Featured Article – 2012 December

Tip Sheet

  • Define job requirements carefully.
  • Look for repeated patterns of success in the candidates’ background.
  • Look beyond the resume and consider each candidate’s network in your assessment.
  • Use your own professional network to search for prospects who might not be actively seeking a new position now.
  • Find, and use, a recruiting platform that lets you prescreen candidates before the interviewing begins.
  • Do not settle. Wait until you are fully confident you have the right candidate.

6 Steps to Hiring Success

By Mill Brown

Building your business team is a process that never ends. Whether your roster is growing or is stable, it is inevitable that you will have positions to fill.

With each opening, you will have questions to ponder: Youth or experience? A steady hand or an outside-the-box thinker? An independent self-starter or a collaborative team player?

All too often, we try to fill vacancies quickly, relying on a job description drawn up by the employee who is being replaced. We worry that operations will suffer if we leave the position open for too long, and the rush to find a replacement overtakes the true need — finding the person with the talent and personality to help move the business forward.

Before racing down the hiring highway, put on the brakes and consider what a couple of experts have to say.

“The old adage ‘people are your most important asset’ turns out to be wrong,” says management consultant Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”

“Nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people,” retired Honeywell International CEO Larry Bossidy observes. “At the end of the day you bet on people, not strategies.”

The message from Collins and Bossidy is clear: to keep your business growing, you have to hire the right people and put them in the right positions.

If you have been burned before, successful hiring can seem like a daunting task, but here is a six-step guide to doing it well.

  • Define job requirements carefully.
  • Look for repeated patterns of success in the candidates’ background.
  • Look beyond the resume and consider each candidate’s network in your assessment.
  • Use your own professional network to search for prospects who might not be actively seeking a new position now.
  • Find, and use, a recruiting platform that lets you prescreen candidates before the interviewing begins.
  • Do not settle. Wait until you are fully confident you have the right candidate.

Let’s look at each of these steps.

How you define the job requirements is critical because that will define the rest of your search. Consider not only the skills and knowledge that are essential to performing the job (these are items that can be ascertained in reviewing resumes) but also the character and personality traits a candidate should have both for the position and within your organization. Keep in mind, for example, that a highly qualified candidate who has had great success managing in a hierarchical environment might not fare as well in a company that puts a premium on collaboration.

Your job description should include a reference to strategic thinking, the ability to identify and solve problems and to conceive of new processes and products. Keep in mind that you probably do not want the person you hire to be sitting in the same seat three years from now; you will want that new hire to grow into positions of greater responsibility.

To identify repeated patterns of success, review not only accomplishments in previous jobs but also whether candidates have demonstrated leadership elsewhere, either in professional organizations, community service or on clubs or teams while in college.

In addition to reviewing each candidate’s resume, check their networks as well. Online networking tools such as LinkedIn and internet searches can provide background on who they know and their affiliations. Review what you find with an open mind. If a candidate appears to be a loner, that’s not necessarily a negative, especially if you are filling a slot that requires lots of technical expertise and little in the way of social interaction.

Your own network can be powerful recruiting tools. Put the word out. Ask other executives if they are aware of someone who might be a good fit for your position. Remember, people who are excelling in their jobs and have the respect of those they work for might not be active in the job market. Just because they are not looking, however, does not mean that you cannot find them.

One of the best ways to narrow the field is to use the tools available through recruiting platforms. You have probably heard of some of them—DISC, Meyer-Briggs, Top Performer Profile and HBDI, for example. Each one works differently but what they have in common is the ability to determine how well a candidate’s personal characteristics match up with the characteristics of those who are typically successful in a specific type of job.

Perform a preliminary screening by reviewing resumes and talking to prospects over the phone. Then arrange to have the candidates who interest you most complete one of the recruiting profiles.

Some of these screening tools can be used online, while others require you to hire a consultant to administer the test. They can cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on their complexity and the related services provided (such as recruiting, test administration and results analysis). No matter what the price, these screening tools can prove to be a bargain if they help you to hire someone who fits well with your business, performs at a high level and stays with you for the long haul.

After seeing the analyses of how your candidates responded to the screening tools, you can proceed with confidence to the interview stage. Interviewing itself is a complex topic, but the key point to remember is that the candidate is the star and you are the director. Ask questions, lead the way, and see how the candidate performs.

With your interviews concluded, make sure that you do not settle for the best candidate “available at the time.” If you are not completely confident that your top candidate has all the needed skills and will fit into your work environment, do not make an offer.  Go back to the screening tool and keep looking. When you get the right candidate for the job, your business will be stronger and you will be happier.

To provide another perspective on hiring issues, we talked with Jim Lucas, a business coach with Vistage International , management consultant and former banking executive. Here’s what he had to say:

Leaders of small to mid-size businesses are under tremendous pressure when management vacancies occur. Big companies often have a long bench full of candidates ready to step in. Smaller companies often must look outside their ranks and CEO feel compelled to fill the hole quickly.

A mistaken desire to keep positions filled leads to the biggest mistakes in personnel decisions: hiring too fast and firing too slow. The best-run businesses hire slow and fire fast, making sure they choose the right candidate and cutting their losses quickly when they realize they have made a mistake.

When my clients have a key vacancy to fill, I urge them to work with their management team to review their business plan and create a “success management snapshot” that delineates precisely what you want your new hire to accomplish in 30, 60, 90 and 120 days. Think of it as a “job description on steroids.”

With this approach, everyone on your management team will be on the same page when evaluating applicants. Also, your job candidates will not only provide you with a resume that tells what they have already accomplished, but they must describe how they would accomplish the goals you are setting out for them.

In screening candidates, you must rely on a combination of three factors: metrics, observations and profiles. Metrics consists of what you can measure, like the accomplishments listed on a resume. Observations are what you and your team see in interviews, and what you learn from former employers and others who know the candidates. Profiles are the computer-based evaluation tools offered through the various recruiting platforms.

The profiles I prefer, which include the well-known DISC as well as its associated VALUES tool, which measures motivational factors, help determine how the characteristics of your job candidates match up with those who have been successful in comparable positions. It will also give strong clues about each candidate’s communications style — and that can be an invaluable in determining how each candidate will interact with other key members of your team.

(If you are going to use a profile like DISC to screen candidates, a best practice recommended by human resources professionals is to give the same profiles to others on your team so you can establish a baseline that correlates with the performance you have been observing in your workplace.)

I recommend that you review your candidates’ resumes, conduct some screening interviews by phone (you can delegate this to someone on your team), and then select who will move to the next round.  Have them take the profiles online, and then review the results. Remember, any profile you use has no right or wrong answers. It just shows you the candidate’s characteristics. But you can use what you learn from the profile to better understand the candidate and to determine what you should be asking about during your in-person interviews. If you understand a candidate’s personality, values and characteristics beforehand, you will be able to dig deeper during the interview.

When you’re hiring candidates for a position that pays in the six figures, or nearly so, spending the equivalent of 1 or 2 percent of the first year’s salary on the profiles for a group of candidates is a small investment that will significantly improve your chances of making the right choice.

Keep in mind, however, that you must not overestimate the value of these profiling tools. Think of your hiring review as the proverbial three-legged stool, with metrics, observations and profiles as the legs. If you use all three, and keep them in balance, your performance in making hiring decisions is almost certain to improve.