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close this bookInternational Reader in the Management of Library, Information and Archive Services (UNESCO, 1987, 684 p.)
close this folder5. The management of staff
close this folder5.5 Recruiting staff
View the documentRecruitment: filling the gap

Recruitment: filling the gap

When a vacancy occurs the amount of warning varies depending upon the circumstances of the departing post holder. Some vacancies such as those caused by retirement or college attendance may be foreseen months ahead. In other cases, such as an employee moving to another job, the warning will be the minimum period of notice specified by the contract of employment. In no case can a vacancy be assumed until formal written notice has been received; and the recruiting librarian who tries to jump the gun is asking for trouble. Both minds and circumstances can change between statement of intent and official resignation. The recruiting librarian, therefore, often tends to be under pressure from line management to appoint as quickly as possible so as to avoid that awful "gap" at the end of the month which, it is implied, will bring the service grinding to a halt. As a consequence there is a severe temptation to prove your efficiency by trying to meet this deadline.

Although it may be good management to keep the gap as short as possible, it is not good management to cut crucial corners in order to do so. It is essential to remember that the measure of effective recruitment is precision, not speed, and this can only be achieved by thinking carefully about the requirements of the specific vacancy before the hunt for a suitable candidate begins.

The three steps which should precede the search process are:

(1) determining what the job involves (job description);
(2) assessing the need for the post to be filled on its present basis;
(3) preparing a list of requirements to be fulfilled by the successful candidate (personnel specification).

A quick look at these procedures will show that there is nothing to prevent much of the work being done before the vacancy arises. Advantage can therefore be taken of any prior warning of a likely vacancy so that by the time formal notice is given you are ready to begin looking for suitable applicants. For the same reason it is also good management to identify beforehand the posts which turn over regularly or where immediate replacement in the event of a vacancy is considered essential.

The preparation of a job description and personnel specification is very often neglected particularly when the pressure is on to appoint quickly. In addition there are special factors which tend to lull the recruiting librarian into thinking that the whole process is unnecessary. First, many posts in libraries have broadly similar functions, e.g., library assistants in public departments are all likely to be responsible for counter service and stock maintenance. Professionals in the lending sector of a large public library will all tend to be responsible for the standard of service, stock revision and selection and staff supervision. These factors, common to a number of posts, tend to make any real differences seem less significant and the preparation of a job description therefore seems less essential.

Secondly, because the recruiting librarian is operating within his own profession there is a tendency for him to believe that he knows sufficient about the post and the kind of candidate required to make a satisfactory appointment without the bother of a formal job description or personnel specification. Professional pride is at stake and few of us would be prepared to admit that we are not really sure what a library assistant or branch librarian does. However, the truth is that there are very few senior librarians who can write an accurate job description for any post without consulting staff whose noses are nearer to the grindstone.

What are we trying to fill?

The temptation to skimp on the preparation of a job description should be resisted. If you want the best possible candidate, an analysis of the job is vital. A job description enables us:

(a) to assess whether the post is still fulfilling a useful function and role;

(b) to assess the skills and experience required to fill the post successfully;

(c) to gain an understanding of the problems and working conditions the post holder is likely to face;

(d) to make any advertisement more succinct and accurate and information for candidates more comprehensive and relevant;

(e) to suggest relevant questions for the interview;

(f) to reveal requirements which the interview might not be able to cover satisfactorily;

(g) to make sure that everyone involved in the selection process is selecting for the same job.

The kind of job description required for recruitment and selection is more than a simple list of duties and responsibilities. Although these are important to assess the experience, skills and qualifications required, just as important is an understanding of the nature of the post. This includes an assessment of the kind of difficulties the post holder is likely to face, conditions of work, prospects, relationships with colleagues and where the main areas of job satisfaction/dissatisfaction are likely to be. This allows us to assess what kind of a person we need in terms of personality, temperament, initiative, ambitions, etc.

This "fitability" of the post holder into the post and into the library service itself is crucial. Upon it depends their commitment, enthusiasm, job satisfaction and how long they are likely to stay in the post.

There are a number of sources of information which can be used to write a recruitment job description.

(a) Previous job description and advertisement

Beware of assuming that things are still the same. Posts change over a period of time. The exact duties of the post will depend upon the length of service and experience of the departing post holder and the precise context of the post. A post holder with several years' experience will have accumulated responsibilities beyond the original job description. A library assistant in a large and busy library may have a very closely defined set of duties with a specific level of responsibility. A library assistant in a much smaller library, although ostensibly with the same job will tend to have a far more flexible work pattern, being required to "fill in" on the many occasions when more senior staff are not available.

(b) The outgoing post holder

Exit interviews are useful not only to discover the real reason for leaving but to gain an understanding of the problems the next occupant of the post will face. Questions to ask are:

(1) What were your main duties and responsibilities? (2) What did you enjoy most about your work?

(3) What did you like least?

(4) What did you find most difficult?

(5) What do you think is the most important function of the post?

(c) The post's supervisor

He will be useful in identifying tasks, responsibilities and priorities, will give an idea of the status of the post, and how it fits into the team.

(d) Someone else doing the same job

It is useful to find out whether the post holder's opinion of the post is representative.

A combination of the above methods should provide a reasonably accurate picture of the post. Although the process takes time it is useful to remember that once the job has been analysed, if it becomes vacant again or if a similar vacancy arises, a check against the information already collected will be all that is necessary. To make the assessment systematic and the collection of information easier, it is best to use a Job Description Form. The following headings are useful, allowing appropriate space for completion and comment.

(1) Job title


Date of description

(2) Duties of the post
Duties should be listed in logical sequence if possible, e.g., order of importance. What will the post holder spend most time doing? Which tasks have previous post holders found difficult, boring or enjoyable? How much freedom for initiative is there? Will the post holder be working under pressure or doing several jobs at once?

(3) Responsibilities
How much responsibility has the post holder? Is the work supervised? Does it involve decision making; responsibility for others? Will the post holder regularly be expected to undertake responsibilities above the grade of the post, e.g., being left in charge, locking up at night?

(4) Social factors
How far does the post holder need to fit into a team? What is the make up and size of the team? Are there common duties, e.g., processing, book repair, shelving? What is the attitude of the supervisor? What percentage of time is spent with the public'?

(5) Physical aspects
Candidates often underestimate how physically tiring library work is. The amount of standing, lifting and carrying should be identified. How dirty is the job? Work in book stacks and stores might deter the fastidious. How suitable is it for a disabled person?

(6) Conditions of employment
Candidates often think of library work as an alternative to an office job. How many evening and Saturday duties are worked? How flexible are the working arrangements? Is a rota worked or will the candidate always have to work on Friday evenings? Is there enhanced pay for unsocial hours or Saturday work? General conditions of service such as holidays, trade union membership agreements, probationary periods and compulsory medical examinations may be listed either here or separately.

(7) Training and promotion opportunities
These will probably not be specific to any individual post but follow library policy. If there are special opportunities or requirements, or if the job is considered "dead end", i.e., the post holder will have to leave a particular specialisation to achieve promotion, this should be noted.

Do we need to recruit?

Whilst the job description is being completed an eye should be kept open for any factors which may indicate that recruitment is not appropriate. Questions to ask are:

(a) What is the function of the post?
(b) Is the post really necessary considering the workload, demand etc?
(c) Could the post be better used elsewhere?
(d) Could it be better filled by transfer or promotion?

Who are we looking for?

Once the job description has been completed and a decision made to fill the post, the next step is to translate the information from the job description into a list of the minimum requirements which it would be essential or desirable for the successful candidate to have. This is not easy since the complexity of a particular task may be judged to require different qualifications or attributes by different assessors.

To help identify the basic requirements various writers have proposed lists of points against which the demands of the job and the attributes of candidates can be checked. The best known of these is the "Seven-point plan" proposed by Alec Rodger[16]:

The Seven-Point Plan

(1) Physical make-up
(2) Attainments
(3) General intelligence
(4) Special aptitudes
(5) Interests
(6) Disposition
(7) Circumstances

This kind of plan can be used not only to identify the requirements of a particular post but also to act as a framework for the selection interview. In general, the more specific the plan the more helpful it is and Rodger's plan can be usefully extended. The following eleven points cover all the specific requirements which it will be necessary to bring up at the interview later.

Eleven-Point Plan

(1) Motivation and commitment

(a) Where should the post holder find most job satisfaction?
(b) What professional or work interests should the candidate have?

(2) Qualifications

What are the minimum qualifications needed:

(a) for the candidate to be eligible for the post?
(b) to do the job satisfactorily?

(3) Experience

What does the job require in terms of:

(a) relevant experience, e.g., the same kind of work elsewhere?
(b) related experience, e.g., work with the public?

(4) Skills and proficiencies

What does the job require in terms of specific skills, e.g.,

(a) fluency in a foreign language?
(b) ability to type?
(c) understanding a particular classification scheme?

(5) Aptitudes (i.e., the innate ability to become proficient at a task)

What does the job require in terms of:

(a) numeracy?
(b) manual dexterity?
(c) artistic ability?

(6) Intelligence and mental capacity

What does the job require in terms of:

(a) initiative?
(b) problem solving?
(c) ability to "think on your feet"?
(d) concentration and memory?
(e) imagination?

(7) Personality

What does the job require in terms of:

(a) working as part of a team?
(b) influencing people?
(c) self reliance?
(d) communicating with people?
(e) helping people?
(f) exercising responsibility, leadership?
(g) being extrovert, enthusiastic, lively?
(h) being steady, methodical and accurate?

(8) Interests and personal achievements

How far does the job require an interest in:

(a) physical activity?
(b) artistic pursuits?
(c) being of service or helping others e.g., Sunday School teacher, voluntary social worker?
(d) practical things?
(e) current affairs, general knowledge?

(9) Ambitions

To what extent does the library require:

(a) a "high flyer"?
(b) a stayer?
(c) an ambitious/unambitious person?

(10) Health and physical make up

To what extent does the job require:

(a) an active person?
(b) strength and stamina?
(c) freedom from physical disability?

(11) Circumstances

How far will the post, holder be required:

(a) to travel?
(b) to work unsocial hours?
(c) to work irregular hours?
(d) to live locally?

Note that so far the use of the plan is only to identify requirements in relation to the nature of the post to be filled. The use of the plan as a framework for the interview will be covered in a later chapter.

When listing requirements there is a temptation to over specify. Only the minimum acceptable requirements should be noted. When it comes to the interview and you are trying to find a candidate that fits all eleven points perfectly, you will see why. Seldom is a candidate "perfect" for the job. Somewhere there will have to be a compromise and the more rigorous the requirements you list, the more compromises there will have to be. The noting of minimum requirements gives the selector more flexibility to choose a candidate with a balanced set of attributes. It is a good idea to underline these attributes considered essential as opposed to desirable to avoid making the mistake of appointing a candidate who is right in every respect except for the one crucial requirement.

Even when you think you have identified the minimum requirements there are dangers. Minimum qualifications, for instance, are often over-specified. Does a catalogue card typist really need formal typing qualifications? Does the part-time processing assistant really need the organisational minimum of four GCE "O" levels? There is also a tendency to specify qualifications when what you really want are maturity and experience. A graduate might be more suitable than a school leaver on the information desk but it may be the maturity of the candidate that makes the appointment successful, not the qualification. Many older candidates will have had less opportunity to take the qualifications you now treat as essential. There are many potential candidates over the age of 40 who have no academic qualifications at all, and any personnel specification should allow for such applicants to be considered, where it is appropriate.


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