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.

CIPD viewpoint

Effective recruitment is 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 business. Recruitment should also take into account the future needs of the organisation, identifying individuals with potential for development. Recruitment and resourcing professionals should always be aware of organisational strategy and the implications this has for 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 methods are effective, and that they are non-discriminatory, for both internal and external candidates.

Recruitment involves attracting and selecting individuals into the right role. Recruiting the right individuals is crucial to organisational performance, and 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 required to make effective recruitment decisions.

A variety of factors influence the UK recruitment market. Our quarterly Labour market outlook monitors economic and labour market indicators and the recruitment outlook, and our Resourcing and talent planning survey provides data on recruitment trends and employers’ practices, including the expected impact of Brexit on resourcing. Although there’s considerable uncertainty about what the UK’s EU immigration policy will be following Brexit, potential changes to UK organisations' ability to recruit EU migrants is a key consideration for resourcing professionals. 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.

Another key part of recruitment is attracting a diverse range of candidates, and diversity and inclusion should be taken into account at each stage of the recruitment process. Processes and systems should be regularly reviewed to ensure hidden bias is removed and that talent is not blocked. Everyone taking part in activities such as shortlisting and interviewing should be aware of relevant legislation and the importance of avoiding discrimination. CIPD members can see our Recruitment and selection law Q&As for more on the legal aspects of recruitment.

For information on standards relating to recruitment such as cost of hire and workforce planning, see our HR and standards factsheet.

The candidates’ experience is another important aspect of recruitment. The recruitment process is not just about employers identifying suitable employees, it’s also about candidates finding out more about the business, and considering whether the organisation is one they would like to work for. Often, the first interaction a potential employee has with an organisation is the recruitment process, so effort should be made to ensure the process is transparent, timely and creates a good impression of the organisation, regardless of whether the candidate is successful or not.

The length and complexity of the recruitment process will vary depending on the organisation’s size and resources. However, the following stages should be present:

  • defining the role
  • attracting applicants
  • 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 from a variety of sources. This means thinking not only the duties involved in 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 provides the information needed for the job description. This explains the requirements of the job to potential candidates, and aids the recruitment process by providing a clear overview of the role for all involved. It can also be used to communicate expectations about performance to employees and managers to help ensure effective performance in the job and clarity during induction.

Person specification/job profile

A person specification or job profile states the necessary and desirable criteria for selection. The characteristics specified must be clear, demonstrable and avoid bias in wording.

Competency frameworks are sometimes 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 recruitment

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. For more, see our talent management 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 attraction 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 common ways for attracting candidates include employer’s website, commercial job boards, recruitment agencies, and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn (although this will vary by sector and seniority). There is growing expectation from candidates to be able to search and apply for jobs online and via mobile devices, and this shift means that more and more, employers need to pay attention to their corporate website and their employer brand. 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.

Candidates and organisations should also be aware of the increase in fraudulent online job adverts, where fraudsters post a false roles on job boards in order to ask applicants to pay for online checks or training. Safer Jobs can provide advice and support.

Advertisements should be clear and indicate the:

  • the organisation’s activities and values
  • requirements of the job
  • necessary and desirable criteria for job applicants
  • job location
  • reward package
  • type of employment offered. For example, will it be a short term contract role?
  • details of how to apply and the deadline.

Care should be taken to ensure that the wording and specification of the job is clear, accurate and does not inadvertently deter candidates from applying.

Other common ways to attract applications include building links with local colleges/universities, working with the local jobcentre and using local networks. Using multiple and non-traditional 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) and covering letter 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.

Application form design and language is also important - a poorly designed or unnecessarily long application form can mean applications from good candidates are overlooked, or that candidates are put off applying. 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 candidates are not restricted to a standard application form. However, CVs and LinkedIn profiles may include surplus material and vary in format which undermines their consistent assessment. 

Managing 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.

Selecting candidates

Selecting candidates involves two main processes: shortlisting those who have the necessary skills to proceed to assessment stage, and assessing those candidates to ascertain who is most suitable for the role - 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, and attention should be paid to ensuring certain candidates are not unfairly disadvantaged.

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

References

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, delivered by a qualified person, 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.

Documentation and evaluation

The recruitment process should be documented accurately and access limited to recruitment staff for confidentiality reasons. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) means that recruitment process and applicant tracking systems may need review - see our data protection factsheet.

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

It’s good practice to monitor applications and recruitment decisions to ensure that equality of opportunity is being allowed. Where issues are highlighted in the process, action should be taken.

Using metrics such as cost of hire, candidate experience ratings and time to hire can also provide insight into the effectiveness of recruitment processes.

Contacts

Acas - Recruitment

GOV.UK - Recruiting and hiring

GOV.UK - Employers: preventing discrimination - recruitment

Recruitment & Employment Confederation

Safer Jobs

Voluntary code of conduct for executive search firms

Books and reports

ACAS. (2018) 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 and Kogan Page Bookshop to see all our priced publications currently in print.

Journal articles

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

BROWN, P. (2018) It’s time to put data at the heart of the recruitment process. PM Daily. 13 February.

INGOLD, J. and VALIZADE, D. (2017) Employers’ recruitment of disadvantaged groups: exploring the effect of active labour market programme agencies as labour market intermediaries. Human Resource Management Journal. Vol 27, No 4. pp530-547. Reviewed in In a Nutshell issue 73.

JEFFREY, R. (2017) Would you let AI recruit for you?PM Daily. 12 December.

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 Melanie Green.

Melanie Green: Research Adviser

Melanie joined the CIPD in 2017, specialising in learning & development and skills research. Prior to the CIPD, Mel worked as an HR practitioner in a technology organisation, working on a variety of learning and development initiatives, and has previously worked as a researcher in an employee engagement and well-being consultancy. 

Melanie holds a master’s degree in Occupational Psychology from University of Surrey, where she conducted research into work–life boundary styles and the effect of this on employee well-being and engagement.


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