Dancing for a job? A cautionary tale for recruiters

For those concerned with the recruitment of employees, a recent case serves as a timely reminder of the importance of getting the recruitment process…

The name Alan Bacon will not chime with future historians as much as say, Francis Bacon and possibly even Kevin Bacon. However, for those who are concerned with the recruitment of employees, the name serves as a timely reminder of the importance of getting the recruitment process right to select the right candidate.

Alan Bacon recently took part in an interview at a national electrical superstore. His love of cameras made him the ideal candidate. His week of preparation about the brand, put him in full focus. Having prepared to discuss his hobbies as part of his interview, he was instead made to do "rubbish robotics" in his suit to Daft Punk.

This type of selection process has come under criticism, primarily because it was not in itself well suited to the job of selecting a new employee for this role. This 'wacky' element to the interview, whether intended to 'lighten the tone' of the process or, less kindly, possibly to amuse the panel at the applicants' expense, certainly backfired for the employer resulting in a torrent of bad press. In these difficult economic times, where jobs are scarce and coveted, assigning arbitrary or embarrassing tasks to interviewees is likely to paint an employer in a negative light.

So how should you ensure that the recruitment process is as painless as possible?

Firstly,  avoid the easy mistake and ensure the recruitment process is relevant to the role. Preparation is key. You need to understand the demands of the role you are recruiting for and prepare a job description and person specification accordingly.

Any desirable attributes described need to be relevant to the role and responsibilities the successful applicant will, in fact, be taking on. Be wary of phrases like "candidates must" unless what follows refers to a certain level of experience or qualification that is truly essential to properly carry out the role.

Any tasks assigned at an assessment centre should directly link through to one of these desirable attributes. Consider using tests which will help you assess technical ability. For example a head chef or head bar-person could quite rightly be asked to show off their culinary or cocktail-making skills as part of any assessment centre.

If you are considering introducing an 'off the wall' element into the process, for example an activity based on drama or art, think carefully about how that task will demonstrate aptitude for the role. For example, a performance based exercise might go towards demonstrating essential communication skills or self confidence. An artistic task might demonstrate that a candidate can think creatively under pressure. If you can’t establish a clear link between the activity and a necessary skill, it might be wise to re-think your plans.

Whilst not always essential, face-to-face interviews should usually be used to assess and understand whether candidates have what it takes to succeed in the proposed job. If you are going to interview, prepare a set of standard questions to ask candidates, stick to the script and only veer from it to get clarity on a response given. Avoid making assumptions about who will and will not fit in with your existing team. Approaching the recruitment process with an open mind is the best way to fend off any claims of discrimination.

Recruiters should take care to avoid discrimination from the outset. Poorly drafted job adverts could present indirect discrimination claims before an applicant even steps through the door.  For example requiring the candidate to always be available to work Sundays may affect those of the Christian faith more than others. Another prominent risk is inadvertent age discrimination. For example asking a candidate to demonstrate 'youthful enthusiasm' for a role, or indeed focussing exclusively on 'youthful' characteristics such as 'drive' and 'ambition' at the expense of experience and proven aptitude, could potentially land you in hot water.

You will also need to think about adjustments to the process for those with disabilities. Failure to adjust time allocations for the completion of written tests could directly discriminate against those who have visual impairments or learning disabilities. Take care even when scheduling interviews to accommodate those who may have child care commitments.

The importance of fairness does not end when the candidates leaves your premises after a gruelling interview. When reviewing and scoring hopefuls, objectivity is vital. Those who do not succeed, may ask for feedback so they can try again. Think carefully before simply ignoring their requests for feedback as disgruntled candidates may then seek to argue that the real reason for their rejection was less favourable treatment. It might also be worth explaining in feedback the objectives of any ‘unusual’ tasks assigned and how the candidate performed against your criteria. If the purpose of every element of the selection process is fully understood, an unsuccessful applicant is far less likely to kick up a damaging fuss.

So, whilst his famous namesakes will be forever associated with triptych works of art or blockbuster movies, maybe Alan's story will have its own lasting legacy – ensuring employers save the dancing for after hours!

Bhavesh Prajapati, Solicitor, bhavesh.prajapati@weightmans.com

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