From the July 2000 issue of Startups

Think back to the last time you hired an employee. A little stressful maybe? (Am I asking the right questions? Can I trust my instincts about this person? Can she do the job? Will he fit in here?) Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain. We talked with Lou Adler, founder of CJA-The Adler Group, an executive search and organizational consulting firm in Tustin, California, to find out how to make the process less scary and raise the caliber of potential hires. He's also founder and president of POWERHiring.com Inc., an Internet recruiting firm, so he's road-tested his tips well. Through his Web site, Adler gives managers all the tools they need to make a smart hiring decision. And in his book, Hire With Your Head: A Rational Way To Make A Gut Decision (Wiley & Sons, $29.95, 800-225-5945), Adler describes the most common mistakes people make when hiring. Here's his advice for getting the best candidates:

  • Define superior performance. Before you go out looking for that perfect candidate, have a clear picture of what the job entails. Be specific about what would differentiate an average candidate from a superior candidate. Developing a clear set of "deliverables" can make it easier to ask pointed questions and get specific examples of how the candidate will perform the necessary tasks.
  • Write a great ad. Top candidates respond to compelling ads. First, you need a catchy title. Second, the body of the ad should concentrate on what the candidate will do-not what they need to have. For example, don't say "Needs three years of job experience." Say "Use your three years of job experience in developing a state-of-the-art Web business-to-business solution." Says Adler, "Focus on what the person is going to become, not where they've been."
  • Don't make emotional decisions. Many interviewers make hiring decisions based on superficial first impressions, says Adler. But how do you silence that inner voice? First determine if the candidate can do the job, then determine if you like the person. "Implement that emotional control151don't make a decision until 30 minutes after the start of the interview," directs Adler. That way, you've had time to ask real questions and learn something more about the person than how they look in a suit.
  • Regulate the panel. "Panel interviews are a great technique," says Adler, "But only one or two people can lead the discussion. Everyone else has to ask follow-up questions that follow a thread." Paint a word picture of the candidate's accomplishments. Get hard evidence of what they've done and how it relates to the job for which you're hiring. Without that information, the different opinions and biases of the panel members will color the choice. "If the accomplishments are comparable to the job needs, you've got it. If they're not, you don't hire that person," says Adler.
  • Take the time. To really get to know a candidate, be prepared to spend at least half an hour with them-you can't do it in 10 or 15 minutes. With any candidate you are seriously considering, spend one or two hours. "There's this internal conflict," says Adler. "It's like 'Well, I really don't want to be here. I don't want to waste the time.' [But] you're wasting time making a quick decision. You're not wasting time [going through] the analytical process."
  • Don't oversell the job. You want to attract the best candidates, but you don't want to cheapen the job by sounding desperate. "Create a compelling vision of the job by a sophisticated interviewing process," says Adler. Show them your company is a cool place to work. Candidates will see the job as valuable, and they'll sell you.
  • Hiring may not be your favorite thing in the world, or anyone's for that matter, but if you follow a simple step-by-step process, it can be easier. Break it down to the essentials. Says Adler, "I tell people 'Write great ads, wait 30 minutes and get lots of examples of accomplishments, and you've got your whole interviewing and sourcing program down pat.' "