Bums on seats!

3 part strategy to avoid a ‘bums on seats’ situation  

Are we making it too easy for people to join the recruitment industry?

It’s a term that we hear a lot in recruitment, but if you’re not aware of the phrase, it describes when a hirer is not really bothered about the skills, knowledge, personality and attributes of a candidate; they just want a pair of hands to complete the job.

Now I’m not suggesting that we are recruiting people into our industry with no thought, but I have noticed a worrying trend of people joining and then when they leave, they’re going on to something totally different. If they’re leaving after their first foray, then really it’s the mistake of the person hiring them.

How much time and effort are we investing in the recruitment process?

It seems ridiculous right, that recruiters are notoriously pretty rubbish at recruiting for themselves? Unfortunately, that’s certainly been the case for the last 30 years or so. Back then our turnover rate in the UK was 52%, and it’s still pretty much the same now.

The UK average employee turnover rate is approximately 15% a year (Source: Monster for Employers). Some people see this attrition of staff as a bad thing, but actually, at 15% that can be a really healthy situation. It could be that those that are performing badly are leaving before they are likely to be sacked and others are gaining experience and knowledge elsewhere, with the possibility of coming back and bringing those new skills to your company. These are called the ‘boomerang employees’ and they’re my favourite, so more about them later.

So what do we need to look for when hiring a recruitment consultant?

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about the competencies of a recruitment consultant. It’s a complicated job in that it’s really 9 jobs combined into one. Each element isn’t necessarily difficult, but trying to do them all at the same time, as the 360º consultant does, is truly an art. It’s why one of the first competencies a recruiter needs is the ability to plan.

So what are the competencies a recruiter requires?

  1. Planning
  2. Monitoring
  3. Analysing
  4. Sales opportunities
  5. Meeting goals
  6. Building profitability
  7. Communication
  8. Team priorities
  9. Client relationship building
  10. Candidate relationship building
  11. Maintaining a high level of business performance
  12. Perseverance

3 part strategy to avoid the ‘bums on seats’ situation  

So if we put as much effort and time into the recruitment process for ourselves as we do for our client companies, then we’d probably do much better.

1. Make sure that you have relevant assessments as part of the first interview – as there is no point bringing someone back for a second interview, and then they fail a critical assessment. For each role decide on what would be a suitable way to assess someone’s skills. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Communication is one of the top competencies, so a verbal and written assessment is key to make sure that they can get their point across in a positive, effective way
  • Building profitability and sales opportunities are about having ‘business smarts’, so an assessment testing someone’s ability to make good decisions quickly, is key
  • Being able to achieve success in all ‘9 jobs’ of the 360º recruiter’s role at once, then as well as business smarts, actual common sense and intelligence is required. Some form of IQ test with a timeframe attached was always a great way of establishing how they act under pressure as well.

2. If planning is the top competency, then question how you establish their capability here. For me it’s likely to be utilising a criterion referenced interview technique, utilising competency-based questions to gain evidence on their previous successes in this area, against a framework of what ‘good looks like’. Utilise them in the second interview to really probe on the areas that you feel they may have a weakness in.


  • Tell me about the types of planning you carry out in business:
    • What period of time do you usually plan for?
    • What are the keys steps in the planning process?
    • What activities do you give key priority to?
    • What do you find most difficult when planning anything?
  • Share with me the details of a successful activity or event that you planned recently:
    • Talk me through the background to it?
    • How did you approach it?
    • What were your first steps?
    • What specifically did you do to ensure its success?
    • What did you learn about planning as a result of this exercise?
  • What are some of the longer term planning you have carried out?
    • What is longer term for you?
    • What are you usually planning for?
    • What do you still find challenging about longer term planning?

3. Get the team involved. It’s not just you that will be working with this person, so include others your recruitment process – even if it’s introducing them on the way out and asking them to walk them to the door, for example. Someone else’s opinion is critical to avoid the halo, horns and contrast effects.

  • Halo = where you only see the good in people because you really like them for some reason.
  • Horns = where you only see the bad.
  • Contrast = where they are the ‘best of a bad bunch’, but if you’d seen them without anyone else to compare them to, you wouldn’t have hired them.

The contrast effect leads me back to the issue of ‘bums on seats’. Is this the reason that we’re not hiring the best and have made the ‘barrier to entry’ into our industry too low?

So new employees need to be thoroughly vetted before they join your company (How many employment agencies don’t take up references on new starters?), but boomerang employees are even more ideal.  It indicates that theirs was definitely a positive experience of working at your company, the fact that they want to return. You also know the strengths and development areas of that person when they left and can quickly be updated with how they’ve grown.

I was recently talking to Suzy Astbury of Inspired Selection about this situation and her advice was “…focus on a well managed exit and don’t be afraid to let them go. It makes it easier for them to come back”. It amazes me how many companies don’t perform exit interviews. It’s a great opportunity to find out what are potentially some real issues in your business, but also to make it a pleasant experience for the leaving member of staff and therefore for them to see your company in a more positive light during this stressful situation.

I’ll leave you with another quote from Suzy… “It feels so good when they come back, especially top billers!”

Photo by ål nik on Unsplash

Angela Cripps

Angela Cripps has worked within the recruitment industry for over 25 years and runs Connemara UK Ltd. Her career started as a recruitment consultant, where she recruited both temporary and permanent staff for Blue Arrow in Catering, Industrial, Healthcare and Commercial sectors. She is now an Executive Coach, Mentor, NED and Trainer for the recruitment industry.

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