Lean Recruitment

Many of the engineering recruitment team at Australia Wide Engineering Recruitment have a background in engineering. Our staff consists of mechanical engineers, project managers, operations managers and software engineers. Most of them have heard and used “lean” engineering techniques. This paper outlines how lean principles can be used in recruitment.

What is the purpose of the recruitment process? In the areas we work in, it is about creating knowledge. And the faster we do that, the faster we get a placement and, further, a placement that is correct for the hiring organisation.

Our initial qualification process for client engagement should not be ignored. It qualifies that we are not wasting our, or our client’s, time. Especially important, is the use of exclusive arrangements which prevents candidate confusion in the market. However, when the terms of business have been signed that is when we can start to use lean principles.

After the terms are signed the recruitment process can make use of three lean characteristics:

1. Key Decisions
2. Speed is of the essence
3. Manage risks

1. Key Decisions

Sometimes we are given a very detailed job spec, sometimes not. Either way, we can use the same technique.

For the detailed job spec, we should ask questions to determine which aspects are the most important and encourage the hiring manager to rank them in order. Is C coding skill more important than Java? Is 5 years’ experience of medical devices product design more important than the ability to use a particular type of mechanical design package?

Where no, or a very vague, job spec is received we can, at a high level, ask the client to rank skills, experience, qualifications, leadership capabilities etc from most important to least. By doing this we are using that time-old lean mantra of eliminating non-value adding processes from the (recruitment) process and focusing our efforts where the most value can be added.

2. Speed is of the essence

A very experienced project manager once said, “Perfection is the enemy of good. And good is good enough.” In product development, this is similar to building a fully integrated prototype so all elements of the design can be tested. It takes weeks, months or even years and we could have learnt just as much faster if we had created some rough-and-ready mock-ups of key elements. From the Key Decisions, we know what elements the client regards as most valuable in order to allow us to focus on those things. It also reduces the risk of chasing after the candidate traits that we think matter, but the client does not. Which brings us to our next lean characteristic – risk management.

3. Risk Management

The first two characteristics should have helped us a great deal. However, sometimes the client still doesn’t know exactly what they want. Sometimes the client says, “I know what I want when I see it” and we say, “How do we know what you want unless you tell us?” We need a discovery activity that creates knowledge.

We have a good, but not complete, idea of what the client requires and an extensive database built on 5 five decades of delivering talent. Using this we can send over sample resumes, made anonymous to protect the candidate’s confidentiality. We might find that the hiring manager says one of them is perfect, can you get them in for a client interview? We explain that we haven’t met them yet, but will now see if they are responsive to changing jobs and complete a full report.

Even if the sample resumes are not fit for purpose then at least we understand what the client does not want. We have created a knowledge-creating engagement with the client.

Either way, we have produced a fantastic amount of knowledge and possibly found a candidate with the most valuable elements – this is the crux of the lean philosophy.

We are also of the view that unless the client specifically requested identity, right to work and qualification checks when the consultant report is submitted, then these can be completed later, but as soon as possible, and most definitely before a placement is made. There is a risk of submitting a candidate without the prerequisites, but in our experience, that is not usually the case and we can still discover this later. The benefits of speed outweigh the costs.


Using lean is not a way to shortcut or eliminate any of the services we currently offer. We will still deliver a great candidate to our valued client and accomplish our assignment much faster by using knowledge creating activities to add sustainable value.