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spike bullet February 2001 - Hiring the Right People

Why Hiring the Right People is So Important
Planning to Hire
The Interview Process
Interview Questions
Making the Decision
Resources (Internet, articles, books, the lighter side)

color bulletHiring the Right People 

There are few things in business more important than hiring the right people. Without the right people, no amount of money can make a company succeed. companies and their recent ups and downs point out clearly how lots of money did not create success.

While hiring the right people may appear more obvious in small, entrepreneurial companies, it is also true in larger companies.  Even the big ones collapse occasionally.  Montgomery Ward is the most recent example of a giant company folding. Could the right people have made a difference?  Probably.  The right people might have had the foresight to help Wards change and keep up with their industry.

Some companies depend entirely on the strength of their employees to perform services; others sell products or manufacture products for sale.  Even companies that make or sell products depend on people to make the products or sell the products. No machine can ever replace the ability of humans to think, create and act appropriately.

Even government agencies and public organizations need the right people to perform their functions well.

Many managers feel they have too much work to spend their time interviewing potential employees.  If you have this attitude, you need to realize that there are few things more important to your career than having competent people to support you.  With the wrong people, you cannot do your job well and will find your career is short-lived.  With the right people, you can move ahead and you will have a team that supports your success.

Planning to Hire

As a manager in today’s tight job market, what can you do to ensure you hire the right people?  This article addresses key points to help you make sure you hire the right people for your particular situation.  

Before you place an ad or start interviewing, be sure you know these things:

1. Know your working style

Write down a few things about your working style and the type of people you work best with.  

Some things to consider in making your list are:

  • Are you a hands-on manager that likes to supervise people closely or do you like people who work independently?
  • Do you like regular written status reports from the people who report to you or do you like to get a general feel for what they are doing from occasional conversations?
  • Do want copies of all the e-mail or memos sent by your employees to others in the company or would you rather only see messages under certain conditions?  What are those conditions?
  • Is your working style the similar to your boss?  Is your working style similar to your peer managers?
  • If your style is different from theirs, are your employees expected to work with those other managers and are you able to help them understand the different styles?

If you have made hiring mistakes in the past (all good managers have), pay attention to what you did wrong and avoid repeating the mistake.

If you know that certain types of people or certain personality traits make you cringe or have caused you problems in the past, be sure you are clearly aware of what to look for so you do not hire those types of people.  

2. Know your company’s culture

Do you expect people to be at work at a specific time or are you more concerned that they get their work done within a reasonable time period?

Do you expect people to work at home, in the evening or on weekends and/or holidays?

Do you expect people to dress in suits or is casual ok?  How casual is "casual" at your company?

Are people expected to compete with each other, work independently or to work together?  

Are employees expected to participate in company social functions?  Are they encouraged to develop friendship with co-workers or is social activity not favored?

Do you have specific production or sales quotas that must be met?  How closely are these monitored and what is the reward or punishment for making or not making the quota?

Does your company drag out the interviewing process or do they make fast hiring decisions?  Is your Human Resources department involved in screening job candidates or is this handled by line managers?

What are the top 3 reasons people stay with your company?  What are the top 3 reasons they leave?

3. Know your expectations of the job position

What is the official job description of the position you are hiring?  Does that really describe what you expect?  If not, make sure you are clear about what you expect.

For each skill, duty or requirement listed in the official job description, estimate how much (by hours per week or % of time) the person will spend using each one.  Rank the most important skills and duties.  Identify any skills and duties that are "nice to have" or "not critical" to day-to-day performance of the job. 

If you cannot find someone with all the skills in the job description, this exercise will give you a good basis for gauging whether someone has the most important skills you need.

4. Know your expectations of the person who will fill the position

Will the person work closely with others on your team?  If so, give the others a change to meet potential employees before you hire them.  This shows respect for your team and gives the job candidate a chance to meet their potential co-workers before they make a decision to take the job.

Are there certain weaknesses on your existing team that you expect a new person to fill?  Be clear about what those are and that the person knows they are being recruited for those reasons.

Do you enjoy different personality types in your staff or do you want everyone to be the same way?  Different people provide an opportunity for potential conflict.  However, they also provide the greater opportunity for the entire team to be stronger and for people to help each other learn and grow.

Very few companies give personality tests to potential applicants because of the inherent problems they can cause.  However, be aware of the types of personality that work well in your company and those that do not.   

Also, be aware that some jobs require personality traits to be successful.  For example, don't hire someone who is not an enthusiastic self-starter into a sales position or hire an outgoing, creative person for a job where they will be stuck in a cubicle doing financial reports. 

color bulletInterviewing Job Candidates

You have done the exercises above, know what you want and what you expect.  You have placed an ad, posted the job or let others know you are ready to start interviewing.  You have received job applications, resumes or inquires from potential job candidates.

Now, how do you decide who is the right person?

The Interview Process

We suggest you use a team approach to interviewing.  You may want to use telephone interviews for the first contact using the Human Resources department, a professional search firm, a recruiter, yourself or a member of your staff.  The phone interview covers the basic skills and experience before you schedule the in-person interview.

Ideally, you will have 3 or 4 people interview each candidate.  If possible, have one of the interviewers be a co-worker or someone in a similar job.  Each person is looking for different things.  For example for a technical position, one person might be assessing technical skills, another is assessing the candidate's ability to communicate and their teamwork skills, another is looking at how well they will fit into the company culture.  

In some companies, a job candidate meets with several people in one session.  Again, each person is looking for specific attributes to make a decision.

Following the interview, a decision should be made as quickly as possible on that person.  Either they are being considered for the position or they are not.  Let them know as soon as possible where they stand.  If they are not to be considered further, it is better to let them immediately than drag on an unworkable situation.

In fast-paced, well-organized companies, a person leaves their interview with a job offer.  In that situation, the last person to interview the person knows the results of the prior interviews and is prepared to make an offer that day.

Do not be afraid to hire the first person if they fit your criteria.  In today’s tight job market, employers who delay may lose their best candidates by delaying.

color bulletInterview Questions

Ask a variety of questions about skills and education, relevant experience and about a person will get along with people in your company.  Some specific type of questions to ask follow.

Ask about prior experience

Ask information about the positions the candidate held that are relevant to the job you are filling.  You may use their resume/application for specifics or ask general open-ended questions. You may use the following points to develop specific questions or use your own questions.  

The goal of experience questions is to learn:

  • The candidate's duties and responsibilities in each job.
  • What was most rewarding about each position.
  • What personal responsibility they felt for quality and meeting the goals of the company.
  • What improvements in productivity and efficiency they made.
  • How valuable their contribution was to the overall profitability of the company.
  • How well they worked with other employees.
  • How much initiative and/or leadership they showed.
  • How they dealt with problems and challenges.
  • What new ideas, products or innovations they contributed. What they learned from each that helped them in their career.
  • What motivated them to take the position, achieve promotions and/or leave the position.
  • How that prior experience contributes to their ability to do a good job for your company.
  • How they get along with different types of people. Ask questions relevant to the job and to your company culture.
  • How well they will deal with the specific people they will interact with on a regular basis (clients, customers, co-workers, peers, other departments, etc.)

Ask about how well the candidate can do the job 

Review job description details, working conditions and physical demands of the job. 

Give the applicant a copy of the job description, and review the job in general with them. If they are still interested and feel they can do the job, review each component of the job with them, asking about their ability to do each component.

The goal of job detail questions is to learn:

  • Whether the applicant understands each job requirement and can do each part of the job function.
  • What experience and background the applicant has to perform the job as described.
  • Whether there is any accommodation (under the Americans With Disabilities Act) needed for the applicant to perform the job described.
  • How well the applicant can match their own skills and background to your company’s requirements.

Ask about education and training

Ask about educational background and other training, as appropriate.

The goal of education/training questions is to learn:

  • How the applicant uses their education in their job.
  • What initiative they have taken to improve their own training and skills (particularly extra work taken on their own to obtain or maintain skills).
  • What plans they have for continuing to maintain or improve their education.
  • How well they can foresee future needs to maintain or upgrade their own skills, both on the job and outside.
  • What motivates the applicant to take on extra training (or why they don’t take the initiative).

Ask about the company and its functions

Explain the product or service your company offers, its history, market strategy and how the job described fits into the overall scheme of things.

Ask questions to describe how they can add value to your company.

The goal of these questions is to learn:

  • How much prior knowledge they have of your company, your industry and your corporate culture.
  • How well they can apply their own experience to your needs.
  • How well they will fit into your corporate culture.
  • What contribution they will make to the overall success of the company.
  • How well the applicant is able to communicate their skills and abilities into what is appropriate for your company.
  • What initiative the candidate took in preparing for the interview and for a possible position with your company.
  • What culture works best for them. Ask about the company culture or team environment in their previous positions and compare that to your culture.

Ask about health and safety practices

Ask about how much prior training and/or knowledge the applicant has had in SB 198 requirements (California only), ADA, workers’ compensation, health care procedures and other federal or state laws.

The goal of health and safety questions is to learn:

  • How an employee views their responsibilities toward the overall corporate effort to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.
  • How much safety training they have had. This is particularly important for jobs that have high accident or injury rates.
  • How much the applicant knows about workers’ comp laws, regulations and requirements.
  • Watch for minimal or inaccurate knowledge of these requirements for applicants who should be expected to remain current on these topics.

Ask about decision-making and creativity

One effective and interactive interviewing technique is to describe an actual situation or project that you are familiar with.  Describe the situation, the goals and the people involved.  

Set up a dialog where as you describe the scenario and major decision points, the candidate is asked, "what you do at this point?"  Let them know if they chose the answer you were seeking.  Describe another decision point and ask them what they would do next.  Do this with several decision points and gauge how well their responses fit with your expectations. 

The goal of decision-making questions

This technique helps you understand the candidate's thinking process, their ability to think on the spot, to communicate and to think creatively.  Allow them to ask questions and pay attention to what information they are using to make their decisions. 

Ask about management and leadership ability

If you are hiring managers or executives (managers who manage managers), you will want to ask about their management / leadership style and how they have been effective in other positions. 

If you want someone who will be different from the person who held the job previously, be sure to delve into how they plan to make that transition and help their direct-reports make the change. 

You should have the person meet with some of their peer managers, some of your peers, some of the people above you and the people who will report to them before the final decision is made.  This gives the candidate a better understanding of the personalities involved and gives your people a chance to be part of the hiring process.  It also helps the new manager gain support before they show up for work.  Strong managers and executives will ask for such meetings if you don't offer them. 

The goal of management and leadership questions is to learn:

  • How well they understand the management function in your company
  • Their leadership style and how they have produced results in other assignments
  • How they interact with their direct reports, their peer managers and the company's executive team
  • What additional benefits they can bring to your company (increasing productivity, increasing revenue, decreasing costs, etc.)
  • How well their style will fit with your company's management style and your company culture
  • How quickly they can become effective
  • How well they may deal with any lingering issues left from the previous manager or executive (if appropriate).

Ask about non-work activities and interests

Ask about hobbies, civic and community efforts that might be relevant to the job.

Warning: DO NOT go into areas that are unrelated to the job.  Be aware of the laws regarding appropriate interview questions.

The goal of outside activity questions is to learn:

  • How much energy and vitality an applicant has.
  • How much leadership and organizational experience they have that contributes to their job qualifications that may be gained outside their structured work environment.
  • How well they manage their time.  People who have time for hobbies and community activities must manage their time well.  Busy people tend to get things done; very active people tend to accomplish a great deal in many areas.
  • How much personal satisfaction they gain from outside activities.  Positively rewarding outside activities contribute to reducing stress from job pressures and contribute to a more well-rounded person..
  • How well they work with various types of people in different organizations.  This indicates tolerance, adaptability and maturity.
  • How available the applicant is for overtime, travel and/or relocation.
  • How well they are able to balance family needs with job demands. (Be careful about which questions may be asked in this category.  If the applicant mentions family members, then questions may be asked).

Making the Hiring Decision

After you have done your planning, screened the applicants and interviewed job candidates, your decision to hire a person ultimately rests on your intuitive sense of whether this is the right person for the job.

Nothing can prepare you for that decision except your own experience supplemented with hard facts and discussions with the other interviewers.  If you interview a lot of people, you will learn the signs that tell you a person is right.  If you interview or hire infrequently, you will have to depend on less-intuitive methods and other people to help you.

Some situations may allow you to hire someone for a short-term project or through a temporary agency.  This allows you and the job candidate to work together before making a longer term commitment.

If you work for a company that believes in high quality employees, you should be really enthusiastic about the person you want to hire, not just lukewarm.

Hiring someone just because you are tired of interviewing, because you don't like the process or because you are in a hurry are the worst reasons for hiring someone.  Probably they won't work out and you'll have to fire them or they will quit and you will have to do it all over anyway.  A bad employee is far more damaging that an empty position.  You may have to rework your position requirements or change the places you advertise if you are not getting job applicants that meet your criteria.  

World Wide Web graphic  Internet Resources

See March 2001 article for more resources.

book graphic  Books    -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

  • Hiring the Right People: Guidelines for Screening & Selection of Youth-Serving Professionals and Volunteers. 
  • Quotable Business: Over 2,500 Funny, Irreverent and Insightful Quotations about Corporate Life.  Louis E. Boone.  Random House, New York, NY.  1992  ISBN 0-679-74080-5

world wide web - articles  Articles

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side

Quotes from Quotable Business:

  • Put your personnel work first because it is the most important. .. General Robert Wood (1879-1969), president, Sears Roebuck & Company
  • The person who knows how will always have a job.  The person who know why will always be his boss. .. Diane Ravitsh, American educator
  • First-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire third-rate people.  .. Leo Rosten, American writer
  • If I had learned to type, I never would have made brigadier general. .. Elizabeth Hoisington, brigadier general, US Army
  • The valuable person in any business is the individual who can and will cooperate with others. .. Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), American writer
  • It's not the scarcity of money, but the scarcity of men and talents, which makes a state weak .. Voltaire (1694-1778), French writer
  • Treat people like partners and they act like partners.  .. Fred Allen, chairman, Pitney-Bowes Company
  • Never hire someone who know less than you do about what he's (or she's) hired to do. .. Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990), American publisher
  • You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality. .. Walt Disney (1901-1966), American film producer
  • Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers [Persian post-riders] from the swift accomplishment of their appointed rounds.  .. Herodotus (5th century BC), Greek "father of history" (adopted as the motto of the US Postal Service).
  • Most managers complain about the lack of able people and go outside to fill key positions.  Nonsense ... I use the rule of 50 percent.  Try to find someone inside the company with a record of success (in any area) and with an appetite for the job.  If he looks like 50 percent of what you need, give him the job.  In six months, he'll have grown the other 50 percent and everyone will be satisfied. .. Robert Townsend, American business writer and former president, Avis-Rent-a-Car Inc. 

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