Carole Farrar, an experienced early years headteacher, takes you through the process of appointing new staff members

From time to time, managers of early years settings will need to recruit new members of staff. Getting this process right is vital not only for children, but also  for parents and existing staff teams. It is therefore important to have efficient and effective procedures in place that will help you attract, appoint and retain good quality candidates.

Outlined below are a series of steps and points to consider when making a new appointment. They are not exhaustive and of course there may be local guidance that needs to be followed in some cases. They do, however, represent a tried and tested procedure that will help ensure you get the right person for the job.

The vacancy

Often, a staff vacancy can be an opportunity to review how your setting operates:

  • Is someone leaving? Will you need to replace their particular talents or can you bring in someone with new skills?
  • Is this a new vacancy? Could this be a chance to create an innovative role that will enhance your setting? What do the rest of your team think?
  • Can you afford to fill the post? Will it be a permanent appointment?
  • If you advertise for a temporary member of staff, might this affect the quality of the candidates the post attracts?

Defining the job

It almost goes without saying that without a clear definition of the job, potential applicants cannot know whether this is the post for them. Similarly, managers need to be very clear about what qualities and qualifications they are looking for if they are to make effective appointments. There are two key elements to consider so that you can clearly define the job before a post is advertised – the job description and the person specification.

The job description

In drawing up the job description, managers should consider and include:

  • the job title
  • conditions of service
  • duration of the post
  • hours of work and start/finish times
  • salary details
  • line management details
  • performance management arrangements
  • responsibilities
  • support arrangements etc.

Local authorities are usually able to provide model job descriptions on request.

The person specification

The person specification is possibly the most crucial document you will produce. It is a real opportunity to set out what is required of your ideal candidate.

In drawing it up, managers should consider what qualities and qualifications they consider to be essential and what they feel are desirable. Consideration should also be given to how these will be evidenced. It need not be complex, but should give managers a good basis on which to carry out initial selection.

The timetable

This will often depend on how quickly the vacancy needs to be filled. Important points to consider include:

  • Notice periods – when will your vacancy become available? Will your timescale allow for a candidate already in employment to give notice?
  • How long will the post be advertised for? When will the closing date be?
  • Are you allowing sufficient time for candidates to request recruitment packs and complete their applications?
  • Can you schedule time into the diary now for short listing and interviews? Who will be involved?
  • Have you allowed sufficient time to take up references?

The advertisement

Managers will need to consider how and where they advertise a vacancy and to budget for any costs.Options include adverts placed at strategic points in the locality, in LA vacancy bulletins, in newspapers or professional magazines, in job centres, and on the internet.

The advertisement will need to contain:

  • job title and location
  • salary and hours of work
  • a very brief description of the post
  • any essential criteria (eg ‘Our ideal candidate should have previous experience’)
  • if further information is available or visits are welcomed
  • instructions on how to apply and the closing date.

At this point, it might be timely to give some consideration to employment legislation to ensure that no breaches occur, particularly in terms of equal opportunities. If in doubt, seek advice.

The application process

Managers should prepare application packs at the same time as placing the advertisement. As a general rule, packs should contain:

  • information about the setting
  • application form
  • job description
  • person specification
  • short listing and interview dates
  • most recent Ofsted report.

The information should also make clear what a candidate’s application should or should not include, for example a personal statement or a CV. Managers can often get a clue to a candidate’s ability to follow instructions by making expectations clear at this stage! Settings may also wish to ‘ear-mark’ suitable visiting times at this point.

Long listing and short listing

This should take place shortly after the closing date and is the point at which the person specification comes into its own. Ideally, each of the criteria should be transferred to a matrix, which can then be used to analyse which candidates are most suitable.

If many applications are received, it is a good idea to do an initial check (long-listing) to see which applicants meet the ‘essential’ criteria. Those that do not should be rejected and the reason recorded, for example failure to meet aspects of the person specification or a poorly completed application form.

The applicants that offer most or all of the ‘essential’ criteria can then be examined in more detail (short-listing) to see if they offer any ‘desirable’ qualities. The scoring system shown in the box helps to ensure the selection process is fair and usually reveals the most suitable candidates. The three or four applicants with the highest score should then be selected to go through to the next stage.

References and invitations to interview

The short-listed candidates should be contacted with an invitation to attend for interview and be told what to expect, for example:

  • who will be on the interview panel (name and role)
  • how long the process is likely to take
  • if the panel will expect to see the candidate involved with children
  • theme and timing of any presentation
  • whether to bring a portfolio
  • what proof of identity or qualifications will be required etc.

If funds and time allow, it is good practice to write to unsuccessful applicants to thank them for their interest, whilst explaining that they have not been short-listed on this occasion.

It is customary to take up two references for short-listed candidates. Referees should be sent a copy of the job description and person specification. They should be asked to comment on the candidate’s suitability for the post and health/attendance record. An SAE should be included to encourage a prompt reply.

Settings should also check whether there are any local protocols with regard to references.

The interview process

The interview panel should agree the format of the interview process. This could be any or all of the following:

  • a formal ‘question and response’ interview
  • a pre-prepared presentation (up to 10 minutes) on a suitable theme
  • an opportunity to work with a group of children on a particular activity whilst being observed
  • an opportunity for the candidate to engage informally with staff/children, perhaps at a break or meal time
  • a written task, for example writing a note for parents.

The panel should be clear about what they are looking for when deciding which technique(s) to use. If the interview is to be quite formal, the panel should agree the questions they will ask, who will ask them and what sort of responses they will be looking for.

Questions should be open, simple and carefully selected so that they give candidates a chance to ‘shine’. Questions that confuse or intimidate are rarely of any value. The first few questions should help the candidate relax, for example ‘Tell us about a really successful activity you have done with young children’. At the end of the interview, candidates should be given an opportunity to ask questions.

In the interests of fairness, it is important to ensure that all candidates go through the same process and are asked the same questions. Care should be taken to avoid asking questions that could be seen as unprofessional.

Rooms used for interviews should be free from interruption and candidates should not be made to feel that they are walking in to an inquisition. Ideally, everyone should be seated comfortably on the same height of chair – preferably adult size. Tables should not act as barriers and drinking water should be available. Explain you may take some notes and that the candidate should not be put off by this. Notes should be retained for at least six months in case of any dispute.

Decision time

Before the interview process ends, candidates should be told how and when they will be informed about the outcome for them. This could be an initial phone call, followed up with a letter.

The interview panel should consider each candidate in turn, referring back to the selection sheet and references. Further matching of each person to the specification helps to ensure that this final stage is carried out in a purposeful and systematic way. If there is no ‘front runner’, the panel may need to discuss which candidate has most clearly demonstrated the personal qualities required.

Once agreement has been reached, the final decision should be fair and fully justifiable.


After the interviews, the manager should contact the unsuccessful candidates to thank them for their interest and to offer feedback. When giving feedback, it is important to be constructive. If a candidate gave a strong performance, then say so. Most people can accept that there are other strong candidates out there and that their time will come if they persevere. If you need to be critical, try to suggest how a candidate could improve.

Next steps

To complete the process, managers will need to issue all necessary paperwork. This is likely to include a contract of employment, police and medical clearance forms and any local policies/agreements. New members of staff should also have access to a mentor and a structured induction.

And finally…..

Making a successful appointment can be very rewarding. Watching a new member of staff blossom and seeing the children and the setting as a whole thrive as a result of your choice will make all your hard work worthwhile!