by Kate Russell


If you decide that you need to fill a vacancy, you will have to carry out a broad trawl of available candidates. There is no legal requirement to advertise and sometimes there will be an internal candidate who has already been identified as a suitable person for the job. However, you should show that it is your normal practice to give a range of suitable applicants the opportunity to register their interest with you. Most companies will do this by placing an advert.

While some posts can be advertised free of charge at local Job Centres, this won’t be appropriate in many cases. Traditional forms of advertising can be expensive, so you should give thought as to where your advert will yield most responses from suitable candidates. Internet job boards are a popular alternative route and can be much more cost-effective.

It’s also a good idea to measure the volume and quality of responses, so that you can make an informed decision about the methods that produce the biggest number and best quality of responses the next time you consider advertising.

If you advertise in a paper or magazine aimed at a particular group, ensure that you also advertise the vacancy in other places so that the wider community has the opportunity to find out about and respond to the advert. Advertising by one very limited method could mean that you indirectly discriminate.


A company based in Coventry had a predominantly white staff, although Coventry is a multi-racial city. When vacancies arose in the company they used the bounty method to recruit, asking existing staff if they knew anyone who would be interested in the position. A predominantly white work force tends to have predominantly white friends and family, so this meant that it was very difficult for non-white prospective candidates to find out about and apply for jobs. This was found to be indirectly discriminatory on race grounds. If the company had used the bounty method and advertised in the local papers and/or the local job centre, it would have been quite acceptable.

Other options, as below, are worth considering.

  • Company notice boards, including corporate website
  • Job centres
  • Internet job boards
  • Internal advertisements offering ‘bounties’ (rewards for introducing applicants) to existing staff
  • Recruitment agencies

Things to include in a job advert

  • Job title
  • Some information about the job
  • Where it is based and whether there will be any travel
  • Salary range
  • Essential requirements of job-holder
  • How to apply
  • Recruitment process to be used

Think carefully about how job seekers will respond to what is in the advert. You want to ensure that the type of people you are looking for will be drawn to the advert, so describe the job in terms that will be attractive to the desired personality type.

If it is a production line job, for example, use words such as ‘stable long-term employment offered’. You would not use terms such as ‘as the successful candidate you must be able to think on your feet’ or ‘fast-changing environment, as this would attract people who like to do things differently, which is not good practice on a production line. Even the way people are asked to respond to the advert can be used to pre-select. If you are looking for a salesperson, you can carry out preliminary phone interviews. If this is outside someone’s comfort zone, he is unlikely to be the kind of person who would succeed at sales.

Avoid words such as ‘youthful outlook’, ‘junior, ‘mature,’ or ‘senior’, to indicate that you are looking for people in a particular age group. Saying something like ‘this is a junior position in the division’ or ‘this is a senior position in the company’ or using titles, such as ‘Junior Sales Clerk’ or ‘Senior Officer’, is probably acceptable because you are simply indicating the position’s level in the hierarchy.

You should also avoid some types of descriptive words because it seems that these too may be associated with particular groups. For example, it has been successfully argued that ‘enthusiastic’, ‘energetic’ and ‘dynamic’ are descriptions (allegedly) associated with younger applicants, while ‘responsible’, ‘stable’ and ‘reliable’ (again allegedly) may describe older workers. While commercial reality tells us it is quite nonsensical to consider age groups in that way, you must take into consideration that a description which has not been properly thought through may create a prima facie case of discrimination. If you cannot explain the requirement for an ‘energetic’ candidate to the satisfaction of an employment tribunal, it can lead to a successful claim being made against you. Remember that you can be taken to tribunal by someone you have never even met. Some people will seek to take advantage of any slips you might make. You need to think through and be able to justify all your requirements every step of the way.


Ms Keane is an experienced accountant in her early 50s. In 2007 she made around 21 online applications for jobs for which she was over-qualified. All the adverts were clearly aimed at recently qualified accountants, involving responsibilities for someone of comparatively limited experience. As soon as she knew that she was not being offered an interview, Ms Keane issued a statutory age questionnaire and then submitted age discrimination claims.

In each case, she had sent in identical CVs and covering letters (which included the same typing and spelling errors), did not follow up any of the applications by telephone, and on the one occasion where she was offered the chance to explore other opportunities, she turned it down. The tribunal concluded that she was not really interested in any of the jobs applied for. It was not satisfied that she had adequately explained why she had applied for jobs for which she was significantly over qualified.

Ms Keane appealed to the EAT on the basis that the age regulations do not state that a job applicant must be genuinely interested in accepting the job applied for. According to the EAT, this was ‘self evident’ and it dismissed the appeal.

While Ms Keane was unsuccessful, this case serves to remind employers that there are some unscrupulous individuals around. If you receive applications from candidates who appear to be over-qualified for the post, ask additional questions to find out why they are applying for the job.

It was once common to see advertisements specifying a number of years’ experience. With the advent of age discrimination, that has all but disappeared, as asking for a particular number of years of experience tends to favour older workers.

In most cases, it will be better to ask for a particular type of experience. For example, it might be better to ask that candidates can demonstrate a record of ‘successful sales experience in a number of different settings’ rather than ‘10 years’ sales experience’.

The number of years someone has done a job is not a reliable indicator of success (there are plenty of people who have done jobs badly for many years). What you’re interested in is the demonstration of relevant competence. You would do better to ask prospective candidates to demonstrate competence to the required level across the essential areas. Ask competency based questions and build some testing into the selection process to assess suitability and cross-check what candidates say at interview.


A lack of detail consciousness can cause very considerable problems for clients, so it’s important to ensure that we take all reasonable steps to ensure that work is 100 per cent correct.

Whenever I recruit HR consultants I ask each candidate to review a disciplinary procedure into which six mistakes have been inserted. The document is only five pages long, and has been printed out, which makes it easier to identify mistakes than reading on screen. Candidates are advised that there are six errors, only one of which is a technical HR mistake. The rest are typing and spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, omissions and repetitions. There’s no time limit. You’d be surprised how many people say in the interview that they’re detail conscious and diligently check their work, but then are not able to find all the mistakes out of a known number. In fact, the norm so far has been one correct identification.

The same approach applies to qualifications. Only make a qualification an essential requirement if you can show that the candidate would not be able to do that job without that particular qualification. In most cases where you ask for a qualification, you should make it clear that you will also consider applications from those without the qualification, but with equivalent experience.

Genuine occupational qualifications/requirements

The days when a company could advertise for a ‘Girl Friday’ and van drivers over the age of 25 and so on have long gone. The introduction of anti-discrimination legislation makes it unlawful to select candidates taking into account their protected characteristics. Nevertheless, in very limited circumstances an employer can ask for a person of a particular type, but only if it is a necessity for the job holder to be of that particular type. These are known as genuine occupation qualifications, but such exceptions are narrowly applied.


It may be a requirement for a form teacher in a Catholic faith school to be a practising Christian in order to support the religious ethos of the school. It is unlikely that the school could require the caretaker at the same school to be a practising Christian because he would be too removed from the activity of the pupils.

Positive action

In the best of all possible worlds, the make up of an employer’s workforce will reflect the population from which it recruits from top to bottom of the organisation. If an employer employs its workforce from the local community, that community will have a mix of groups who have protected characteristics – gender, race, age and so on. The anti-discrimination legislation encourages employers to use selection processes to enable all eligible candidates to be represented in the workplace roughly in the proportion in which each group appears in the community, from general operatives on the shop floor, through to management and director levels. See the Diversity topic for more information.

In some organisations, certain groups are under-represented. One well known example is the police, which has a predominantly white, male profile. In order to increase applications from that group, it is open to an employer to take what is called ‘positive action’. This means that it will advertise in publications or environments that tend to be read or used by the group whose membership they are seeking to increase. This should be used in conjunction with the employer’s usual recruitment methods, to ensure that the traditional groups of applicants still have the opportunity to find out about and apply for vacancies.


In the 1990s, London Underground had 2000 male drivers and 21 female drivers. Their traditional sources of staff were via adverts on the London Underground, the job centre and local newspapers. To increase applications from women, the company advertised in Cosmopolitan and the first advert brought a response of over 300 applications. They also continued to advertise using their usual routes. The best applicants (male and female) were then brought in for the selection process.

If an employer uses positive action, it should still ensure that it selects the best person for the job, not someone because of his gender, or other protected characteristic. Positive action should be distinguished from positive discrimination, which is largely unlawful in the UK. Positive discrimination means recruiting or promoting someone because of his protected characteristic. Unless the employer could demonstrate that there is a GOR, it would be unlawful to insert an advertisement specifically asking for women applicants, as this would directly discriminate against men.

It has been possible to use positive action to create opportunities for under-represented groups in the workforce for some time. Until the Equality Act 2010 (EQA) came into force, an employer could not make a decision to recruit (or train, promote, and so on) based upon the employee’s protected characteristics. The outgoing Labour Government decided to widen the scope of positive action to the extent permitted by EU law and to introduce a new power enabling employers to take positive action when recruiting or selecting a person for promotion. In effect, where candidates are equally qualified and one comes from an under-represented group, the employer is able to choose him on the basis of his protected characteristic. Note that there is no requirement on the employer to do so and if you do take positive action in these circumstances, you might face a claim from the person who has not been chosen but may have been the better candidate (and will argue that he is). In reality, very, very few candidates are exactly equal. If you continue to refine the requirements and probe for information one or other candidate will emerge as the best person for the job.


Don’t wait until you have a vacancy to start recruiting. These days recruitment is very similar to selling to customers. You have to attract candidates and nurture them so that when the time is right they can be appointed.

Good candidates are hard to find so try and create a pool of talent as part of your ongoing activities. Look for good candidates all the time, wherever you go. Do what you can to keep in touch and keep their interest so they are aware of your business and consider that it might be an enjoyable place to work at some stage. When the time comes to appoint youÂ’ll already have a list of suitable candidates.