Hiring the Best and Avoiding the Rest

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

Employers today are faced with the difficult problem of finding the best qualified employees among the many job applicants.†In addition, hiring is typically one of the most dreaded duties of managers and business owners (surpassed only by their dread for disciplining employees).† Many managers, even experienced ones, struggle with the hiring process.

Hiring an employee is always a gamble.† You can never know the outcome of your decision until actual on-the-job performance occurs.† However, you can increase your probability of hiring more qualified people by improving the process you use.†Hiring is a high stakes game of chance.† You need to be prepared to make sure you have the odds on your side.† Think of it this way:†

Selection is a game of chance.
Smart employers know how to play the game
by using a legal, systematic process to
maximize their potential for success.

Most managers do not take the hiring process as seriously as they should. Proper hiring not only gets a good person on the job, but it helps avoid disciplinary problems down the road.† Hiring the wrong person is a costly mistake.† A large Midwest bank estimated the average minimum cost for hiring each teller to be $2,400.† This figure reflects only direct hiring costs for an entry-level position.† It does not include training or any indirect costs.† The cost goes up significantly for higher-level positions.†

Your organization has a lot at stake, which is why good selection is vital to your success.† Hiring is perhaps one of the most important and least attended to tasks of management.† The hiring process has four steps: 1) Defining the job; 2) Recruiting candidates; 3) Initial candidate screening; and, 4) The interview.†

Defining the Job

By defining the job you focus your efforts on gathering information on specific, job-related skills.† Think of the skills, knowledge and abilities as essential tools needed to perform each particular job.† The easiest way to gather this information quickly is to use the job description (if you have one).† If the job description is out of date or one doesn't exist, gather information from observations of current good performers.† If it is a new job, develop a list of the anticipated duties and the requirements for performing them.† Make sure that you are identifying the skills, knowledge, and/or abilities that are essential to the effective performance of the job and not personality characteristics.† Unfortunately, some job descriptions focus only on duties and are not skill oriented and therefore are of little use in hiring.† In those cases you will need to develop a list of skills.† It is helpful to ask the question, "What does a person need to do to perform the duties of this job?"

Defining the job is the critical first step in finding good employees.† If done poorly, it will negatively affect the rest of the process.† Without a clear job definition, recruitment, pre-screening, and all other steps in the process will suffer.†Unfortunately, many companies do not clearly define a job before proceeding with the rest of the process and it results in problems later.

Recruiting Candidates

Most organizations think of recruiting as simply placing advertisements in the "Help Wanted" section of the Classifieds.† It should be more than that, especially in today's employment market.† Start with the Job Definition.† Any advertising you do must accurately convey what you need in the position.† Think of advertising as both a recruiting and a screening device.† You want your advertisement to attract good candidates and discourage unsuitable candidates.† It should clearly describe the job. If it hides information about the job, high turnover may result.† Although advertising is important (especially internet advertising), your recruiting efforts should go beyond advertising for one simple reason: many good workers are not reading the help wanted ads.

So, you need to find ways to attract workers other than advertising. This is where it pays to be creative.† Talk to your current workers, to see if they know of good employees at other companies.†I know of several companies that will pay workers a bonus for recruiting employees who are hired and successful on the job.† Bonuses should not be paid until the person has a satisfactory employment record.† That means that employees will help find people who have a high probability of success.

If appropriate, use your best customers to help you recruit.† I know of a company that pays customers a fee for helping find a successful employee.† The fee is given as a discount on their products. Also inform friends and business associates of openings that are available at your company.†††

Initial Screening

Once you have obtained applications or resumes for the position you can begin to take some meaningful action to narrow the pool.† First, you need to decide what information you can obtain from the application or resume that directly relates to the skills needed to do the job.† Certain skills/ knowledge/ abilities can be evaluated from the information on the resume (i.e., knowledge of industry, education), while others are better assessed during an interview (i.e., verbal communication, customer service skills, and product knowledge.)

Here are some suggestions on how to read a resume or job application:

  • Proceed with Caution - Remember that a resume is a marketing piece. It includes only the information the applicant wants to tell you.† Be cautious, yet understand the resume is also valuable in providing a base from which to gather preliminary information about the candidate.
  • Look for documentation - Try to find documented examples of work experience, knowledge or training to justify the abilities the candidate is claiming.† For example, if the person claims to be good with people and have excellent math skills, you may look for customer service-related experience and extra schooling or classes in math.
  • Watch for Red flags - Examples of red flags include gaps in employment, vague job descriptions or employment periods.† These should be noted as areas to probe in the interview.† Do not make inferences or judgments from the red flags until you have checked them out.
  • Stick to the facts - In reading the resume search for, document, and validate the facts.† Many employers rely too heavily on hunches, which may be unpredictable, biased and inaccurate.

The Interview

Make sure that you prepare for the hiring interview by developing your list of questions in advance.†† This means that you will go into the interview with a written "interview guide."† This is simply a document that will guide you through the entire interview session. You may want to choose areas to probe from each candidate's resume (red flags mentioned above.)† You will also need to decide what to tell applicants about the job and your organization.† Enter all of this information on the interview guide.

To increase the odds of making the right hiring selection, I recommend using behavior-based questions.† In this approach questions are asked to get at specific past behaviors that are directly related to the skills necessary for the job.† You want to avoid hiring people based on oneís gut feeling - the practice known as "I know a good one when I see one."

In writing questions, hypothetical is out, reality is in.† For example, rather than asking, "What would you do if..." you should ask, "Tell me about a time when..."† Just because a candidate can give the right hypothetical answer doesnít mean that they will be able to perform.† Judge their answers based on their actual experience and how that experience fits your organization.

Ask the questions as they are written on your interview guide. You should ask each candidate the same interview questions and record their answers on the interview guide.† This will provide consistency across interviews and allow better direct comparison of candidates.

As important as it is to ask the right questions, it is equally important to avoid the wrong ones.† Some questions are illegal.† Most people know better than to ask questions about age, marital status, children, disabilities, religion, race and national origin.† If you arenít familiar with these areas talk to your legal counsel or your stateís employment agency.†† Other questions are a waste of time and prompt applicants to give vague, nonspecific answers or information that isnít relevant to a candidate's skills or background.† For example, "Tell me about yourself" is too open-ended and not directly connected to the job. Also, the old favorite, "Tell me your three strengths and three weaknesses" usually does not provide you with specific enough information to be helpful to you.

As you take notes on your interview guide, listen for the actual work the candidate has performed.† Ask follow-up questions to fill any gaps in their answer.

Remember, the selection process, including the interview, is most effective when it is structured, well planned, and based on the needed skills/knowledge/abilities for a particular job.† Selecting the most appropriate, most qualified candidates to add to your workforce can save you a great deal of time, energy and resources.† And always remember: when in doubt, check with your own legal counsel.

Finally, do not rush the process.† You must be patient.† A hasty decision increases the possibility of future problems.

A good source for behavior-based interview guides is www.selectpro.net.† It allows for the quick creation of job-related interview guides that follow the rules presented in this article.

Please send any comments, questions or suggestions to Dr. Pfaff at larrypfaff@selectpro.net.

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