Recruitment 101: how to hire better candidates

Phil Kendall

May 2017 ⋅ 10 min read

When you were a job seeker, it seemed there were hundreds of capable candidates applying for all those roles you were after. Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, things are a little different. It’s a real struggle to find high-quality candidates for certain job roles.

We’ve experienced this problem at RotaCloud, too - with our recruitment efforts delayed simply due to a lack of high-quality candidates. We’ve learnt a lot from our recruitment problems, and we’ve learnt a lot about to how to find and recruit better candidates.

If your company is in a similar position, there’s probably a certain stage of the recruitment process that’s failing you:

  • Applications. You aren’t getting many high-quality applications for a certain role. Your options? Compromise and invite sub-par applicants for interviews, or extend the recruitment process.
  • Interviews. The candidates you’ve selected for interviews don’t live up to their billing on paper. They’re a poor fit for your company, but their CV and cover letter suggested otherwise.
  • Post-hiring. Successful candidates don’t excel as you’d hoped in their role. You either need to replace them or invest significant resources into bringing them up to scratch.

Let’s look at each of these problems in turn - and suggest some solutions.

Part One: How to Attract High-Quality Candidates

businessman walking

If you’re not getting the CVs you hoped for, pin down the reason(s) behind it.

  • Competitive labour market. There’s a shortage of suitable individuals who are capable of filling the role. This might be due to your office’s location, or a nationwide or international skills shortage. 98% of suitable individuals are already in work, and not looking for a role elsewhere.
  • Poor compensation package. You haven’t offered a decent salary, or the company offers substandard perks and benefits - at least compared with the rest of the market.
  • Poor reputation. For whatever reason, your business has a bad rep in the industry (and perhaps in the wider press) . No-one wants to work for you - at the current compensation level.
  • Tedious application process. Candidates really hate having to re-enter their work history even though it’s all on their CV.
  • Poor job adverts. Either the content’s not up to scratch (or it’s inaccurate), or your adverts are in the wrong place.

If you’re working with a recruitment agency, they should be able to help you understand what’s going wrong. Otherwise, take some time to assess the process yourself - perhaps with help from recent hires.

Optimising Your Job Ad

First of all, consider the placement of your job adverts.

Think about the type of candidates you’re trying to find, and where you might find them. A candidate persona could help with this.

Look beyond free job boards and towards specialist sites. Stick an ad on your website or on social media if you think your target market will look there. Here's an example of a company using Instagram to reach potential applicants:


We're Hiring! Come join our Marketing Operations & Sales Teams in Vancouver, BC. #yvr #hiring #hiringnow #jobs

A post shared by Social Nature (@socialnature) on

Think about whether to pay extra for sponsored listings on certain websites - this might be worthwhile for specialist, non-entry level positions that you’re struggling to fill.

Don’t forget offline placement, either, if your business is located in an area with plenty of foot traffic.

The content of your job ad is just as likely to be responsible for your recruitment woes. First of all, check the job title. It should be descriptive and accurately reflect the role. Don’t use buzzwords like ‘rockstar’ or ‘dynamo’. Stick to a job title with keywords that applicants will actually be looking for.

Next, revisit the job description. This should be clear and concise, but be sure to add in some of your company’s personality. Talk about how the role contributes to wider company goals.

Another common problem area is the list of desired and essential attributes. Are you being too demanding? A less intimidating list of requirements will widen the pool of potential applicants, and will only dilute quality slightly. Does a candidate really need five years of experience in a similar role, or will two to three do if they are exceptional?

Finally, provide detailed company info that helps applicants understand what it’s like to work for you, and whether it’s right for them.

A smoother application process

Another way to increase applications is to make the application process itself as painless as possible.

Candidates will get frustrated by a tedious application form.

Here are some other mistakes to avoid:

  • Too many steps - ie. mobile users needing to switch to desktop, a separate website for the application form, phoning up a recruiter for more info.
  • A lengthy application with no time estimate attached. Always specify how long it should take to fill in the form.
  • Making the candidate register an account. Or, if you do require this, let them log-in using a social media account to save time.
  • Too many questions. You can ask more at the interview. Keep the application as short as possible.
  • Too many closed-ended questions. Candidates want the chance to differentiate themselves from others. Too many closed-ended questions also suggest that you’ll ditch applications based on one ‘incorrect’ answer.

Remember: the best candidates can afford to be fussier. If they find your application process tedious, they’ll look elsewhere. Don’t tempt them.

Your reputation

As a hiring manager you can’t single-handedly repair your company’s negative reputation, but you do have some influence over your employer brand - that is, your company’s reputation as an employer. Need examples?

  • A careers page on your website. Include info on your benefits, workplace culture, and some videos and photos of current employees at work.
  • Social media careers channels (or behind-the-scenes posts on your main social media channels)
  • Job alerts on social media
  • Employee advocacy. Encourage staff to talk about their work (positively!) on social media and share their thoughts on your main company channels.
  • Welcome and farewell posts (on your blog or social media channels) for employees
  • Social media snaps of company days out and events - as well when you’re working hard!
  • An ethics/CSR web page detailing your company’s social, environmental and charitable endeavours.

Need an example? Twitter's Career Page is a fantastic showcase of their employer brand.


Again, you probably don’t have a say on the budget available for a given open role, but you may be able to persuade those who are in control of the budget that they need to give it a boost to attract better candidates.

Frame your argument around market rates. If you can point to a similar role at a competitor (or another business in your area), compare the salaries offered. A quick Google search will also help to bolster your argument.

Of course, applicants may be tempted by a role even if the salary’s less than the going rate if you can offer a generous set of benefits. Check out our complete guide to budget-friendly perks if you’re not sure what to offer.

Finally, if you are unable to offer the market rate, be upfront about it. State your reasons. Don’t hide a low salary.

Passive candidates

In an uber-competitive labour market, you may need to approach candidates instead of expecting them to approach you. These ‘passive’ candidates take more effort to win over, but tend to be better qualified than the average ‘active’ candidate. Find out more about these types of candidates in our recent guide.

These improvements all relate to ‘selling’ your company and the role to potential candidates. If you judge it right, that means more applicants - specifically those who are best-suited to the role.

Part Two: The Eye-Opening Interview Stage

man taking notes at desk

You’ve had plenty of promising applications, and invited the candidates for interviews.

That’s where it all goes wrong.

The vast majority of interviewees aren’t a good fit for your company. There’s a mismatch, either in values, experience, attitude or required skills.

You’re disappointed. You might need to re-open applications and start your search again.

How did you end up here?

  • The recruiter failed to be fully honest with you about the candidate
  • The candidate embellished the truth on their application form
  • You didn’t communicate the company culture in the ad, or on your careers page
  • Your automated screening process went wrong
  • Your employer brand is lacking, outdated, or inaccurate

Most of this is within your control.

'Fit' is the big issue here - even if the applicant looks like the ideal candidate on paper, if they don’t seem taken with the company and its goals, they won’t do well.

Remember that there’s a balance to be had: diversity in viewpoints is essential if you want to do anything other than stagnate. By only hiring staff with the same values as the rest of the team, you limit your vision and your potential.

In most cases, you shouldn’t expect a complete alignment in cultural fit - but it’s fair to turn down applicants if their primary motivations, ideal working environment and core values are the opposite of your company’s.

For example, Joe Bloggs is attending an interview for a developer role. He prefers to work independently and admits that he doesn’t like others tampering with his code. He prefers work that is project-based, with distinct start and end points.

However, your development team is highly collaborative. Sure, you recognise that some devs work most productively when on their own, but you expect your team to talk through problems and work together to plan next steps. You also edit each other’s code frequently - and everyone has to be willing to let others edit their code.

You’re unsure if Joe will excel in this environment.

Focus on this problem area at the interview. If he doesn’t convince you that he can adapt to your environment, let him know that he might not be a good fit.

If you meet lots of candidates in this position, improve how you communicate your employer brand.

Revamp your careers pages and job descriptions to better reflect your company culture and the realities of working for you. Don’t waste candidates’ time (and your time) with a misleading employer brand.

If you think your recruiter has been suggesting poor candidates to you, explain why. As a hiring manager, you should be having frequent conversations with the recruiter about potential candidates and exactly what you’re looking for - not just skills and qualifications, but also values and cultural fit.

You might also want to revamp the essential and desirable criteria listed on your job adverts, particularly if you haven’t updated them in several years. Include some points on attitude and company culture so that your interviewees are more likely to fit the bill.

By making a few small changes, you can significantly increase the quality of candidates that make it through to the interview stage.

Part Three: Turning Good Candidates into Better Employees

woman at desk using laptop

Your problem isn’t with finding enough quality candidates or even finding candidates who are a good fit for your business.

Instead, your issue is with the quality of the successful applicant.

In other words, your new employees rarely live up to expectations.

Generally, this comes down to two reasons: incompetence, or a lack of motivation.


This may sound harsh, but sometimes new hires simply aren’t up to the job.

Assuming you’ve given them sufficient training, plus the tools to do their job, after a few months at work you’d expect a new employee to hit their stride and be as productive as the employee they replaced.

If that’s not the case and discussions with the employee leave you none the wiser, you may start to think that your hiring efforts were wasted.

To avoid this unfortunate situation, your hiring process needs to be more stringent.

Think about making these sorts of changes:

  • Introduce skills tests for most roles, where appropriate
  • Ask more situational questions at the interview (i.e. What would you do if…?)
  • Ask for multiple references (and follow up)
  • Ask candidates to present evidence when quoting figures related to previous projects
  • Use panel interviews to reduce personal bias
  • Hold telephone interviews for roles which require phone communication

Don’t go into interviews expecting candidates to try to deceive you - it’ll hardly make for a pleasant interview experience! The above changes should help you find a middle ground - helping you identify poor candidates without resorting to an overly negative hiring process.

Lack of motivation

Unmotivated employees not only perform poorly, they can drag the rest of your team down. Even if your new hire is a certifiable genius, a lack of motivation can make them as draining as an incompetent employee.

Employees lack motivation for numerous reasons - and there are just as many ways to try to cure motivation problems.

While most of these solutions apply once your chosen candidate has already started work, you can tweak the recruitment process to reduce the number of unmotivated employees you eventually hire.

  • Ensure your employer brand is representative of what it’s like to work for your company. This includes your values, the working environment and how the business is structured. If life at your business isn’t as the employee expected, they’ll be disappointed.
  • Discuss workload, expectations and tasks expected of a successful candidate at the interview. Again, avoid any nasty surprises for the new employee.
  • Ask applicants about gaps in their employment history. They may say they were having personal problems. Don’t ask for details - just clarify if everything’s sorted now. Personal distractions and other sources of stress will lead to a lack of motivation at work.
  • Find out what motivates candidates at the interview stage (or earlier).
  • Be honest if you’re unsure if they're a good match for the position.

These suggestions are just a starting a point. If you’ve had specific issues at your business relating to the quality of new hires, examine your hiring process and change it as necessary.

But remember that another round of hiring may not be the solution to your problems. Hiring is expensive and time-consuming - you might be better off persevering with the employee and trying to resolve the issue instead of committing to replacing them.

Final thoughts

Improving candidate quality should always be an aim for hiring managers. In an ideal world, you’ll have a difficult choice between several high-quality candidates for each and every role - and your chosen candidate will go on to prove themselves to be an excellent employee.

In reality, it’s rare that the recruitment stars align like this, but by figuring out the source of your problems and refining your hiring process, you can significantly boost your chances!

Your small business stands a fighting chance at securing high-quality candidates - you just need to tidy up your hiring process and understand how best to reach the applicants you’re after.

After more recruitment tips? Check out our complete guide to budget-friendly hiring.