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Lessons in Leadership

How to Hire Better Employees

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When managers need to fill a position, they are usually overcome with an extreme sense of urgency. Projects may be late! Phones may go unanswered! I may lose my mind! As a result, they often hire the first suitable warm body who walks through the door, then live to regret that hasty decision. Hiring the best people requires patience and planning. Here are some helpful suggestions.

1. Thoroughly understand the position.
You can only hire better people if you know what you want them to do. Before looking for applicants, you must be able to answer these questions:

  • What results do I want this person to produce?
  • What are the primary responsibilities of the job?
  • What specific tasks does the person have to perform?
  • What are the working conditions for this position?

2. Define the ideal candidate.
Realistically, you probably won't find a totally perfect person. But creating an ideal candidate profile will help you evaluate applicants more effectively. Consider the following questions:

  • What knowledge does this person need to have?
  • What previous experience do they need?
  • What job-related abilities and characteristics are important for success in this job?
  • What career interests might be important?

3. Figure out where these people might be.
Don't just post an ad on Monster. Give some thought to where your "best fit" applicants might be located. Professional associations? Competitors? Trade schools? If you have a tight salary budget, consider a bright young person who is early in their career but can learn quickly. Or perhaps an experienced retiree.

4. Establish specific goals for the interview.
You don't want to simply have a friendly conversation with your applicants. You want to determine if they possess specific qualities in three areas: ability, motivation, and "fit". So ask yourself this question: what do I want to have learned by the end of the interview? The answer will represent your goals.

5. Develop an interview road map.
An interview is like a journey, with your goals as the destination. And for any journey, you need a good map. That means developing a plan for the interview, with specific questions to ask all applicants, plus individual questions related to each person's resume.

6. Use clever questions.
Certain common questions show up in interview after interview: What are your goals? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you know about our company? These are frequently asked because they focus on useful information. But the problem is that candidates hear them so often that their answers are well-rehearsed. We provide suggestions on questions at the following page: Sample Interview Questions.

7. Do "detective work" on resumes.
Don't just scan the resume five minutes before an applicant walks in. Thorough scrutiny can yield all kinds of clues to help you assess the applicant and identify areas to question. Consider neatness, formatting, and spelling. Look for red flags like employment gaps or downward career progressions. See how well the applicant's qualifications match your "ideal candidate".

8. Don't keep talking and talking and talking.
The purpose of an interview is for you to learn about the applicant. Unfortunately, some inexperienced interviewers learn nothing because they start talking and never shut up. Use your road map, probe with follow-up questions, and listen while the applicants talk.

9. Use work samples wherever possible.
The best way to find out if someone can do something is to actually have them do it. So if they need to use a software application, sit them down at a computer. If the job involves writing, ask them to write something.

10. Don't describe the job until you've asked your questions.
Novice interviewers often give a detailed job description at the beginning of an interview. This makes no sense. For one thing, your description will tell the applicant how to answer many questions. For another, why waste time giving detailed information to an applicant you may not want? So just give a very brief overview at the outset.

11. Have multiple interviewers compare perspectives.
If you are the only person to interview candidates, then your personal biases will drive the selection process (and we all have them!). Although the hiring manager makes the final call, hearing other perspectives will help to inform your decision. Possible interviewers include your boss, co-workers, employees, other managers, or internal customers.

12. Systematically compare applicants against one another.
List the criteria from your ideal candidate profile and use a rating scale to compare the applicants on each one. You may or may not decide on the person with the highest score, but the process will insure that you've considered all relevant factors.

13. Don't assume the person wants the job. Even after they start.
Once you've found a great candidate, be prepared to sell them on the position. Although the person may be your top choice, you don't know whether you are theirs. But avoid creating unrealistic expectations. Many hiring managers have been dismayed when a great new employee decides to leave after a week on the job – or even one day!

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