Recruiting through Workshops Instead of Interviews

In the early stages of Wellbeing Teams, we partnered with an existing home care organisation. They had an established service in two neighbourhoods, and we worked with them to set up a Wellbeing Team in a new neighbourhood. Therefore, whilst we were recruiting for a new team, the Registered Manager, Gemma, was also interviewing for more staff. 
During the same week in November, I was anxiously waiting to see how many of the twelve people we had put through to the workshop would show up. The day before, Gemma sat at her desk wondering how many of the six interviews she had scheduled would turn up. The answer for Gemma was one person—only one out of the six interviewees turned up for Gemma, and the one who did turn up explained that she had to come to show that she was actively looking for work. In contrast, just before 10 am, my team received a phone call from someone who had been ill overnight and was not able to attend. There were eleven other candidates in the room.
Show me, don’t tell me—the challenge of using interviews 
Would you decide to marry someone after just one date? You are likely to spend more time at work, and with your work colleagues, than you do with your family. It seems incredible to me that a decision of such significance can be made over a 30-minute interview. That might feel acceptable if you have the attitude that you can just move if you don’t like the job. Or, if you are the employer, you might reason that you can find someone else if the new hire does not work out. This sounds simple, but the emotional energy required for this, and the cost if you are the employer, is considerable. Skills for Care show how replacing just six colleagues a year costs over £21k, which is a cost of over £100k over five years. Reducing this to replacing two colleagues a year results in savings (over five years) of more than £70k.
The alternative to looking for a new job if you are unhappy with your work is to stay and live for the weekend and become one of the 90% who are not engaged at work. Leaving, or staying and not being engaged, are both costly to employers, and, more importantly, to the wellbeing of people being supported.
I think there are some particular issues with relying on interviews in recruitment:
  • People can sense or learn the ‘right things to say’ in an interview, hiding their honest responses
  • You cannot see how people react or respond in a group
  • You cannot see how people respond to people with lived experience
  • You do not see how people work with their hands – just their head
In an interview, it is impossible to see how people show up as part of a team and where people dominate, draw others out, or hold back. We want to see how people relate to others and see their values in action, not just hear people talk about them. This is one of the reasons why we use recruitment workshops. On LinkedIn and other social media, I often see articles on how to answer interview questions. We want to see if candidates can go beyond knowing the right thing to say to a particular question and to give people multiple opportunities to show up and shine. Our philosophy is ‘show, not tell’.
Investing time and energy to find your next role
If you were applying for a high-status senior leadership role, you would expect to dedicate a day to attending various assessment centres and preparing for interviews. In our view, supporting people to live well at home should be high status, and therefore, for us, it requires the same attention and time given to recruitment. 
We also believe that if candidates are prepared to attend a half-day recruitment workshop, then we will only attract people who really want the role. Some of the ‘no-shows’ in typical carer recruitment are a result of applicants having to demonstrate that they are actively looking for work or applying for a number of jobs at the same time. Other people may accept another role without withdrawing from other interviews.
By asking for a 3-hour commitment to a workshop that requires people to prepare, we invite people to invest time and energy in seeing if the role is a good fit for them. This goes against the common approach in home care of ‘make it as easy as possible’ for people to get the job.
Designing the workshop
We wanted to design a recruitment workshop that would offer different ways of learning about people. We are looking for people with a growth mindset who are curious and want to keep learning and developing and people who can use their head, heart, and hands in their work. We needed to design a workshop that could help us figure out who would be a good fit. This means candidates who are both a good fit for us and who decide the values and culture of Wellbeing Teams are a good fit for them.
I remember sitting with my colleague Michelle in my basement office with a blank piece of paper on the large pinboard. Across the top of the paper were our purpose and values written in orange and green. We invited Ali Gardner, a leader in social pedagogy, to help us think about the best ways of doing this. Using ‘head, heart, and hands’ is central to relational practice in social pedagogy, and we wanted to apply this to recruitment.
Head – Could candidates use their common sense to respond to challenges they might face as a Wellbeing Worker? We used a set of scenarios, or ‘What-if cards’, to see how people would respond. Did candidates have a growth mindset? How did candidates respond to giving and receiving feedback? What gifts of the head—knowledge related to hobbies and interests—did they bring that they would be prepared to share and use in their work?
Heart – Could candidates talk about what mattered to them and how they lived their values? We used a second set of cards based on value scenarios to explore this. Were candidates able to reflect on what mattered to them through one-page profiles? How did candidates work together with colleagues?
Hands – Could people provide compassionate touch? What gifts of the hands did they bring to the role—what could they do (hobbies, interests) that they would be prepared to share and use in their work?
What-if cards (head)
We have two sets of What-if cards that we use in recruitment; one set is focussed on the head. We were not expecting people to have any experience in care, but we wanted to know how they would use their heads—their common sense—to address some of the common challenges that team members could experience. This was a set of What-if cards based on realistic scenarios.
We developed and amended the What-if cards:
  • From our personal experiences. Michelle (Wellbeing Leader) and I had both covered multiple shifts and shadowed other team members. On one occasion, Michelle locked herself out of the person’s home and there was no way to get back in. One of our What-if cards asked people what they would do in that situation.
  • By asking local care providers. We asked all twelve local home care providers in Wigan to share the issues/questions that came through to their on-call system. These were the issues that their staff were unsure how to deal with or needed reassurance about. We checked that we had these covered in our What-if cards and added to or amended questions.
  • By looking at our team members’ queries. We analysed issues that came through our ‘help desk’ or were posted on Slack by team members if they had a concern.
  • By learning from incidents and complaints. We asked, “What would a team member have needed to have done differently to avoid this situation? Do we have a What-if card that addresses this?”
Values cards (heart)
The second set of cards are values-based scenarios. For each of our values, we developed a set of questions related to living that value in practice and the behaviours we would expect to see.
We developed these cards to help people express their values by talking about their experiences and behaviours. Here are some examples:
Demonstrating competencies (including hands)
As well as values, we looked at the competencies a Wellbeing Worker would need to be great at based on the role description. Here are three examples:
  • Ability to deliver compassionate touch in personal care
  • Ability to learn about what matters to people through conversation instead of interview
  • Ability to reflect on what they were learning
We tried to design elements of the recruitment process that would enable us to see people doing these things. 
Competence we were looking for
Opportunities to demonstrate this through the recruitment process 
Following instructions
  • Completing their one-page profile before the workshop
  • Hand massage—we gave people an instruction sheet with a step-by-step process
  • Instructions for the spaghetti tower exercise
Compassionate touch
  • Hand massage
Conversations to learn and share about the applicant
  • Our initial conversation process and completing paperwork with one of the recruitment team
Reflection—being able to describe what you have learned
  • Sharing something that they had learned about themselves or been reminded of based on their one-page profile and experience in the workshop
Giving feedback
  • Giving feedback to a colleague after watching them in the initial conversation process
Working with other team members in a group
  • Spaghetti tower exercise—looking at how people got involved, worked with others, or stepped back as more of an observer
In the recruitment workshop, the exercises and tasks are designed to help people shine, not to catch them out. People report back that it put them at ease and that it did not feel anything like an interview but was actually fun and gave them a valuable new experience. We watch people swapping telephone numbers with other people at the end to keep in touch. This is a human process. Our exercises and tasks demonstrate our focus on relationships, empathy, and trust—from sharing hand massages with each other to talking about failures and learning and giving feedback.
That chilly church hall in Lytham St Annes was several years ago now, and I am still learning about recruitment. At the end of that day, I was excited and relieved as well as having a page of notes on what we needed to do differently and better. The candidates told us the process was new and exciting. “It felt nothing like an interview,” one of them said. “After the first half an hour, I could relax and be myself.”
Tim Cooper
Chief Executive, United Response
We do not need to undertake any surveys of anyone working in ‘social care’ right now to understand what the biggest pressure, may be even threat, is. Everyone is looking for people to come and work in their team, in their organisation. This is a pressure that is starting to feel overwhelming for most of us.
It takes, then, real courage to stand back and say it’s time to stop and take a radically different approach to deciding who is best to come and join our team. To swop interviews for workshops may feel a big switch but unprecedented times call for bold responses. Such a change in these times may not all be plain sailing and so requires organisations to understand and plan for this and above all to reassure colleagues that it will be ok.
Workshops offer us an opportunity: to understand what people are able to bring in terms of ‘head, heart and hands’, who connects best with people they will be supporting and not least an opportunity for us to lay out how they can bring their whole selves to work for the benefit of us all.
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