Hiring Right

By Bob Tvrdik, CIRAS

Are you having trouble finding or retaining good employees? Do you ever feel like your hiring decision is a gamble? Would you like to hire the right person the first time? If so, the following guide on the hiring process will be helpful to you.

Hiring is something many people need to do and yet few seem to do it effectively. A CEO of a Fortune 500 company confessed recently that his biggest downfall in the past couple of years had been "making some bad hiring decisions." Two executives he had selected had been extremely disruptive to the organization and had to be let go. Because he had little insight into how he had selected the wrong people, he feared repeating his mistake.

Many hiring supervisors share this fear. The process they follow for hiring gives them little confidence that the right person will be selected. Too often, some comments and questions are exchanged, an application may be filled out but not checked out, and the hiring supervisor relies on "gut" instinct.

The importance of hiring right can be illustrated by your company’s turnover rates. Average corporate turnover is more than 15 percent. According to a Harvard University study, 80 percent of turnover is due to hiring mistakes.

Instead of rolling the dice, these proven steps can help you hire the right person, lower your turnover, and improve your productivity. Sound like a dream? It can become a reality.

As a hiring manager, you know that finding qualified candidates is tough. You simply can’t rely on historical practices because candidates can afford to be choosier. Successful hiring is a two-sided process. You have to find the right candidates and the right candidates have to want to work for you. The best candidates almost always have options. Be sure your company is showing its best side. Consider adopting some new strategies that will help you hire better over the long run.

Treat your employees well. A good work environment will create positive messages about your company in the community. You will be a place where people want to work.

Promote your company name. If no one has ever heard of your company, it will be far more difficult for you to attract good candidates.

Focus on employee retention. Lowering turnover will reduce your need to hire from outside and lower your costs considerably. In addition, give your own employees (internal candidates) the same courtesies and opportunities that you extend external applicants! Have you considered promoting someone who already knows "the system" and has proven to be an excellent employee? In anycase, be sure to open the doors for current employees to apply for any new positions.

Be on the lookout for good people. Don’t just rely on newspaper advertising when you have an opening. Encourage your employees to recommend people to you. Talk positively about your company wherever you go, and ask your employees to do the same.

Move quickly. Don’t lose a candidate to another employer because you moved too slowly. The hiring timeline of the past no longer works.

Convey your enthusiasm! Always speak positively about your company. During the interviews, sell the candidates on yourself and your company.

11 ways to improve your hiring process

  1. As the old expression says, "If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there." The first step in the hiring process is to DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS. Write out the qualifications (duties/responsibilities, skills/expertise needed, experience and education/training required or desired) for the position you are trying to fill. Prioritize your list of qualifications so you will have a clear picture of the type of person you need to hire. If you don’t already have a JOB DESCRIPTION for the position, develop one that is accurate. Good job descriptions can be completed in one page and serve as an important guide for hiring and subsequent performance appraisals.
  2. Using the qualifications from your update job description, consider various ways to ADVERTISE your open position. As well as the usual methods of internal posting and placing ads in newspapers and magazines, consider "word of mouth" advertising. Talk to your good employees and with people you come in contact with both professionally and socially. Tell them of your needs. Think about posting the position on the Internet.
  3. Have an APPLICATION FORM ready for interested applicants to complete. This form should be sensitive to the questions that can – and cannot – be asked. If in doubt, have your attorney review the form before using it. (See #6.)
  4. SCREEN applicants based on the specific qualifications listed. This phase of the hiring process becomes easier if you have been honest and specific in listing your needs.
  5. Have an INITIAL INTERVIEW with applicants who appear to meet your needs. This does not need to be a face-to-face interview. It can often be successfully accomplished over the phone, holding down your hiring expenses. The key here is good questions, and I will list some examples later.
  6. Have a FACE-TO-FACE INTERVIEW with candidates who looked good on paper and responded well to the initial telephone interview. It is a good idea to have more than one person involved in the interview process so what one person sees (good or bad) can be discussed if not confirmed by someone else on the hiring team. Again, good questions plus the ability to listen are the keys. (See "Basic Interviewing Questions.") Beware of the common mistake of doing too much of the talking during the interview. Studies have shown that expecting applicants to discuss their previous experiences and accomplishments more than triples your chances of hiring the right person. Ask them to "tell about a time when…" Strive for open-ended questions; don’t’ just talk in generalities. And be sure to avoid illegal questions about age, marital status, pregnancy, day care arrangements, disabilities, religion, race, and national origin.
    A sample candidate rating form is included. You can prepare a similar form that lists YOUR needs/qualifications. After you determine those key job qualifications, you might want to weight each in terms of its importance. Ask each of the interviewers on your team to complete the form for each of your candidates.
  7. Consider INNOVATIVE APPROACHES. Give candidates an assignment before the interview. For example, ask them to review your product or web page and give you their comments. If the position for which you are hiring is especially key to your organization, make an effort to see the person in action. For example, ask a shop foreman candidate to walk through your plant and comment on things he/she sees. Always give a five-minute warning before closing an interview. People often real something important about themselves at the last minute.
  8. Thoroughly CHECK REFERENES of final candidates before you make any job offers. Often this id done as a way to screen applicants, but this step is best utilized after the interview. It is a good way to verify information discussed in the interview. It is a good idea to talk to others who know the candidate, in addition to the references listed before making any offers. If your reference checks are a dead end, that may be red flag. Many companies have adopted a policy of refusing to confirm any information about a previous employee other than dates of employment. However, the burden of supplying reachable and responsive references belongs with the candidate. An interview may only test the candidate’s ability to interview well. A reference check may be the single most important step of the selection process
  9. If the reference checks support your interest to hire someone, MAKE AN OFFER to that candidate. Any offer should be subject to accurate and honest information filled out on the application form. If you are not sure, a follow-up interview may be needed.
  10. Once the applicant has accepted the job offer and completed any written forms required, INFORM the other candidates (via letter or phone) that the position for which they applied at your company has been filled. Sincerely thank the other candidates for their interest in working for your company, and perhaps even consider a close runner-up for another position within your company.
  11. REVIEW with your hiring team what went right and wrong, so you can continually improve the hiring process for the next time.

In summary, the more you do at the beginning of the hiring process the fewer problems you will encounter during the process and after the person is hired. It is much easier and less expensive to hire right the first time then to do it over and over for the same position or to deal with people who are not the right fit for the job. Nothing you do will be more important than getting the right people into the right jobs.

If your company deals with frequent hiring situations, it’s time to get key staff members up to speed on "hiring right."

Basic interviewing questions

  1. We have read your resume and reviewed your application. Please briefly summarize your background as it relates to this position. In other words, how has your training and experience prepared you for this job? What skills have you acquired in your past positions that will be an asset in this job? (Good "ice breaker" and good way to see if the candidate can focus on being brief with specific information. Look for the proven skills needed.)
  2. What aspects of your last job did you like the best and the least? Why? (Look for signs that the person may be a good or bad "fit" for this job.)
  3. Considering the various people you have worked for, please describe the management styles of your favorite and least favorite supervisor. (Again, look for red flags.)
  4. What if…scenarios/situations. Provide candidates with situations in which they have to resolve a "problem." (Look for specific traits, skills, and abilities needed, e.g., integrity, the ability to work with other people, temperament, and problem solving.)
  5. What appeals to you the most and the least about this position? Why? (Any red flags?)
  6. When we contact your references, what do you think they will tell us are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? (How do the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses fit with your needs as the employer?)
  7. What are you specifically looking for in the position and organization? (Again, how do the answers fit with the needs of your company?)
  8. What questions do you have for us? (Make sure you allow enough time for this, even if other questions have to be omitted! You can often learn more about candidates from the questions they ask than from the answers they give to your questions.)
  9. Based on this interview and what you have learned today, what is your level of interest in this position now? Why? (Look for definite high level of interest.)

Example of candidate rating form

Whatever open-ended questions you decide to use, make sure you ask all the candidates the same questions. Doing so will help maintain consistency and will make ranking the candidates easier after the interviews. And do not forget to inform candidates of the next step(s) in the selection process before they leave.

Candidate’s Name:_______________________________________________
Open Position:___________________________________________________
Interview Date:___________________________________________________
Rate each candidate on the following skills using "+" meets desired skills; "0" does not meet desired skills; "?" unable to observe.
  ________   Communication Skills (ability to listen plus express self verbally and in writing)
  ________   Decision Making Skills
  ________   Problem Solving Skills
  _______   Financial Skills
  ________   Leadership Skills
  ________   Interpersonal Skills
  ________   Flexibility
  ________ Job Knowledge & Attitude


Check one:

Recommend Hiring


Do Not Recommend Hiring


Interviewer's Name:_____________________________________

CIRAS News, Vol. 33, No. 1, Fall 1998