Well-run and legally compliant recruitment processes are an important part of attracting motivated, high quality people from diverse backgrounds to your organisation.
Equality legislation applies to prospective employees as well as current staff. This means that job candidates will be protected by law from discrimination on grounds of the following “protected characteristics”: age, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy/maternity, marriage/civil partnership, religion/belief or gender reassignment.
In practice, a common sense approach to the recruitment process will help you to avoid any legal pitfalls and, from a positive perspective, attract and retain the very best employees from a diverse talent pool.
Focus on the core requirements of the role:
- If you need at least 15 years’ experience (which may exclude younger candidates) this is fine as long as you can justify it.
- If the role requires a high level of physical fitness (which may exclude individuals with certain disabilities), again this is fine if the role requires it – although keep an open mind regarding any reasonable adjustments that could be made.
- Consider including a statement confirming your commitment to equal opportunities.
Avoid elementary mistakes that may give the impression of potential bias against certain protected characteristics – for example:
- “We are looking for someone with youthful enthusiasm to create an energised working environment.”
- “The successful candidate will have his finger on the pulse and a good understanding of client business issues. He will be responsible for excellent client service.”
- The use of HR technology to assist employers with sifting applications is growing. If you choose to use these tools, work with the relevant provider to understand how the risk of unconscious bias is managed (and who is responsible if things go wrong).
- Involve 2 people in the shortlisting process – it is, in part at least, an exercise in subjective judgement so it is always helpful to have a second pair of eyes.
- Focus on competency-based questions. What are you trying to achieve by asking the question?
- Questions relating to health or medical issues should be avoided until after an offer of employment has been made, unless they relate to: (a) any reasonable adjustments that need to be put in place during the application process to accommodate a candidate’s disability; or (b) an intrinsic part of the job role.
- Some real-life examples of questions to avoid:
- “Tell us a bit about yourself – do you have a partner or children or any plans to start a family?”
- “We’re looking for someone who can empathise with and inspire a young, dynamic team. Do you fit the bill?”
- “Given your accent, you’ve clearly spent some time outside the UK. Can you confirm you have the right to work here?”
- We live in a feedback culture – unsuccessful candidates will want to know why they did not get the job, so be prepared.
- Consider, record and communicate objective reasons for rejection:
- Relate back to the job specification where possible, focusing on the candidate’s skills, experience and answers to interview questions
- It is OK to say that they did not come across well at interview – but explain why, if they are otherwise good on paper
- Often, the answer is that the candidate was simply “not the right fit”, which is a potentially tricky area. This needs to be explained by reference to specific examples that do not relate to protected characteristics