the process without losing what worked well. 

An important piece of learning that I hadn’t anticipated was candidates telling us about what they learned of Co-create’s culture and values by going through this process.

“The recruitment process confirmed what I already gleaned from my initial research into the organisation, that Co-create is an organisation that values people’s time and thinks carefully about designing processes that get the best out of people.”

A new Co-create associate

Recruitment is about candidates selecting you, as well as you selecting candidates, so this process has helped us all to make our decisions. The candidates from the round of recruitment described above have now been with us a few months, and they are brilliant.

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