Human Resources

The Top Mistakes Recruiters Make – Explained by a CIPD Expert

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CIPD tutor and L&D professional Leslie Bawden Chartered MCIPD shares his thoughts on how we can improve modern recruitment.


The recruitment process is utterly and completely broken. Despite the best intentions of some hiring managers and recruitment companies to make things work, change has not happened.

This article is based not just on my experience as someone who delivers recruitment and interviewing training, but as a candidate – who at one point applied for more than 250 jobs in three years.

Candidates feel undervalued, disengaged and frustrated about a number of areas within the recruitment process. It can start with the advert lacking clarity, containing ambiguities, a lack of clear facts, and insufficient or no contact details. This vagueness often continues throughout the process.

Company values

Most recruitment companies now have a pledge or a set of values they abide by: a statement of intent, perhaps from the owner, about how they as an organisation are going to treat you differently, with respect and fairness. This is generally displayed on their website for candidates and staff to see.

These promises and pledges are all very welcome, laudable, and designed to reassure the candidate – as they say, “the difference that makes the difference”. For some organisations, this is genuinely how they try to operate. However, not every company with a pledge lives up to its promises.

I wanted to share an example of how this works in practice sometimes, with a recruitment organisation I contacted last year in London. I made a call initially with regard to a job and spoke to the owner who was extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Following the call, I was sufficiently interested to apply for the job and sent my CV in.

I had cause to make a call later in the week to the same agency and this time spoke to another member of staff who was rude, unhelpful and aggressive. I was very unhappy, but left it there.

However, I felt I ought to let the owner know about the member of staff and their approach, as the owner had made their company values known publicly, both verbally to me and on their website. I felt that they would want to know what was happening in their business.

The owner told me they were busy but took some brief notes and told me they would get back to me later that day to get more details. I never heard from them that afternoon or ever again.

Of course, there could be many reasons for their silence: it could have slipped their mind, or they could have lost the note with my details. The point is that it doesn’t matter how well intentioned you are as an owner, how many pledges you make or how big your organisation is. Unless you train your staff well and win their hearts and minds in actually wanting to provide excellent customer service, your organisation simply cannot live up to candidates’ quite reasonable expectations.

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Untrained recruitment staff

I must emphasise that I have seen some great examples of how to work with candidates; it is just that those individuals can be counted on two hands, against those I would not work with again, which number many.

Unqualified and untrained recruitment staff continue to operate, and the number doing this shows no signs of slowing down. Some staff specialising in HR recruitment do not even know what the CIPD is or what it does – a challenge for those of us who believe it is helpful and the many organisations which insist upon on CIPD-qualified staff.

Closing dates and applications

A number of companies have still not invested in automatic job application acknowledgements, so candidates don’t know if their application has actually been received. For organisations that haven’t invested: why not? Why not, when this would appear to be the moral, ethical and also the “right thing” to do, demonstrating honesty, integrity and value in the candidate?

Similarly, there is evidence of organisations holding interviews and even hiring candidates before the closing date listed within the job advert. This doesn’t just harm the organisation, as it narrows their candidate pool, but it’s also unhelpful for candidates whose applications are not considered despite applying ‘on time’.

Computer-based interviews and applicant screening

Computer-based interviewing is used by many companies to perform first-stage interviews. The challenge with this is that any experienced recruitment practitioner will tell you one of the most important things is building ‘rapport’.

If you, as an interviewer, invest time at the start of the interview building rapport with your candidate, you are far more likely to get an accurate and realistic picture of the candidate, because they feel relaxed and able to give of their best.

It’s not rocket science, but how can a computer do the equivalent ? The simple answer is that it can’t – and the consequence is that you get an unrealistic and distorted view of the candidate.

One can only hope that whatever process is introduced, the current practice of large organisations using a screen to ask questions and recording the candidate answering them  is destined to end. The fact that organisations don’t feel it’s sufficiently important to spare a member of qualified and trained staff to interview their candidates tells you everything you need to know about the value they place on their people.

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AI and unconscious bias

The Scotsman newspaper ran an article recently suggesting the future of recruitment was with AI and psychometric evaluation as part of an application. This seems to be a potential way forward, as regulating the application process seems not to be an option the government would consider let alone introduce, despite the potential for unconscious bias and discrimination to be reduced.

The clamour for AI within the recruitment process is deafening. However, one problem with this is that AI algorithms are still written by humans, who may unknowingly instil their work with their own unconscious biases. We have clear evidence of this in the way the exams issue was recently handled with the English government failing to learn from the mistakes made by their Scottish counterparts.

AI is only relevant to certain parts of the recruitment process. Those parts that do not lend themselves to anything other than human intervention should be left well alone.  Trust, arguably in limited supply today, is insufficient to ensure ethical and moral compliance. Therefore, perhaps having those aspects checked by impartial observers following the implementation of a government AI Code of Practice might be what is required.

Recruitment after COVID-19

This article was written based on my experiences with recruitment before COVID-19. The recruitment scene has changed dramatically since then.

There have been media reports of 700 people applying for a single bar job in London and many other similar stories have surfaced. In fact, in London, there were 4,228 applications for a trainee paralegal role, and 3,333 for a job as a Human Resources Assistant. For a  warehouse worked in Northumberland there were 2,932 applications, and 2,653 for a factory worker in Sunderland.

These are enormous numbers. It has now become an employer’s market where companies are able to pick and choose their candidates from a very large job pool – which can spell bad news for candidates.

Please, as a recruiter or recruitment company, treat everyone with respect and imagine how it might feel to be ‘walking in their moccasins’. We will all be candidates at some time or another.


About the Author

Leslie Bawden Chartered MCIPD has been a freelance learning and development specialist for 16 years. His clients have included easyJet, Barclays, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Santander, the University of St Andrews, Sky, DWP, Capita, Lloyds Banking Group and the Ministry of Defence, amongst others. He’s also an online CIPD tutor with ICS Learn.

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