HR basics: The recruitment process

Julian Hackenberg, HR Manager
By Julian Hackenberg, HR Manager


Not everyone is familiar with basic HR and people management practices, so we’ve created this series of 101 articles to explain essential concepts and processes.

First up is the very first stage in the employment lifecycle: finding and hiring someone for a role (or as it’s known in the industry: recruitment).

What is recruitment?

Recruitment is the process of finding, evaluating, and selecting the best candidate(s) for a job vacancy in an organisation.

The steps in the recruitment process may differ depending on the role, the organisation and industry, and the calibre of the applicants, but it should start with defining a staffing need and end with filling the role and successfully initiating the person (or onboarding, as it's commonly known).

Recruitment aims to find and hire the best candidate, on time and within budget, and to be able to do so consistently.

Who handles recruitment?

Recruitment can be handled within the organisation or by outside specialists - such as recruitment consultants, firms or online providers - or a combination of these.

In a small business, the owner/employer or manager is most likely to handle decision-making processes such as hiring staff.

In a larger enterprise, recruitment will probably be handled by more specialised staff, e.g. the Human Resources team, often using software and applicant tracking systems (ATS) to streamline the process.

What are the steps in the recruitment process?

1. Identifying and defining the role

The first step is the essential groundwork stage where you work out what the job vacancy is, what you need the person to do, and what skills and aptitudes they will need to do it.

This could be driven by the need to replace someone leaving their position, or some internal or external change that means you need someone with new skills or specialist knowledge.

Whatever is driving the need, we always recommend taking a step back to identify or confirm the organisations’ strategy and goals, so you know, and can clearly articulate, what sort of enterprise you are, what you want to achieve in the short and long term, and why someone would want to come and work for you.

From there you should identify the work that needs to be done to hit your goals, and then the tasks each role performs to ensure you get the work done most effectively and efficiently.

Once you have completed this organisational design work, you can decide on the type of employment, e.g. full-time, part-time or casual, and work out the pay and conditions you can offer (adhering to minimum wage obligations and considering wider remuneration strategies).

From there you should create (or update) the position description, which will form the basis of your recruitment campaign.

Find out more about creating job descriptions.

2. Attracting candidates

This is the step where you aim to attract as many people as possible to apply for the role.

It starts with drawing up a job ad that will get people’s attention and succinctly communicate what the job is and what you are looking for.

There are many ways to advertise a job vacancy, from newspapers, industry publications, and job boards to job websites and social media networks.

We recommend being strategic and advertising your vacancy in a variety of places to reach a wide selection of candidates. Do some research to find out where people in your industry are looking, so you can best target your advertising.

Our tip: Don’t overlook current employees and talented people you have met and built connections with. The best candidate may be someone you already know.

3. Receiving applications and initial screening

Depending on your organisation, its systems and where you have advertised the vacancy, you will probably receive applications via email, an applicant tracking system (ATS), or external job websites.

The candidate-screening process is all about reading the applications (usually a cover letter and CV) and identifying applicants with the best potential fit of skills, qualifications, and experience for the role, as well as the right fit for the company and its culture.

A simple criteria or checklist can help keep you focussed on the sort of person you are looking for. Poor applications or candidates who don’t meet the minimum requirements should be informed they are unsuccessful and the best candidates invited to interviews, either in-person or via video or phone.

Learn more about screening job applicants.

4. Interviewing and evaluating candidates

Interviews provide an important opportunity to meet candidates, get a sense of their abilities and personalities, and hone in on their experience and motivations.

Ideally, you want a shortlist of 3 (or 5 in some situations) people to interview.

Depending on the size of the organisation, one person may conduct the interview or you may have more than one person interviewing. A second opinion can help make evaluation more accurate and balance any preconceptions or biases.

It always pays to be well prepared for interviews so you are efficient and have enough structure and insightful questions to objectively compare candidates’ responses. We recommend trying to create a casual atmosphere so the person relaxes and you can get a sense of who they are.

Make notes during the interview, so you can use them to compare applicants.

You may get a clear sense of the best candidate after one interview. If there is more than one leading candidate, it is common to conduct second interviews targeted to specific areas of expertise, proficiency, or more general fit for the team.

Other pre-employment testing - e.g. work tests to assess how well an applicant performs a particular task or part of the job, or knowledge or psychometric tests (sometimes called “personality tests”) - can help find out if a candidate’s skills, cognitive ability, or personality type suit the role.

Then comes the post-interview assessment to whittle down candidates by reviewing how they performed during the interview, and comparing them to each other, the candidate criteria and job description etc. Again, having a second set of eyes can help with sound decision-making.

5. Checking references

Once you have one or two preferred applicants, use referees and professional references to supplement the information you already have. 

Ask about any areas that the person may need to develop, how the referee found managing the person, or if they had any concerns.

Complete background checks - it’s important to verify that the candidate is entitled to work in Australia and that their work or educational history checks out, so you can be sure about whom you are hiring and their experience.

If prior criminal convictions are relevant to the requirements of the job, then you can check criminal history with the police (you are required to ask for the person’s consent).

6. Final selection and making the job offer

If everything checks out, you can make an offer of employment (or job offer) to the best candidate for the role. Job offers can be verbal or written, but we recommend making the offer in writing to set all of the conditions of employment, such as pay and hours of work, and clear expectations for the employee and the business.

Be transparent about the selection process and let any unsuccessful candidates know the outcome.

There’s always the chance that your preferred candidate might not accept the offer, so you should be prepared to consider other strong candidates or to go back and advertise the role again.

7. Onboarding the new employee

The final step in the recruitment process is bringing a new hire into the role and organisation, or onboarding (also known as induction or initiation).

It’s important to establish a good working relationship off the bat, so make sure they get a watertight employment contract to sign and any relevant company documents, e.g. code of conduct, before they start.

When the person begins work, ensure they get all the tools, information, and support they need to become an effective team member, while at the same time integrating them with the business, its people and culture.

Onboarding should be seen as a process to get the person up to full speed, which may take several months or even up to a year.

Find out why effective onboarding is so important.

Legal considerations when recruiting

Employment, human rights, and other regulations don’t start when the successful candidate signs their employment contract. Many laws and codes extend to the recruitment process as well.

Job advertisements can't include pay rates lower than minimum entitlements specified in the National Employment Standards (NES) or a fair work instrument (such as an award or enterprise agreement).

Under consumer law, you cannot mislead or deceive candidates about the terms and conditions of employment (e.g. the salary), the nature of work and key duties, the availability of work, and future job prospects.

As of 7 January 2023, if you are advertising pieceworker positions where the employee would also be entitled to a periodic pay rate (e.g. hourly or weekly), you need to specify the pay rate that applies or state in the ad that a periodic pay rate will apply.

It is unlawful to discriminate against applicants at any stage of the recruitment process (e.g. because of race, colour, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, or marital status), and you also need to adhere to federal and state and territory human rights and privacy regulations.

Staying focused on whether the applicant has the skills and experience to fulfil the key requirements of the role, rather than delving into other more personal or private matters, is the best rule of thumb.

If you are unsure of your legal obligations when recruiting, seek expert help.

Related Resources

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