Saturday 15 October 2011

Learing to live with staff turnover: my Top 10 tips for recruitment

There are six people working in the Genomics Core lab I run, including myself. It is exactly five years since I started and in that time five members of my team have come and gone. The next person to go will mean I hit a milestone I had not even thought about before, where there are as many people working for me as there are people who have worked for me in the past!

Staff leaving is never easy. There is a lot of work to be done in recruiting someone new and getting them up to speed in the lab. Also there is an inevitable impact on the rest of the lab as a vacuum is created and someone new has to come in and fill another persons shoes.

However it is not all bad. Leavers offer an opportunity to change how things are done and can mean promotion of others in the lab. Even if this does not happen inevitably the ripple effects mean people get to do some new things and take on new responsibilities.

I recently had my number two person in the lab leave. She has been great and has worked for me for over four years, and will be sorely missed. However it was time for her to move on, a great opportunity arose and she went for it and I wish her the very best. I had to recruit and thought I'd post on my experiences for others to consider.

My Top 10 tips for recruitment

1 Write a good job description: It might sound like an obvious one but get it wrong and you'll never get the right person. This is the time to really consider what you need this new person to do in the lab. It is an opportunity to change responsibilities as someone new can take on something the other person never did without even knowing it.

2 Write a good advert: I always struggle with this. How to get a good ad that attracts people to apply is tough. I always get our HR tam to help with this and usually aim for online advertising now. The costs of ads in Science and Nature is very high in the print editions. Online is no cheap option though, however the ad needs to be seen.

3 Read covering letters and CVs carefully: For my last job opening I got over 50 applicants. There is not enough time to read every one in detail and fortunately our HR team use an online system that allows me to screen and reject poor candidates quite easily. I usually start with the covering letter and if this does not grab me put the candidate straight into the reject pile. It might seem tough but the covering letter is the opportunity for the applicant to shine and to shout out why they are the best person for this job. The CV should be clear and allow me to see what skills they have and what their job experience is. A list of 40 publications is a bad idea and off putting. personally I like to see no more than three.

4 Use a scoring matrix for possible candidates: I start by deciding which criteria are most important for teh job, perhaps specific skills. I then make a table in Excel to record how each candidate measures up on a three point scoring system. I use the results of this to decide which candidates to invite in for interview and also use it to decide on the order of interviews. I like to get the best candidate in first and then see the others in order of preference if possible. It can get tiring doing interviews so I want to be as fresh as possible for the best candidates. This matrix also helps if someone comes back later to ask why they did not get the job as there is evidence they might not have measured up against other candidates.

5 Generate a list of questions for the interview: These do not have to be kept to rigidly but they offer an opportunity to keep interviews as similar as possible so you can make an unbiased decision. They also allow you to think of something to ask if a candidate turn out to be very poor. I would not recommend you stick to an hours interview if it really is not going anywhere, get the candidate out of the door and move on.

6 Get candidates to present: I have found a ten minute presentation a great way to start off an interview. I use a rather vague title for talks like "Cancer genomics in a core facility" and allow candidates freedom to interpret this a they see best. This certainly sorts out people who are really thinking how a core might run from post-docs that would really just like another research post. A talk also gives you an idea of how the person will communicate with others in the job. And it shows you how much homework they have done for this job.

7 Show candidates the lab: I ask people in my team or collaborating labs to take people around and then get their feedback on the candidates as well. Sometimes people relax in this scenario and their true personality comes out. If someone seems interested in the Institute and the work we are doing then great. If all they care about is the holiday package and any perks they are unlikely to make this clear in the formal interview.

8 Talk to the interview panel: I get mine to rate the top three candidates in order of preference. Having each person do this independently can help when there is a difficult choice. If the three don't agree than you can have an informed discussion as to why. Of course hopefully it is clear and the same candidate comes out on top.

9 Make a good offer: I like to personally call someone when offering a job in my lab. It is one of the nicest things about being a boss and I hope makes a better impression on the individual than having HR ring them up. Personally though I leave pay and conditions to HR, I just stick to questions about the job. Leaving HR to the complex discussions on pay is helpful. They won't get carried away with  packages and can answer all the questions individuals might have.

10 Help them settle in: When someone new turns up make sure you give them the time to settle in, explain the job again, introduce them to everyone again, take them on another tour. I like to sit down on the first afternoon and have an informal chat about what I want them to do and where I think the lab is going. Give people some of your time.

Hopefully everything goes well and the new person settles in fine. I am excited about my latest recruit and hope your next recruitment goes smoothly.

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