Q: I am a small-business owner and am getting ready to hire at least five new people. I want to make sure that in addition to hiring the most qualified workers, I find folks who will fit into our corporate culture. What steps can I take to ensure I bring in the best people for my business?
A: When I read your question, I immediately thought of the manufacturing company I consulted with years ago. There were 90 employees in one department, and 150 of them left within one year. At first, you might say that's impossible, but when you look deeper, you understand that conditions were so bad that almost every new hire left within a year. When the CEO asked me how to decrease the wrenching turnover, I simply told him to hire better candidates.
So how do you hire better candidates? And why do so many companies make mistakes in this area? The simple answer is that they weren't trained in the art and science of hiring human beings.
Here are some chief reasons for why new hires are frequently misfires. First, knowingly or not, many interviewers are biased. The reason you like someone or something is rarely based on rational thought; instead, it's based on, "Well, I just prefer it this way." With candidates, you may like the way they look, smile, dress, act or speak. Or they may remind you of yourself or someone you like. They may have interests like yours or know people whom you know.
Or, they may be good at one or two aspects of a job, and you eagerly assume or want to believe that they will be effective at other aspects. You may accept as honest and true something a reference said about the candidate. But keep in mind it would be highly unlikely for a candidate to offer the name of a reference who would not offer positive information.
There are, of course, key methods for avoiding biases and making successful hiring decisions. First, identify the most important knowledge areas, skills and abilities the ideal candidate should possess. Human resources people call these "factors." Next, create the same specific questions that you will ask of all candidates that will clearly and behaviorally demonstrate to you that they have these critical factors. But don't simply accept the candidate's word that he or she possesses a certain skill or knowledge base. Ask that person to demonstrate the skill, solve a problem, or write or create something that clearly and concretely provides you with the proof you need to make an informed decision.
Next, ask specific and measurable questions of the candidate. If you ask if this person considers himself a success or a failure, do not simply accept a yes or no response. Probe for specific examples of both successes and failures. The latter is especially rich in response material because you can then ask what the person could have done to turn the failure into a success. In the process, you are observing how the candidate analyzes situations, how rationally or logically the situation is presented, and whether or not, to the best of your judgment, the person is trying to cover something up or lie.
To ensure that you understand the individual as well as possible, involve one or two other interviewers in this process. In that way, you can all share your insights and impressions of the candidate. Furthermore, one interviewer can add an aspect to a question that another one may have overlooked. Two or three heads are often better than one.
Finally, make sure you know enough about a candidate before you hire that person, and never, ever hire even a moderately qualified person just because you need someone now. That rushed hire will likely become problematic. And you know how long and painful it can be to terminate someone and advertise, screen, interview and hire another person. So take your time and make sure you have the best person possible for every position. You and your company will be pleased with the results.
Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.