Revisiting the positive qualities of more traditional methods of recruitment

By Elisabeth Goodman, 27th May 2019

Illustration from: Your Approach to Hiring is all Wrong. Harvard Business Review, May-June 2019, pp. 49-58

Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School, and director of its Centre for Human Resources, has written a really helpful overview of how newer methods of hiring have lost some of the positive qualities of more traditional methods.

(See: Your Approach to Hiring is all Wrong. Harvard Business Review, May-June 2019, pp. 49-58.)

Here is a summary of his main points.

Comparing the features of the newer methods, with those of the more traditional ones, and the resultant impact.

More external sourcing vs. internal sourcing

The actual or potential impact:

  • Losing some of the benefits of internal promotion
  • Not developing or retaining internal staff
  • More time needed to shape new recruits to internal ways of working
  • Having to pay more to attract external staff

Seeking out “passive” vs. active applicants

Recruitment or head-hunting agencies will trawl LinkedIn and other sources for likely candidates, who may not actually be seeking to move jobs at this time.

The actual or potential impact:

  • “Passive” candidates who are not thinking about moving jobs may need to be paid more to encourage them to move
  • “Active” applicants may be better motivated to take on the new job, and for other reasons than money e.g. because they are seeking a greater challenge, or an area of work that is more suited to their interests.

Creating a large funnel of candidates vs. encouraging a smaller number of ‘better fit’ candidates

Recruitment agencies will strive to create a large number of candidates.  Companies are also being encouraged to post “phantom” jobs: ones that don’t actually exist, just to keep the number of applicants coming in.


  • It will take a company more time and cost to whittle down a long list.  In addition, a long list is not necessarily a high quality one.

Some suggested good practices

The comparisons above raise some fairly obvious arguments in favour of more traditional methods.

Here are some other suggestions from Cappelli’s article – many of which are reflected in our RiverRhee courses on Recruitment and Interview Skills

RiverRhee delivers training, workshops and one-to-one coaching in range of skills for managers and team members – including recruitment and interview skills

Take time to clearly define the post that you wish to fill

This way, candidates will self-select to exclude themselves from the recruitment process, or to continue with it as appropriate.

Some organisations are creating online tests with visible scores, or gamification programmes.  These help candidates to better understand the nature of the work and the potential match with their interests and capabilities .

Understand the limits of internal referrals

Some companies encourage their staff to make internal referrals, and may even have some form of reward for doing so.  However there is a risk that this can result in a reduction in the diversity of the workforce, as people may refer people who are like them.

Suggestions that may help internal referrals be more effective:

  • Have the internal referrer help with on-boarding the new member(s) of staff
  • If you pay people for making referrals, do so about 6 months after the new person is in place

Measure the results of your recruitment / interview processes

Measurement of any process is good practice: it helps you to identify what is working well, and what could be improved.

Possible approaches include:

  • Monitoring turn-over and attendance level of those recruited through different routes
  • Looking at results from your Performance Review process
  • Getting qualitative feedback from the managers of new hires on their degree of satisfaction with their recruits

Enhance your interview skills

There is no doubt that competency-based questions are the most effective way to find out whether the interviewee has the experience, attitude and capability to match the job.

However, it takes time and skill to formulate these questions, and to ensure that all your interviewers are using the same questions consistently across all candidates.

As Cappelli says:

Just winging it and asking whatever comes to mind is next to useless.

It is important to ensure that those doing the interviewing have the skills to conduct effective interviews.

This is something that we could help you with through our RiverRhee courses on Recruitment and Interview Skills.


If you found this article useful, you might also like to read:

Tips for hiring the best people in rapidly growing Biotech and Life Science companies by guest blogger and RiverRhee Associate Alison Proffitt.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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