Most managers who have logged a few years of experience hiring employees will tell you that it is harder than you might think.  If lucky, a few of those hires have been spectacular successes.  Most hopefully have turned out OK.  It’s the hires that did not work out at all that are hard to explain.  How did it happen you ask yourself?  What did I miss?  I seemed so sure.

When I counsel prospective job candidates before their interview, I tell them that in many cases an employer simply hires an IMPRESSION.  This I tell them puts them in a powerful position because they have a great deal of say about the impression they make.  From the hiring manager’s perspective, however, I urge them to take the necessary steps to augment whatever impression they form of an aspiring candidate, with as much hard data as possible before making a final hiring call.

While there will always be a degree of uncertainty and chance in hiring an employee — we are dealing with human beings after all — there are several prudent steps one can take that improve the odds against making a costly mistake.  And we measure those costs in time, money, the attention sub-par performers demand of their managers, and frequently the negative impact of a mistaken hire on an entire work team.

First, start with a clear understanding of the position you are hiring to fill, its purpose, goals, relevance to your organization’s business or mission, and the criteria you will use to judge the occupant’s success or failure.  In short, what do you want the person you hire to accomplish, utilizing what skills?  Remember, that just as your organization changes over time, so also does the function and purpose of the positions you fill.  Think through this step of the hiring process carefully.

Second, write down the precise set of skills, talents, and experiences you believe are ESSENTIAL if the person you hire is to succeed.  Do this yourself; do not delegate this step to staff or HR.  As the hiring manager, you are in the best position to know what you need — perhaps you have done this or a similar job yourself at one time — and you will be held accountable for the outcome. Make these criteria a non-negotiable part of your hiring selection.  Compromises here, usually come back to haunt you.

Third, since the hiring challenge is to match a person with the precise set of skills, talents, and experience, with the precise performance and accomplishment requirements of the open position, DO YOU HOMEWORK THOROUGHLY. A quick scan of a resume, a brief interview where you do most of the talking, calling one or no references, selecting someone simply for their gender, appearance, university, contacts, etc., just taking a friend’s word about the person, or choosing a candidate because they reminded you so much of yourself, just will not do.  And if you think I made up all these bad practices, believe me I have seen them all in practice and far too often at that.

Thorough homework involves a careful review of resumes and other submitted material for hard evidence of actual accomplishments in difficult tasks, and demonstrated applications of the skills and talents you seek.  Although not absolutely predictable,  ONE’S TRACK RECORD OF PAST PERFORMANCE IS PERHAPS THE BEST INDICATOR YOU WILL HAVE OF PROBABLE FUTURE PERFORMANCE. During interviews, challenge an applicant to give you behavioral examples of the skills you seek in action.  Be certain they share with you some of their failures and the lessons they learned from them.  When possible, get beyond a candidate’s submitted references and talk to some other people who have worked with them.  After all, we all usually pick our submitted references very carefully.

Finally, if possible involve others in the review and interview process.  Several heads are smarter than one and usually a good counter weight to one’s own biases.  The more care you take in attempting to match position needs and candidate qualifications, the less often you will be disappointed with the eventual result.

Categories: Exercising Responsibility, Managing & Leading

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