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Recruiting HR professionals: building the perfect HR team

Written by: Stephanie Sparrow
Published on: 16 Aug 2019

HR recruiting HR


As the HR profession changes so does the way that HR recruits HR. Stephanie Sparrow examines how human resources professionals can recruit the colleagues that can help build a better HR function.

Is any function more subject to constant scrutiny than that of HR? Expected to advise and guide organisations through economic turbulence, while managing the new workforce of “human and digital labour”, its professionals must regularly adapt and regroup, according to the International Association for Human Resource Information.

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Business pressures, technological change and the re-allocation of transactional processes are all affecting how HR departments assess and recruit themselves, says Euan Davis, European lead for Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work.

Pointing to such technology such as robotic process automation which is deployed in repetitive HR processes and the conversational artificial intelligence that enables chatbots to answer employees’ questions, he says that: “hiring for HR talent now needs to pivot around skills and behaviours that include long-term vision and commercial acumen”.

Business needs

Recruiting this HR talent can be challenging, but the function is responding by analysing what the business needs, and identifying talent gaps. “We are a service”, says Rebecca Farrant, who is part of the 16-strong global HR team at TEKsystems, “and it is important that we act as partners to the business and its other departments.”

She used this mutual partnership approach to recruit her new team of HR talent.
Farrant, who is currently junior HR business partner and the only UK-based HR member, consulted the heads of finance and sales, as well as the US-based global HR director of HR, when designing the role of junior HR adviser, and planning the wider team. The new team will be based in the UK and will report to her.
“After developing the person specification by looking at our growth plan and researching how best to support the brand, I had it signed off by the director of financial operations and the executive director of sales, as well as the VP, because they are stakeholders in the relationship with HR,” she explains.

Department profiling

HR is recruiting for its own function by looking at business needs, but also by considering the skills and personalities within its own talent base.  For this reason, analysing the dynamics of the existing HR department was an important starting point for Julie Griggs when recruiting to fill a senior role at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Griggs, who is assistant HR director at MMU, is part of an 80-strong team which includes HR business partners, HR shared services, and specialists with responsibility for employee engagement, reward, organisational development and equality and diversity.

“We profiled ourselves initially as a senior team, using a psychometric tool,” she says. “We wanted to understand how a new member would change the dynamics, and complement the mix of personalities and strengths.”

She also took into account that the organisation is changing, expanding internationally, becoming more digital and increasing its research profile, adding that these are creating interesting challenges and more of a project focus for HR.

“The HR conversations are different than they were say two or three years ago,” she says, “because we have done a lot of transition to enabling business strategy and looking at what our HR toolkit is. We need to be more attuned to the business, understand its trajectory and pain points, acting as a true partner and trusted advisers.”

With these drivers in mind the HR team were determined that the recruitment process would be “robust”, fair and transparent -- discussing how candidates had developed their careers and asking them to explore how they saw their leadership capabilities. The aim being that even unsuccessful candidates would have “key take-aways” for their own personal development.

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“We looked to understand the whole person rather than their CV”, she says.

She did expect candidates to have a minimum of chartered membership of the CIPD, which she feels can lend them the credibility essential in academic organisations, “but that is not to say that if they had strong experience of strategic HR without the CIPD then we would rule them out”, she says.

Demonstrate values

Alongside business objectives, and the talent within the function, HR recruiters need to ensure that they are resourcing talent which will meet the organisation’s values too.

This is the approach at learning disability charity Mencap. Its policy of inclusive recruitment, introduced two years ago, shapes all hiring decisions across the 8,500-strong organisation. This includes the 49 members of shared services, which encompasses recruitment, HR admin, specialist functions such as grievance, and the investigative hearing management team.

“Inclusive recruitment means that we are enabling HR to live and breathe our five values of being inclusive, trustworthy, caring, challenging, and positive,” says head of HR shared services Sam Jackson. “We want people to come to work with feeling and purpose.”

“What this means in practice is that we recruit in line with our five values, and after a panel interview,” says Jackson. “Panel members include those with learning disabilities who work for the charity.”

Jackson looks for CIPD qualifications, but also scrutinises the personal attributes of candidates. “For example, a recruit into employment relations would be expected to hold at least a Level 3, ideally a Level 5, together with a genuine interest in case management and coaching”, he says, “but if they don’t tick the values-based areas then they are not the right people.”

This values-based process has helped in recruiting and developing three HR apprentices, who joined at 18 years old and are now embarking on shared services management roles at Mencap, and also in encouraging career moves among the shared services team.

Search techniques

Looking for the right people means tapping into whichever network (advertising or social media) will be most powerful for you, says Paul Duffield, managing director at recruitment consultancy Eyzon.

The CIPD Profession Map

The 2018 Profession Map from the CIPD, which identifies the ways of thinking and acting required by people professionals, is making stronger inroads into HR recruitment. “It is helpful when assessing oneself and others”, says Victoria Winkler, director of professional development at the CIPD. Winkler has heard of the map being used to recruit senior HR business partners at chartered level, “and for competency-based questions in interviews.” At learning disability charity Mencap, head of HR Shared Services Sam Jackson says that the section on core behaviours has been used for organisational design and “it is helpful in setting direction for the department and designing our inclusive recruitment model.” He adds that the recruitment team found the Profession Map a useful reference point for the standards of people practice they wanted to convey, and that they found its suggestions on outcomes, data and attributes to be helpful when working on HR strategy.

“The primary consideration is to communicate what you are looking for”, he says, “Particularly if you are writing an advert. And be clear about location, package and terms. Are you really offering flexible working for example?”

Pay attention to job specifications, adds Leatham Green, executive director of the Public Services People Managers Association. “Why are we always looking for superhero qualities which no one possesses, or writing turgid job descriptions which do not emphasise opportunity?”

Thinking about and composing an advert, as opposed to reacting to leads from social media can filter unconscious bias. Technology can also help.

“We use software which analyses how we write adverts”, says Adrian Love, head of recruitment at Accenture UK. “We want the language to be inclusive.”

Social media can be effective, but the routes to sourcing talent are increasingly complex.

“The evolution of technology and social media has created a spider’s web-like matrix involving multiple platforms, touchpoints and stakeholders,” says Richard Sexton, senior account executive at Talent Solutions.

“Every day there are millions of social actions and interactions taking place; each one of these is an opportunity to influence, engage and connect with potential hires.”

The quality, not the quantity, of contacts is crucial. Farrant at TEKsystems says she has been inundated via social media with comments and connections from agencies and her peers, but balances this with her own research.

“When I talk to recruitment agencies I want to see how much they delve into our culture and how they think about the candidate experience,” she says.

External support

Alongside the search possibilities generated by technology, social media and good old fashioned face-to-face networking,  it is still useful to have the perspective of someone outside your organisation (such as a consultant), or department (such as a line manager) to help assess the impact that the appointment, to avoid bias or even consider a different type of candidate.

“My view is that it is good to have external support”, says Dr Washika Haak-Saheem, associate professor of HRM at Henley Business School, “to avoid recruiting to your own preferences.”

HR needs to be clear about the intended impact she says. “Ask yourselves ‘what business issues concern you most?  What can HR contribute to overcome these?’ For example, how can you make your organisation more profitable or innovative?  Once you have the answers, you know what kind of skills and competences the business need to compete successfully.”

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Candidate experience

Finding and keeping hold of an HR candidate is as tricky as that from any other function, particularly during the current scarcity of HR talent.

Recruitment experts have noticed that the national mood of business and political uncertainty is hindering job moves. HR clients are still recruiting, but potential candidates are nervous about exploring new opportunities. At the same time some organisations are taking longer to make decisions and inadvertently losing recruits before offers are finalised.

It is important to ensure a positive candidate experience, by maintaining communications and continually updating them on timescales and progress, says Jo White, director at Vana HR Resourcing.

She also aims to act as an extension of the business. “Sometimes what a client thinks they want is not what they need,” she says. “We will challenge them on this with the aim that they will be future-proof.”


When HR recruits for its own function it should be mindful that it may need to “override” savvy candidates and experienced interviewers says Farrant at TEKsystems.

“It is really important to get to know the candidate,” says Farrant, “and not just ask the standard competency questions, which they are probably expecting because they have asked them of others.”

As well as discussing company culture she will lighten matters. “I’ll ask questions about their hobbies,” she says, “and talk a little about myself, even mentioning my cat.” There is a serious purpose. “I want to get to know the interviewee and to see their personality”, she explains.

Many HR professionals agree that the uncertainties surrounding business are moving the focus to candidates, particularly graduates, who display potential and who could grow with the organisation.

To explore this Accenture’s Adrian Love says he avoids binary interview questions (which are answered with ‘yes or no’) and has introduced immersive experiences and virtual reality to assess how people interact.

For Green at the PPMA, the ability to “understand the heartbeat of what is going on” and to problem solve are key attributes of candidates. “Above all the HR function should be recruiting confident experts in human behaviour”, he says.

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