Hire for Success

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Overview

Your employees are one of your business's most valuable assets. Hire quality employees and you increase your chances of satisfying customers with exceptional service and products. Hire poor employees and you face an ongoing battle to remain competitive.

This article focuses on how to hire for success. It begins with a discussion of how to plan for hiring and establish the need for a new employee. It then delves into the recruitment process, including interviewing and advertising the position. Finally, we discuss how to make an effective job offer to be certain that you and your new employee get off to the right start. At the end of this article, you will also find a useful Applicant Evaluation Form.

Outline:
  1. The Hiring Plan
  2. Establish a Need to Hire an Employee
  3. Recruitment
  4. Prospective Candidates
  5. The Interview Process
  6. Job Offer
  7. Applicant Evaluation Form
  8. Resources

The Hiring Plan

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All businesses should have a plan for hiring employees. The plan does not have to be formal, but should include the following:

  • Job descriptions and performance standards for each position, new or established
  • Job application which addresses the following questions: previous employment, education, demographic information, references, and if the applicant has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor
  • A process for prospective applicants to apply and be contacted for an interview.
  • The interview process, including who will perform interviews (owner? supervisor?) and who will make the final hiring decision.
  • Provisions to store all applications for at least one year

A hiring plan can assist you in offering a position to the right candidate the first time and will assist you in developing a database for future hiring.

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Establish a Need to Hire an Employee

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The decision to hire a new employee can be both exciting and tumultuous. The need for an additional employee may mean business is good and growing. On the other hand, a key employee might be leaving or an individual may have been fired. Before committing to hiring an employee, carefully answer the following questions:

  1. Will this position fill a vacant position? If so, why did the last person leave? Knowing the answer might offer insight in the recruitment of a new employee. For example, if the former employee left because there was little advancement opportunity, make sure you hire someone who is not looking for career advancement. If the former employee had a difficult time handling the tasks of the position, identify what key skills that person did not have and what skills the new employee must possess to meet your expectations.
  2. Is this an additional employee in a job classification that already exists (i.e., an additional secretary or receptionist)? If the former employee did a great job, think about their personality and skill set and look for similar qualities in a new applicant.
  3. Is this a new position? If so, is there a job description with defined responsibilities? Who will train the new employee?
  4. Is there an actual need for an additional employee? Has there been an assessment of productivity of existing staff? Is there an overload of work?
  5. Is this position for a full-time or a part-time employee?

Prior to initiating recruitment efforts, it is very important to define the roles and responsibilities of the new employee. Create a detailed job description with performance standards that are objective and measurable.

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Recruitment

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Before beginning the recruitment process, define the most important skills and knowledge you want the future employee to possess:

  • Does the prospective employee need to possess interpersonal skills?
  • Will the applicant be in contact with clients or other employees?
  • Does the person need certain technical skills or educational background?

It is essential to define the characteristics that are most wanted in your new employee. Your goal is to hire the applicant who fits your needs and your company's culture. Think about the competencies that are needed by everyone in your company. Competencies are a set of skills and characteristics required to successfully complete a task or achieve a goal. Ask yourself:

  • What sets my company apart from the competition? What skills are required to ensure that we keep a competitive advantage?
  • What do we do better than anyone else? How do we get our competitive edge?
  • What skills do we have in-house with our existing employees? Do we need to complement or supplement those skills?
  • What skills and characteristics does every employee need to maintain competency in our company?

Asking yourself these questions, in the above order will help you analyze definable skill characteristics an employee must have to positively impact your company.

Next, identify what specific skill sets an employee needs to possess to do the job well. For example, ask yourself:

  • What experience is required in order to be successful in this position?
  • What education or specialized training requirements such as degrees, certificates, technical training are required to do the job successfully?
  • Are there licensing requirements that must be met for this position?
  • What specialized skills are necessary to do this job (e.g., computer software)?
  • What type of learning curve (time required to get up to speed) can you afford?

Once you have a clear idea of the job responsibilities, skills needed, experience, and physical demands of the job, you can begin to recruit and interview. There are many ways to recruit without spending a lot of money. Free or relatively inexpensive sources include:

  • The most inexpensive and most often overlooked method is recruitment from within. Many employers often overlook qualified employees willing and ready to take on new challenges. If the company is big enough, it should have an internal job posting system.
  • Technical schools, high schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions have bulletin boards and in most cases have job placement offices.
  • Community centers and libraries have bulletin boards with listings of available jobs.
  • Friends, neighbors, professional contacts, accountants, bankers, salesmen, and others can have a profound effect on recruitment. Through effective networking with these individuals you may be able to tap into potential applicants.
  • Local professional organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, women’s groups or trade organizations may be able to refer applicants.
  • Public employment services such as the local unemployment office may serve as an additional resource.
  • Customers, vendors, and businesses that are downsizing or going out of business may serve as an additional resource.

In addition to the free recruitment methods, there are many sources you can tap into for advertising positions or attaining assistance with recruitment:

  • Print advertisements. The newspaper (local, regional or national), magazines and consulting publications like Bacon's Magazine Directory are valuable resources. National advertisements for applicants may result in travel expenses.
  • Online recruiting sites. These Web sites have become a widely used recruiting medium. There are numerous sites on the Web, and they are fairly inexpensive to advertise on. An example is Monster.com. Access your favorite search engine and type in "careers" or "jobs" and you will receive a listing of other Web sites servicing this niche.
  • Recruiting firms. Recruiting firms -- "headhunters" -- are available to help employers with the recruitment process. They work under two methods: contingency or retainer. In the case of contingency, the hiring firm pays the recruiter a percentage or some pre-negotiated sum for successfully placing an applicant. In the retainer method, the employer pays a monthly or annual fee for the contracted service of recruitment.

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Prospective Candidates

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Before scheduling the interview, critically analyze the resumes and cover letters to determine if the candidate meets your needs. Does the style and quality of the cover letter and resume represent the style and quality of the individual you want to portray your company?

Analyzing Cover Letters

A cover letter which is copied on poor quality paper creates a poor image. Look for personalized cover letters with the correct titles, addresses and specifics of the position. By assessing the style of writing, you can determine the applicant’s ability to communicate in a written format. The recruited applicant may need to write a letter, memo or facsimile to accompany a bid. Strong written communication skills are essential. Are all components of a cover letter present? It should also meet the following criteria:

  • Concise — no longer than three or four paragraphs
  • Contains an introductory paragraph which explains why the applicant is applying for the position
  • Contains one or two middle paragraphs highlighting accomplishments and experiences
  • Has a closing "take action paragraph," (i.e., the applicant states he or she will be calling to request an interview)
  • Sincere, demonstrating genuine interest
  • Readable and demonstrates correct grammar and spelling; has clear thoughts, avoids repetition, does not repeat the resume
  • Persuasive — the cover letter convinces me that I want to meet the applicant!

Remember, a cover letter can be a screening tool. Does the applicant’s cover letter meet the standard that you want to emulate?

Assessing Resumes

Various types of resumes exist, from chronological to functional. Whatever format the applicant chooses to use, the resume should include the following:

  • Summary of skills, accomplishments, education and work experience
  • Communicates interest in your specific job
  • Serves as an advertisement of the applicant’s skills to a potential employer

If you are inexperienced in evaluating cover letters and resumes or have a large number to evaluate, consider using the pre-interview cover letter and resume evaluation sheet.

Pre-interview Cover Letter and Resume Evaluation Sheet

Cover letter: personalized
Correct letter format
One page, three to four paragraphs
No typos
Introductory paragraph
Body explaining
Concluding action paragraph
Enclosure stated (demonstrates attention to detail)
Resume: one to two pages
Visually attractive and able to scan
Job objective or summary of qualifications
Communicates abilities
No typos
Does not state salary requirements
8.5 x 11-inch resume quality paper
Avoids personal information (e.g., date of birth)
No unexplained time gaps
Text supports the ability to perform job

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The Interview Process

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The interview process can be a difficult one, especially if there are a number of qualified candidates for a particular position. Being the sole interviewer can at times make the process arduous; it is very difficult to be objective after a few interviews. At times it is beneficial to use other employees as part of the interview process. As an owner or person in charge of the hiring, you can always retain the right to make the final decision to hire or not to hire a candidate. Consider a two-day interview, where you invite only those candidates that did well on the first interview to come back for a second interview.

Pre-Screening, The Telephone Interview

Once you have determined which candidates are qualified by their resume, try and contact them on the phone and have a brief conversation about what they are looking for in the position. This will identify any red flags before scheduling a face-to-face meeting. Pre-screening can save you valuable time, enabling you to weed out those individuals who lack strong verbal and communication skills. During the telephone interview ask questions like:

  1. What prompted you to answer the ad?
  2. What kind of working environment are you looking for?
  3. Why are you looking for a new position?

If the candidate appears to be a good match, schedule an interview.

Interviewing

During the interview, keep in mind the old saying, "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior." Although this statement is invaluable to the employee selection process, most business owners base their interview questions on future scenarios or hypothetical questions. Try asking behavior-based questions to help you identify how an applicant will perform when faced with a situation in your company. Behavior questions have three components: situation, behavior and impact.

Situation - Ask applicants to describe specific situations that they have encountered that are similar to those found in your organization (e.g., questions related to securing a new client, luring a client away from the competition, or dealing with an unhappy customer).

Behavior - Ask applicants to tell you in detail what they did in one of the situations described above. Probe for specific examples.

Impact - Ask them how the situation resulted. What was the result of their decisions, actions or strategies?

As you are speaking with the applicant, look for verbal and non-verbal signs that will help you identify the candidate's ability to communicate.

Look for candidates that:



 

Speak articulately
Present themselves professionally both verbally and visually
Have good eye contact
Appear energetic
Have a sense of ease about themselves while speaking
Are optimistic about life in general
Are likable
Have proven that they are self-motivated
Appear to enjoy a challenge
Smile
Appear enthusiastic

When interviewing, avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. You want to use this time to get to know as much as possible about the applicant and his or her communication skills. Use open-ended questions that encourage candidates to provide a broader perspective on their backgrounds, skills, and plans for the future. Some possible questions include:

  • What skills would you bring to our company that other candidates may not have?
  • Why do you want to work for our company?
  • Why are you interested in leaving your present job?
  • Describe your ability in meeting deadlines for projects in your current position.
  • Describe your experiences in working independently on projects.
  • What are you looking for in a new position?
  • Describe a problem which you encountered in your current job. How did you resolve it?
  • How would your customers describe you? Your colleagues? Your boss?
  • From your last, formal performance review, what phrases did your supervisor use to describe your work? What were the areas that needed to be improved? Were there any deficiencies?
  • Will you need additional training to perform the duties of the current position?
  • Where do you hope to be in five years from now?
  • Use situational questions (For instance, say: "You are a receptionist at our facility and there are three customers waiting at the front desk to schedule an appointment. At the same time, your phone rings, and a fourth person, a man, walks up to your desk. He is irate and demands to know why no one is helping him. How do you handle the situation?)
  • Why should we hire you? Or, why are you the best applicant for this position?

Keep in mind that it is better to have five or six good questions than 10 or more vague questions.

Use a second interview to affirm your choice in an applicant and to attain the opinions of others. Avoid discussing anything that could be considered prejudicial (e.g., race, sex, family status, sexual orientation, and physical disability; arrests and criminal charges).

When interviewing more than one applicant for a position, it may be helpful to have an interview sheet with specific questions so you are capable of jotting down a few notes. This will assist you greatly when reviewing applicants. Keep in mind that the responses are not all that is critical. Make note of body language, eye contact, the applicant's preparation for the interview, their questions, self-confidence, enthusiasm, interest and interpersonal skills.

Some interviewing errors that are easy to identify are:

  • Applicant is late
  • Poor eye contact
  • Body language does not portray interest
  • Does not know interviewer's name
  • Unfamiliar with company — applicant did not do his homework
  • Applicant asks about salary
  • Chews gum or asks if she can smoke
  • Not prepared — lack of depth to questions
  • Lacks self-confidence

Checks

Employers should always check references. Reference checks may unveil potential problems in applicants, especially when there are conflicting statements between the applicant and the reference. The applicant can be asked specific questions about the discrepancies. Reference checks may be difficult because many companies avoid providing detailed information regarding the applicant. Start the check by getting factual information verifying employment. From there proceed to more detailed information regarding the applicant’s communication skills, satisfaction of co-workers, supervisor’s satisfaction with performance, ability to meet demands of the job and, most importantly, the company’s willingness to rehire.

Keep in mind that applicants not hired may sue their current or prior employer for giving a defaming reference. If you are the new employer, you may sue your new hire's prior employer for giving positive or complimentary inaccurate information on the reference check when the new hire demonstrates problems in their new performance. Remember that a reference check may be valuable in giving you critical information, but it is subjective. Information gathered from all references should be compared for similarities. One negative reference check may demonstrate a poor interpersonal relationship.

Hiring an employee can be a stressful task. A wrong hire is costly, disruptive, difficult for other staff members, and stressful for the employer. Before making a decision to hire an applicant, get all of the applicant’s information in order. Gather and review all information for your top candidates.

As you review the applicant’s information, think about the skills that are critical for the job. If you think a second interview would be of benefit, ask the top applicants to come back.

Involve other employees in the interview process. It can be enlightening to see the disparity between the information disclosed to a potential co-worker and to the potential supervisor. Valuable insight can be attained from these employees about prospective candidates.

Do not hire an applicant just to hire — find the right match. At times you will encounter an applicant with all the right skills but the candidate's personality may not mesh with your business’s culture.

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Job Offer

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After you make a verbal job offer and the applicant accepts the offer, write a formal letter offering the applicant the job. Be sure to include a copy of the job description, the work hours, start date, length of probationary period and an orientation schedule. If you are including clauses like a non-compete clause and a letter of agreement to be signed by both the employee and the employer, you should have your attorney review or draft the letter.

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Applicant Evaluation Form

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To assist you in your decision, consider using the following. Answer questions yes/no as indicated or use this scale:

5 = Very Good
4 = Good
3 = Ambivalent
2 = Poor
1 = Very Poor

LA candidate with scores of 4s and 5s is the one you want to hire. The candidate scoring 1s and 2s is the one you want to avoid!

Please be aware that use of this form has not been validated and should be customized to meet your company’s needs.

Analyzing cover letters:
Concise, no longer than the three or four paragraphs  1 2 3 4 5
Correct Letter Format 1 2 3 4 5
Introductory Paragraph, explains why applying 1 2 3 4 5
1-2 Middle Paragraphs (accomplishments, experiences)  1 2 3 4 5
Closing, Take Action Paragraph (requests interview)  1 2 3 4 5
Closing, Take Action Paragraph (requests interview)  1 2 3 4 5
Sincere, Demonstrates Genuine Interest 1 2 3 4 5
Readable, Correct Grammar and Spelling 1 2 3 4 5
Persuasive (convinces me I want to meet him/her 1 2 3 4 5
Enclosure is Denoted (if resume included) 1 2 3 4 5
Visually Attractive, Quality Paper 1 2 3 4 5
Conveys the Standard Company wants to Emulate 1 2 3 4 5
Assessing Resumes:
Summary of Skills, Accomplishments 1 2 3 4 5
Education Described 1 2 3 4 5
Work Experience Summarized (without gaps) 1 2 3 4 5
Avoids Personal Information (date of birth) 1 2 3 4 5
Pre-Screening / Telephone Interview: 
Summary of Skills, Accomplishments 1 2 3 4 5
Clear Thought Processes in Answering the Following: 
What prompted you to answer the ad? 1 2 3 4 5
What kind of work environment are you looking for? 1 2 3 4 5
Why are you looking for a new position? 1 2 3 4 5
Other:___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
Notes:____________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ 
The Interview:
Demonstrates the following Effective Characteristics: 
Speaks Articulately 1 2 3 4 5
Eye Contact - Good 1 2 3 4 5
Body Language Portrays Interest 1 2 3 4 5
Energetic 1 2 3 4 5
Sense of Ease 1 2 3 4 5
Optimistic 1 2 3 4 5
Likable 1 2 3 4 5
Smile 1 2 3 4 5
Enthusiastic 1 2 3 4 5
When Answering Questions Look For: 
Proof Self-Motivated 1 2 3 4 5
Enjoys a Challenge 1 2 3 4 5
Clear Thought Processes in Answering the Following: 
What skills do you bring... that others don’t?  1 2 3 4 5
Why do you want to work for our company?  1 2 3 4 5
Why are you leaving your present job?  1 2 3 4 5
What are you looking for in a new job?  1 2 3 4 5
Growth areas identified from a recent evaluation?  1 2 3 4 5
Need for additional training?  1 2 3 4 5
5 Year Goals?  1 2 3 4 5
Situational ?s:________________________________  1 2 3 4 5
Situational ?s:________________________________  1 2 3 4 5
Situational ?s:________________________________  1 2 3 4 5
Applicant Prepared with Questions (with depth)  Yes No
Major Faux Pas 
Applicant Late Yes No
Gets Lost Finding Facility Yes No
Does Not Know Interviewer's Name Yes No
Unfamiliar with Company Yes No
Asks about Salary Yes No
Chews Gum or Asks about Smoking Yes No
Notes:____________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________
Following the Interview:
Sends a Thank You Letter Yes No
Second Interview:
Opinion of Others (person _____________________) 1 2 3 4 5
Initial Opinion Affirmed Yes No
Notes:____________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ 
Reference Checks:
Reference Professional:_____________________________(name) 
Verification of Factual Information  Yes No
Applicant’s Communication Skills Yes No
Relationship with Co-Workers Yes No
Supervisor’s Satisfaction Yes No
Ability to Perform Job Well Yes No
Willingness to Rehire Yes No
Other:____________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
Notes:_____________________________________________ __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ 
Reference Professional:_____________________________(name) 
Verification of Factual Information  Yes No
Applicant’s Communication Skills Yes No
Relationship with Co-Workers Yes No
Supervisor’s Satisfaction Yes No
Ability to Perform Job Well Yes No
Willingness to Rehire Yes No
Other:____________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
Notes:_____________________________________________ __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ 
Reference Professional:_____________________________(name) 
Verification of Factual Information  Yes No
Applicant’s Communication Skills Yes No
Relationship with Co-Workers Yes No
Supervisor’s Satisfaction Yes No
Ability to Perform Job Well Yes No
Willingness to Rehire Yes No
Other:____________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
Notes:_____________________________________________ __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ 

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Resources

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Books

Bob Adams, "Adams Streetwise Hiring Top Performers" (Adams Media, 1997)

W. Frank, "200 Letters for Job Hunters" (Ten Speed Press, 1990)

Pierre Mornell, "45 Effective Ways for Hiring Smart" (Ten Speed Press, 1998)

Del J. Still, "High Impact Hiring" (Management Development Systems, 1997)


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