How to Hire the Right Talent in Today’s Recruitment Market

October 8, 2021

How do you hire quickly but still get the best people? It’s a question of balance. Let’s find out more.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, recruitment levels are through the roof. The ONS reported that between June and August 2021, there were 1,034,000 jobs unfilled in the UK. That’s the highest number of vacancies since records began. Hospitality is the central area of recruitment as bars and restaurants reopen after lockdown, but hiring is happening across the board. 

However, recruiters are finding themselves under pressure. Companies need people to fill these empty roles right now, but they also want the best people. It’s a war for talent.

Companies need to find a way to hire in a way that is:

  • Fast – filling the role quickly
  • Engaging – ensuring the best people apply for the position and stick with the process
  • Valid – predictive of who will perform best in the role

Achieving all three is extremely tough, especially in today's job market. In this article, Ben Williams from Sten10 gives advice on how to strike that perfect balance.

Let’s look at all three of these factors in sequence.

1 – Hiring fast

How long should it take?

When you’re designing the end-to-end recruitment process for a position, it’s difficult to know how long it needs to be, with how many steps. You could have anything from a single interview, through to multiple rounds with psychometric tests and assessment centres. 

The longer you take with your recruitment process, the more likely you are to select the best candidate, but then, you can’t hire fast. Also, you risk good candidates losing interest and dropping out of the process. You have to get the balance right.

The key is to be crystal clear on what you’re looking for. 

The best practice is to assess each competency at least twice during the hiring process. For example, if you’re looking for someone great at teamwork, you can assess once in an interview, once at an assessment centre, and maybe a third time in a personality questionnaire.

Assessing each competency twice brings benefits to both sides. For the company, you get to make sure you’re hiring someone who can consistently display the qualities you’re looking for. For the candidate, it’s a second opportunity to show what you can do, especially if the first one didn’t go well.

Work out the number of stages you need to achieve at least two assessments for each competency – and that’s the minimum number of steps you need.

Application forms

The first stage is always some kind of application form. We always recommend a structured application form that can be scored automatically. It’s good to sift out those who don’t have the non-negotiable qualities you need (e.g. driving license, a degree in a specific subject, right to work) early. 

Once you’ve separated out the people who do not meet your basic requirements, you can move on to the more technical stages of the process.

Ability tests

Your next step should be an ability test. Ability tests are a fast, fair and cost-effective way to sift out people who don’t have the skills for the role, especially if any of your desired competencies involve problem-solving. 

Use automation to speed up the process and make it more cost-efficient. You could also try a Situational Judgement Test (SJT). SJTs are psychological tests that put the candidate in scenarios that they will find in the job, gauging their response to specific situations.

In recent years, ability tests have become shorter and shorter, while still maintaining effectiveness. For example, tests from publishers such as Saville Assessment can now give you a broad overview of someone’s cognitive ability in as little as twelve minutes.


Your next step could be an interview (or you may choose to go straight to the assessment centre). The interview is your chance to actually speak to your candidate, find out what motivates them and discover some evidence of competencies. 

You can conduct interviews face-to-face or over video. However, many companies are taking advantage of technology to conduct asynchronous interviews. In these interviews, the candidate records their answer to questions set by the company. The benefits of asynchronous interviews are:

  • There’s no back-and-forth trying to find a time that the hiring manager and candidate can make for the interview (or rearranging it when one side has to cancel)
  • The candidate can record their answers in their own time
  • The manager can watch the answer video at a time that suits them

Studies show that many candidates choose to record their asynchronous interview videos late at night when they’re free of distractions. They can also spend the day preparing.

Asynchronous interviews speed up the interview process, while maintaining validity.

Assessment centres

The final stage we’ll talk about is assessment centres. You may think that assessment centres take a long time and are not time-efficient. However, in recent years they have become much shorter. Ten years ago, you would often find two-day assessment centres with a dinner in the middle. Today, they are more likely to be half a day long. This makes for a much faster hiring process.

Since the pandemic, many companies have moved their assessment centres online. However, it’s been a steep learning curve for companies. Some have tried to create their own virtual assessment centres, but most companies have found success with solutions from external partners. 

At Sten10, we partner with TopScore. TopScore’s virtual assessment centre platform works straight out of the box. You can timetable your event, set and score exercises, store recordings in a central hub and much more. It’s much easier and more efficient than, for example, storing your exercises on Google Drive, timetabling on Outlook, running video links on Zoom etc. The cost of a platform like this is not prohibitive to most companies. It’s certainly something I recommend.

"If you’re looking for an easy, seamless recruitment process, I’d always recommend working with external partners who are experts in their field. At Softcat, we couldn’t have hired such high-quality talent without the help of Sten10 in developing our virtual assessment centres."
Tia Wilkes, Recruitment Team Leader, Softcat plc

2 – Engagement

Why is engagement important?

The next factor is engagement. While it’s essential to hire fast in today’s world, if you hire too fast, it becomes impersonal. It’s hard to make a talented candidate feel excited about the idea of working at your company if they feel like they’re being processed. You also need to give them a realistic picture of what working at your company is like, so they can make a decision about whether they want to come and join you.

Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs)

We looked briefly at SJTs in the section on speed, but where SJTs are really effective is showing candidates what working at your company in a specific role is actually like. SJTs are developed scientifically by speaking to the people who actually hold those jobs. 

In a situational judgement test, the candidate is given a hypothetical scenario in text or video form. This scenario will be specific to the experience of working for your company and the role they’re applying for. Then, from a selection of responses, the candidate will choose the best and the worst course of action to take. 

At Sten10, we designed an award-winning SJT for Unlocked, which recruits prison officers. The Unlocked SJT aims to show interested candidates what life as a prison officer is like, even if they had never set foot in a prison before. For example, one scenario detailed an inmate asking to borrow a book from the library, but you are just about to close their cell. Do you:

  • Let them go to the library, but be quick?
  • Say no and close the door?
  • Explain that the library isn’t open, but it will be available tomorrow?

Scenarios like this bring the experience of the job to life and keep the candidate engaged. However, they take a little longer to put in place compared to ability tests – on average, around two months. Cost-wise, there is an initial investment in creating a bespoke SJT. But, in the long run, it can prove cheaper as it’s your intellectual property; you only pay for platform costs to keep it running. 

One such platform provider who offers an excellent bespoke service through an intuitive and scalable all-in-one platform is Evolve Assess.

Making interviews more engaging

To keep candidates engaged during the interview stage, integrate an element of selling the company and the job to them. 

You could even dedicate a ten-minute section at the end of the interview to selling the job, rather than using the whole time to interrogate the candidate. A practical approach would be, ‘Would it be helpful to tell you a little about what I enjoy about working for this company?’ Then, when they (hopefully) say yes, you can tailor what you say to the answers they have already given earlier in the interview.

Engagement in assessment centres 

Engagement is another reason why you should create bespoke assessment centres (ideally with an external partner). 

With bespoke assessment centres, candidates can discover more about the role in presentations and group discussions. Off-the-shelf assessment centres may be set in an entirely different industry and therefore miss the opportunity to sell the organisation and role.

Where possible, use technology. Research shows that while candidates enjoy video-based tests, or tests with elements of video incorporated into them, they are also a better predictor of future job performance. Make it as immersive as you can, as well as relevant to the role. 

Another little touch you can add to boost engagement is to get someone senior from your organisation to log on at the start and welcome the candidates to the assessment centre. It creates the value that could set you apart from your competitors in the war for talent.

3 – Validity

Streamlining your process while maintaining standards

Our final factor is validity – predicting the future performance of your candidates. While hiring fast and keeping the candidate engaged is essential, you need to hire the best people at the end of the process. If your staff turnover is high, you can’t achieve the success you desire.

An academic article by Mike Smith from UMIST set out a ladder of validity, detailing which stages of the recruitment process are helpful in predicting future performance, and which are not. 

To keep your process valid, focus on only the stages which are high in validity. Get rid of the steps that aren’t, as they slow the process down and make no difference to predicting performance.

Here are the stages that are most helpful for predicting future performance:

  • Assessment centres – make them as close to the job experience as possible
  • Ability tests – efficient, cost-effective and valid
  • Final stage interview – personally connect and sell the job to the best candidate

On the other hand, you can safely discard these stages as they do not affect the validity of your process:

  • References – no better than pulling names out of a hat!
  • Years of experience - This may expose your business to a claim of age discrimination
  • Unstructured casual interviews – highly susceptible to bias

Structured interviews are somewhere in the middle on Mike Smith’s ladder of validity. They are an acceptable way to predict a candidate's performance in a role, but not as good as assessment centres or ability tests. If time is tight, you should drop them and shift the focus to the assessment centre.

Evaluating your new recruitment process

To end, let’s look at how you can assess the impact of your new streamlined recruitment process. Here are some metrics you can measure and compare with figures from before you made your changes:

  • Dropout rate – Are fewer candidates dropping out as a result of your faster process?
  • Proportion of candidates accepting offers – Have you done a good enough job of bringing the right people through and convincing them that your company is an excellent place to work?
  • Performance – How long do successful candidates stay and how well do they do? This shows that you have assessed them properly

You may also want to measure adverse impact. For example, in the drive to make things faster and more efficient, have you inadvertently introduced bias? You can evaluate this by seeing if certain groups aren’t performing as well as others at specific stages of the process. If so, what changes do you need to make?

When you follow our advice, you end up with a recruitment process that focuses on what works in as short a time as possible. Armed with a streamlined hiring process, you have a better chance of winning the war for talent.

To find out more from Sten10, please visit

Ben Williams

Assessment knowledge guru and industry thought-leader.