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Hiring employees: a step by step guide

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You’re running a business on your own, and it’s going well. Almost too well in fact – you need extra hands! But how do you go about hiring, making sure you stay on the right side of employment law?

At Acas, we talk to thousands of employers, employees, organisations and experts each year about the world of work. We’ve developed a quick guide for small business owners looking to hire staff.

You can view a full version of this guide, or view advice for a particular sector such as hospitality, on our website.

1. What’s your business need?

There’s nothing more frustrating than going through the trouble and expense of hiring a staff member only to realise that the work has dried up, or the skills you needed have changed. Planning is key. Take the time to ask yourself:

What are my staffing needs likely to be in future? Is the post long-term? Seasonal? Remote?

How is work structured in my business? Flexible working, or using staggered hours/overtime could help manage peaks and troughs.

What does the jobs market look like? What are your competitors doing? Think about whether you can hire people with the right skills from your area, or whether you’ll need to advertise more widely, and how much you’ll pay. If you want the best person, you’ll need to pay the going rate.

Step into your new employee’s shoes. They’ve just started work. Plan how you’ll train and settle them in so they can operate at their best.

When you’ve got more of an idea of why you want to hire, it’s time to start thinking about who.

2. Who do you want?

In a recent survey on mental health, Acas found that for a fifth of employees 'more clarity around what is required of me for my job role' would help them feel less stressed in the workplace.

Getting clarity on what the role is, and the kinds of experience and skills they’ll need will save headaches later on. Here are some tips to get you started.

Job Description

For this section:

  1. Start with the main purpose of the job. Try to summarise this in one sentence – for example, 'to increase revenue from advertising on the company's website by 25%'.
  2. Sketch out the job’s main tasks. 'Taking shorthand notes and typing company letters' is clearer than 'general office duties'.
  3. Describe the scope of the job, why the job is important and how it fits into the overall purpose of your business.

Person Specification

This section is a sketch of what the ideal person for the job looks like. To avoid discriminating against anyone, focus on:

  • skills and knowledge such as managing current sales accounts
  • experience such as working in website advertising sales
  • aptitudes, for example, a head for figures
  • personal qualities, for example, diligent, self-motivated

Split these attributes into 'essential' and 'desirable' so applicants have an idea of your priorities.

3. Advertise

It’s time to go to market! Clearly, you want to get the best person for the least cost. But choosing from a narrow pool might mean you miss out on good candidates. You should:

  • advertise your job in at least 2 different channels such as: local schools or colleges, job centres, employment agencies, local newspapers, job websites and social media
  • send the job description, person specification and application form to your candidates
  • use the application form, based on the job description and person specification

Using the application form based on the job description can help you sift out unsuitable candidates and shortlist the suitable ones. Ideally, at least 2 people should be involved in sifting applications – it helps to avoid unintended bias.

Make sure you only ask for information relevant to the job, and check that applicants can legally work in the UK, again making sure you are hiring fairly and staying within the law.

Once the deadline has passed, it’s time to invite suitable candidates to interview.

4. Interview

Wherever possible, at least 2 people should interview your candidates, again to help avoid bias. But do not panic if you’re in a small business where that’s not possible – just make sure you stay objective.

Before the interview, make a list of questions to help you probe candidates’ skills and knowledge. Also, score each candidate’s answers to core questions and make brief notes on key points – this will help you further sift the applicants fairly.

We advise that you:

  • block out interruptions, like visitors or calls
  • ask open ended questions to get the best insight
  • do not ask questions that could discriminate, such as asking a woman if she's planning to have children soon
  • are prepared to give reasons to unsuccessful candidates if they ask why they’ve been turned down

5. Offering the job

If all goes to plan, you’ve found someone. Congratulations! Once you’ve decided, send out a job offer letter. You’re now on the verge of entering into an employment contract, a legal arrangement. It should set out:

  • the job title and offer
  • any conditions applying to the offer
  • the terms - including salary, hours, benefits, pension arrangements, holiday entitlement and place of employment
  • start date and any probationary period
  • what the candidate needs to do to accept the offer, for example, supply references

You might be viewing this letter as the employment contract – if so, make sure you tell them and include the main terms and conditions. Either way, you need to give your employee a written statement of Employment Terms and Conditions within their first 2 months.

Discrimination – what are the rules?

As you might have picked up, throughout the whole process you must make sure that you do not discriminate because of 9 'protected characteristics' which include sex and race.

But how does that work out in practice? Our website can help you check if you’re following discrimination law.

Got questions? Wondering what best practice on managing your new employee is?

You can visit our website or ring our helpline for free.

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