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Focus On Series

Recruiting Civil Servants Efficiently

Recruiting Civil Servants EfficientlyAudit Summary

Publication Date:
February 2009

Audit Office:
National Audit Office - UK

Link to full report:


Audited Entities

  • HM Revenue & Customs
  • Ministry of Justice
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • Ministry of Defence
  • HM Prison Service
  • UK Border Agency

Audit Objective

  • Assessing whether there are unnecessary delays in recruiting staff, and whether candidates meet the required standard and have the right fit with the organisation and the working environment.

Audit Scope

  • Scope was focused on the efficiency and effectiveness of the recruitment process within the six largest employers in the central government.
  • Detailed focus on two departments, where an analysis of current recruitment processes was undertaken and opportunities for improvement were identified.
  • At the other four organisations, only an analysis of current recruitment practices was undertaken.

Audit Criteria

  • Not available.

Main Audit Findings

  • All six organisations have undertaken some form of review to improve the efficiency of how they recruit.
  • The analysis of how the six organisations recruit identified three common issues: staff costs are too high; the length of time taken to recruit is too long; and the quality of recruitment needs to be improved.
  • Organisations do not accurately record the amount of the time spent by staff that are not part of the recruitment team.
  • Central government’s external recruitment processes do not fully deliver value for money. The audit identified potential improvements at HM Revenue & Customs and the Ministry of Justice that, if implemented, could reduce the internal staff costs by up to 68 per cent for the recruitment of junior grades while maintaining the quality of the candidates appointed.

Audit Recommendations

  • By making more use of online application packs and informing applicants upfront that they should assume they have been unsuccessful if they do not receive notification by a certain date, the Department can save an estimated £225,000 a year in resource costs which the Department estimates will reduce the amount of processing time by 5 full time employee years.
  • HM Revenue and Customs should implement a standard approach to assessing candidates and could improve the relevance of the recruitment process to the vacancy by testing candidates in the workplace using realistic work scenarios.
  • Organisations should collect and use management information to understand the profile of annual demand for recruitment. They should use regional and role-specific demand data to recruit candidates in advance so that they are ready to join the organisation when required. For types of roles that are high volume and a constant requirement, organisations should implement a continuous rolling recruitment campaign.
  • Organisations should match the appropriate amount of recruitment resource to the particular vacancy and reduce the total number of staff involved. Where possible and appropriate they should consider using telephone interviews and the recruitment teams to assess candidates. They should use early assessment procedures to remove unsuitable candidates and reduce the effort of processing their applications.
  • The Cabinet Office should more actively support recruitment activity across government for levels below the senior civil service, and should systematically share good practice advice across government.