Good recruitment is vital for every organisation - finding the right people for the right roles at the right time. It ensures that the workforce has the relevant skills and abilities for the organisation's current and future needs. Effective recruitment is not just about filling an immediate vacancy but about having an impact on longer-term issues, such as future skills development, organisational performance and employer brand.

This factsheet looks at what recruitment entails and outlines the UK law affecting recruitment activities. It describes the stages of the recruitment process: defining the role, including job analysis, job description and person specification; attracting the applicants using both internal and external methods; managing the selection process; and, finally, making the appointment and employment offer.

Effective recruitment is central and crucial to the successful day-to-day functioning of any organisation. It depends upon finding people with the right skills, expertise and qualifications to deliver organisational objectives and to contribute positively to the values and aims of the organisation. But it also depends upon finding people with potential for development because recruitment is not just carried out to fulfil current needs. Recruiters should always be aware of and refer to future plans that have implications for organisational resourcing.

Recruiters also need to be fully aware of equal opportunities legislation and understand how discrimination can occur both directly and indirectly in the recruitment process. Organisations should monitor their recruitment processes continuously to ensure their validity, and that they are non-discriminatory.

Recruitment is the process of having the right person, in the right place, at the right time. It's crucial to organisational performance. Recruitment is a critical activity, not just for the HR team but also for line managers who are increasingly involved in the selection process. All those involved in recruitment activities should be equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills.

Our Resourcing and talent planning survey provides data on recruitment trends and employers’ practices, and our Labour market outlook monitors economic and labour market indicators and the recruitment outlook.

Our report A head for hiring: the behavioural science of recruitment and selection emphasises that harnessing knowledge about how we actually behave can help recruiters to improve outcomes for the organisations they represent. It looks at how behavioural science approaches can sharpen our approaches to attraction, selection and the candidate experience.

The importance of diversity and inclusion should be taken into account at each stage of the recruitment process. The UK government is currently spearheading a campaign to get employers to work towards ‘name blind’ recruitment to reduce bias in the recruitment process. The CIPD is supporting this by promoting it as a standard practice. Processes and systems should also be regularly reviewed to ensure hidden bias is removed and that talent is not blocked from entering the organisation. Everyone taking part in activities such as shortlisting and interviewing should be aware of relevant legislation and the importance of avoiding discrimination. We support the Recruitment protocol launched by the Employers’ Forum on Disability. See more in our factsheet on diversity in the workplace. CIPD members can see our Recruitment and selection law Q&As for more on the legal aspects of recruitment.

While recruiting the right people has always been a challenge, UK organisations may face more challenges following the UK’s vote to leave EU in June 2016. The free movement of EU migrant labour, one of the core principles of the EU, is under threat in the UK in the future, although there’s considerable uncertainty about what the UK’s EU immigration policy will be. Our factsheet on employing overseas workers in the UK has more, and our Brexit hub has resources and details of our activities to support the HR profession.

SMEs may face more challenges than most because limited time and resources as well as competition from larger companies can make it much more difficult for smaller firms to find and recruit the best candidates. Listen to our Recruitment in SMEs podcast.

The recruitment process involves working through a series of stages:

  • defining the role
  • attracting applications
  • managing the application and selection process
  • making the appointment.

The following sections give an overview of these.

Job analysis

Before recruiting for a new or existing position, it's important to invest time in gathering information about the job. This means thinking not only about the content such as the tasks making up the job, but also the job’s purpose, the outputs required by the job holder and how it fits into the organisation’s structure. This analysis should form the basis of a job description and person specification/job profile.

Job description

The job analysis leads to writing a job description. This explains the job to candidates and helps the recruitment process by providing a clear guide to all involved about the requirements of the job.

It can also be used to communicate expectations about performance to employees and managers to help ensure effective performance in the job. Latest thinking suggests that job descriptions should focus on the work someone needs to achieve rather than the skills and experience, as this is more likely to result in choosing someone with the right abilities.

Person specification/job profile

A person specification or job profile states the necessary and desirable criteria for selection. Increasingly such specifications are based on a set of competencies identified as necessary for the performance of the job.

Competency frameworks may be substituted for job or person specifications but these should include an indication of roles and responsibilities - see our factsheet on competence and competency frameworks.

There are many ways to generate interest from potential candidates.

Internal methods

It's important not to forget the internal talent pool when recruiting. Providing opportunities for development and career progression increases employee engagement and retention, and supports succession planning. Read our succession planning factsheet.

Employee referral schemes

Some organisations operate an employee referral scheme. These schemes usually offer an incentive to existing employees to assist in the recruitment of friends or contacts. But employers should not rely on such schemes at the expense of attracting a diverse workforce and they should complement other methods.

External methods

There are many options for generating interest from individuals outside the organisation.

Our Resourcing and talent planning survey shows that the most popular methods for seeking candidates include employer’s corporate website, recruitment agencies, commercial job boards and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. There is growing expectation from candidates to be able to search and apply for jobs online and via mobile devices. Many organisations also use social media to identify candidates, but employers need to exercise caution - see more in our report Putting social media to work: lessons from employers.

Advertisements should be clear and indicate the:

  • requirements of the job
  • necessary and desirable criteria for job applicants (to limit the number of inappropriate applications received)
  • the organisation’s activities
  • job location
  • reward package
  • job tenure (for example, contract length)
  • details of how to apply and the deadline.

Other common ways to attract applications include building links with local colleges/universities, working with the local jobcentre, using networks, holding open days. Using uncommon outreach methods can increase the talent pool.

External recruitment services

Some organisations use external providers to help with their recruitment. Recruitment agencies or recruitment consultants need to have a good understanding of the organisations and its requirements. They offer a range of services such as attracting candidates, managing candidate responses, screening and shortlisting, or running assessment centres on the employer’s behalf. These services might also be provided by an outsourcing provider - find out more in our HR outsourcing factsheet.

There are two main formats in which paper or online applications are likely to be received: a curriculum vitae (CV) or an application form. Some organisations allow candidates to apply with their LinkedIn profile.

Application forms

Application forms allow for information to be presented in a consistent format, and therefore make it easier to collect information from job applicants in a systematic way and assess objectively the candidate’s suitability for the job. They should be appropriate to the level of the job.

Application form design and language is also important - a poorly designed application form can mean applications from good candidates are overlooked, or that candidates are put off applying. For example, devoting lots of space to present employment could disadvantage a candidate who is not currently working. To comply with discrimination law, it may be necessary to offer application forms in different formats.

CVs and LinkedIn profiles

The advantage of CVs or LinkedIn profiles is that they give candidates the opportunity to present themselves in their own way rather than being restricted to a standard application form. However, CVs and LinkedIn profiles may include lots of additional, irrelevant material which undermine their consistent assessment. Also, the one-click apply on LinkedIn can increase the quantity but not the quality of applications.

Dealing with applications

All applications should be treated confidentially and circulated only to those individuals involved in the recruitment process.

All solicited applications, such as responses to advertisements, should be acknowledged and, where possible, so should all unsolicited applications. Prompt acknowledgment is good practice and presents a positive image of the organisation.

The ‘candidate experience’

The recruitment process is not just about employers identifying suitable employees for the future, it’s also about candidates finding out more about the business, and considering whether the organisation is one they would like to work for.

The experience of candidates (both successful and unsuccessful) at each stage of the recruitment process will impact on their view of the organisation. This could be both from the perspective of a potential employee and, depending on the nature of the business, as a customer.

Selecting candidates

Selecting candidates involves two main processes: shortlisting and assessing applicants to decide who should be offered a job - see more on this stage is in our selection methods factsheet.

Selection decisions should be made after using a range of tools appropriate to the time and resources available. Care should be taken to use techniques that are relevant to the job and the business objectives of the organisation. All tools used should be validated and constantly reviewed to ensure their fairness and reliability.

Before making an offer of employment, employers have responsibility for checking that applicants have the right to work in the UK and are appropriate for the work. See more in our factsheets on pre-employment checks and employing overseas workers in the UK.


A recruitment policy should state clearly how references will be used, when in the recruitment process they will be taken up and what kind of references will be necessary (for example, from former employers). These rules should be applied consistently. Candidates should always be informed of the procedure for taking up references.

References are most frequently sought after the applicant has been given a ‘provisional offer’.

CIPD members can find out more on the legal aspects in our References law Q&As.

Medical examinations

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to ask candidates to complete a medical questionnaire before being offered a job. Only essential medical issues should be discussed at this stage. See more in our factsheet on disability and employment.

However, any particular physical or medical requirement should be made clear in the job advertisement or other recruitment literature.

Employers should also take care before making selection decisions relating to a candidate’s mental or physical health. They need to think creatively and innovatively about where they can make reasonable adjustments, such as flexible working, where someone has a disability.

Employment offer

Offers of employment should always be made in writing. But it is important to be aware that a verbal offer of employment made in an interview is as legally binding as a letter to the candidate. See more in our contracts of employment factsheet. CIPD members can use our Terms and conditions of employment law Q&As.

Unsuccessful candidates should be notified promptly in writing and if possible given feedback. As a minimum, feedback on any psychometric test results should be offered.

Joining the organisation

Well-planned induction enables new employees to become fully operational quickly and should be integrated into the recruitment process. See more in our induction factsheet.


The recruitment process should be documented accurately and access limited to recruitment staff for confidentiality reasons. See our data protection factsheet.

It's good practice to monitor applications and decisions to ensure that equality of opportunity is being allowed.

Information should be kept for sufficient time to allow any complaints to be handled - our factsheet on retaining HR records has information on how long records should be kept.


Acas - Recruitment

GOV.UK - Recruiting and hiring

GOV.UK - Employers: preventing discrimination - recruitment

Recruitment & Employment Confederation

Voluntary code of conduct for executive search firms


ACAS. (2016) Recruiting staff. London: Acas.

GOVERNMENT EQUALITIES OFFICE. (2011) Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? A quick start guide to using positive action in recruitment and promotion. London: GEO. 

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE CARE AND RESETTLEMENT OF OFFENDERS (NACRO). (2015) Recruiting fairly and safely: a practical guide to employing ex-offenders. London: Nacro. 

NEWELL-BROWN, J. (2014) The professional recruiter's handbook: delivering excellence in recruitment practice. 2nd ed. London: Kogan Page.

TAYLOR, S. (2014) Resourcing and talent management. 6th ed. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Visit the CIPD Store to see all our priced publications currently in print.


BEVITT, A. and STAKIM, C. (2014) Cross-border issues in recruitment. Employers' Law. June. pp12-13.

RUSHTON, S. (2015) The potential pitfalls of the recruitment process. Tolley's Employment Law Newsletter. Vol 20, No 4, February. pp30-31.

CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.

Members and People Management subscribers can see articles on the People Management website.

This factsheet was last updated by Stella Martorana, CIPD Research Associate.

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