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,
Hiring 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. Dot.com 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.
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
- How much initiative and/or leadership
- How they dealt with problems and
- What new ideas, products or innovations
they contributed. What they learned from each that helped them in
- 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
- 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
- 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
Explain the product or service your company offers, its history,
market strategy and how the job described fits into the overall scheme
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
- 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
- What initiative the candidate took in
preparing for the interview and for a possible position with your
- 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
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
Ask about decision-making and
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
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
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
- 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,
- 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).
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
- 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
- How well they work with various types of people in
different organizations. This indicates tolerance, adaptability and
- How available the applicant is for overtime, travel and/or
- 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
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
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
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
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.
See March 2001 article for more resources.
- Hiring the Right People: Guidelines for Screening & Selection of Youth-Serving
Professionals and Volunteers. http://www.nssc1.org/books/book11.htm
- 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
Quotes from Quotable Business:
- Put your personnel work first because it is the most important. ..
General Robert Wood (1879-1969), president, Sears Roebuck &
- 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),
- It's not the scarcity of money, but the scarcity of men and
talents, which makes a state weak .. Voltaire (1694-1778), French
- 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
- 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
- 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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