Recruitment of a Trainee Trading Standards Officer

Recent articles about the RST are shown below:

Dumfries and Galloway Council LogoBackground

In the autumn of 2015, DWHRC were contacted by Sandra Harkness, Service Manager for Trading Standards at Dumfries & Galloway Council, to assist with the recruitment process for a Trainee Trading Standards Officer (TSO), with the potential use of the RST.  Sandra had had to work hard to secure funding for a Trainee TSO and the gloomy budgetary forecasts suggested that this may be a one-off opportunity and therefore the right candidate absolutely needed to be found. Having previously recruited for a variety of temporary posts, she was aware of how difficult it could be to assess a candidate’s capabilities from the basic and traditional recruitment process.  As this was a rare opportunity to appoint a much needed and permanent post then recruiting the wrong person was an inconceivable prospect. Key issues included:

  1. Effective drafting and placement of a suitable job-advert, in order to produce a good number of applications of the desired quality.
  2. The need to be able to objectively assess applicants for suitability for the role at a relatively early stage in the process, in order to make good long/shortlisting decisions. 

When Sandra became aware of the RST in October 2015, she was keen to explore in what ways the RST might be able to assist her in improving the quality of the recruitment process for this role. 

An anticipated benefit of using the RST would be that as it is available as an on-line assessment, identified applicants would be able to take it at a time and place of their own choosing, well in advance of any formal interview/assessment day, and that it would provide objective data to assist with the assessment of the applicants.

Approach & Process

Initially, Sandra took the RST herself and received feedback on the outcomes.  Fundamentally, she thought that her profile of scores was a pretty accurate description of her, which encouraged her to trust the “scores-on-the-doors” which would be produced for applicants for the Trainee TSO role, most of whom she would not know.  She was also therefore able to experience what it would be like to actually take the RST herself.  Generally, she liked the format in which the RST is presented as an on-line assessment, but did make one or two observations about how it could be improved.  This feedback was taken on board and one or two changes were made to the RST on-line assessment interface, before any actual candidates for this role were asked the take the RST.

A time-line was then produced for this recruitment process, to include all the key milestones:

  • The placement of the job-advert in suitable media.
  • The closing date for receipt of applications.
  • A deadline for the completion of the long-listing stage.
  • A deadline for the completion of the shortlisting stage.
  • Dates for interview/assessment days.

Astonishingly, 272 applications in total were received for this role by the closing date!  This was somewhat surprising, as previous recruitment efforts for temporary posts had always resulted in disappointingly few applications.

At this stage, it was decided to whittle the 272 applications down to a more manageable long-list of 35 by strict comparison to the criteria specified in the Job Description and Person Specification.  The long-listed 35 were then asked to take the RST, with the objective being to identify a final shortlist of a maximum 10 candidates who would be invited to attend a formal interview.  This was accomplished by means of the RST “Short Profile Report”.  (For a Short Profile Report example please click here).   Then, an RST “In-depth Interview Prompts” report was produced for each of the 10 shortlisted candidates.  This contains suggested interview questions, designed to explore the candidate’s scores on each of the RST’s key themes or dimensions, in more detail.  (For an example of the RST “In-depth Interview Prompts Report”, please click here).

Ultimately, an eight question, question-set was compiled, featuring four areas derived from the RST, together with another four which were specific to this Trainee TSO role at Dumfries & Galloway Council.



The RST was initially used at the long-listing stage, where 35 candidates were invited to complete it.  A spreadsheet of all the candidates’ scores was compiled, which made the shortlisting process much easier. Ten candidates were identified for the two interview/assessment days, which took place in December 2015, with eight candidates ultimately being interviewed on these days.

At the end of these two days, the selection panel had a very difficult job in identifying the preferred candidate, as the quality of the shortlist was very high.  However, a preferred candidate was identified and offered the role, which she accepted.  Additionally, both second and third-choice candidates were identified, as contingency against the first-choice candidate ultimately not taking up the role.

Some Benefits of Using the RST

  • Helping to objectively and fairly sift a large number of applicants for the role.
  • Providing the selection panel with a set of bespoke-designed interview questions, together with “behavioural indicators” for each – examples of the type evidence the candidates would need to provide to score well.
  • Helping the appointing manager and the selection panel focus in on the key selection criteria for this type of role and how to probe the candidates for evidence around them.
  • As the RST is a thoroughly researched and professionally designed psychometric assessment instrument, this contributes objectivity, fairness and administrative convenience/efficiency to the process, thereby helping to justify the decisions made in the process, should they be challenged.
  • Conveying a professional approach to the candidates, encouraging the preferred candidate to accept the job-offer when made.
  • Generally, providing the appointing manager and selection panel with a range of useful information and data to facilitate the selection process.


Feedback from the Appointing Manager

At the conclusion of the process, Sandra Harkness, Service Manager for Trading Standards at Dumfries & Galloway Council said:

“We could have appointed any of the eight we interviewed! We did, however have a clear top three and had an agonising time trying to decide which one to offer the post to….but this gives us a second and third option that we would be more than happy with.

 I honestly don’t know how we would have got down to the final few without the RST.

It was a difficult selection process because all of the shortlisted candidates were of excellent quality!  We used 4 general questions at interview and then gave them 4 of the RST questions. The RST questions were excellent at probing the weaker areas and definitely gave us a better insight into each candidate. We also did a written test which was very worthwhile.  I would definitely recommend the RST to anyone doing a similar recruitment process.”.

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