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How to Make the Right Hiring Decision

A woman is talking to another woman in an office.

Having an open position to fill can be equal parts exciting and stressful for managers.

Hiring a new employee can be an opportunity to bring new energy to the team, but it can also bring turmoil if the wrong person is hired, said Mary Olson-Menzel, president and founder of MVP Executive Search and Development in New York City. Nearly 3 in 4 employers (74 percent) said they've hired the wrong person for a position, according to a CareerBuilder survey.

The best way to make the right hiring decision is to put in the time upfront thinking through the job description and common traits of successful team members as well as defining the company culture before the position is even advertised. It takes effort to find the right candidate. "You do have to talk with quite a few people to get that diamond," Olson-Menzel said. For an executive position, she typically will screen 200 resumes, have 40 phone conversations, narrow it down to 10 to 15 candidates and interview no more than eight applicants.

Here are some steps that can lead to the right candidate.

Review the Job Description

Before you even advertise an open position, make sure the job description is accurate. One of the biggest mistakes managers make is recycling an old job description and not taking into account how the department has changed and grown since it was written, Olson-Menzel said. Managers also need to consider the chemistry of the current team and think about the team's strengths and weaknesses. "Bring on someone who will help the team grow," she said.

Define what qualities made the last person to hold that job successful, said Lynne Curry, president of Communication Works Inc. in Anchorage, Alaska. Often it's not just technical skills that set an employee apart, but also soft skills like their temperament, their ability to work collaboratively and the way they handle conflict.

Carefully Consider Resumes

While many companies use an applicant tracking system, it's important to ensure that system is using the proper keywords to flag resumes. Work with HR to make sure you are getting the best results.

Create a list of criteria for the job and rate each resume based on those specific attributes. For instance, if one of the qualities that sets the incumbent employee apart is her ability to work across departments, make sure that skill is reflected in an applicant's resume before requesting an interview, Curry suggested.

Don't passively wait for people to apply for the position, Olson-Menzel said. Consider developing a list of target companies you would like to hire someone from. Look for companies with similar workplace cultures, or, if your company has already hired someone from another company who transitioned smoothly into the job and is excelling, consider reaching out to other employees at that company who might be a good fit.

Employee referrals are another good source of potential job candidates. "If you have another professional on the team who is knocking it out of the park, ask them if there is anyone else from their former company who might be interested in a new opportunity," Olson-Menzel said.

Winnow the List

Experts agree that it's best to limit the number of face-to-face interviews to no more than eight candidates. "You will wear yourself out scheduling 20 or more interviews and have all the candidates blur in your mind," Curry said.

Before scheduling a face-to-face interview, Curry will ask candidates to fill out a 10-question survey that asks why the applicant is looking for a new opportunity, what criteria he or she would use to decide between two positions, and other open-ended questions that can be answered in a sentence or two. "Asking them to fill out the questionnaire saves a lot of time," she said. "We can read their responses in five minutes and decide if this is the right candidate to interview."

Another way to prune the candidate list is to conduct a 10- to 20-minute phone interview with the best applicants, asking them to walk the interviewer through their resume. "Have the candidate start at the beginning of their career," Olson-Menzel said. "People like to start at the present and work backward, but that doesn't give you as much color around why they made a specific move or why they picked a specific company to work for."

Interview with Intention

Put together a list of strategic questions that cover characteristics important to the job—for example, leadership, initiative and collaboration—and then divide the questions up among the people who will be interviewing the candidate, Olson-Menzel said.

Make sure the applicant's responses square with the answers given during the phone interview. For instance, if an applicant claims he isn't affected by stress, but during a phone interview he said he was seeking a new job because of pressure from a manager, ask a follow-up question about the difference between stress and pressure, Curry said. "One answer alone doesn't rule someone out, but a series of bad answers might rule them out," she said.

Parse Out Two Equal Candidates

If two candidates seem equally qualified for the job, Olson-Menzel recommends checking their references. "Nine out of 10 times, a reference check will give you the nuances," Olson-Menzel said. If the applicants still seem equal, consider giving them a small project to work on with the team to evaluate how they would fit in, she said. Check with HR to make sure you do this appropriately.

Common Hiring Mistakes to Avoid

The most common mistake managers make is either trying to hire a candidate too quickly or taking too much time to make a decision, Olson-Menzel said. "At a certain point, the data and your intuition must come together to make an educated decision," she said. "Even if you need the position filled immediately, don't rush a hiring decision but also don't let it drag on."

If it's going to take time to get approval to make a hiring decision, be upfront about it with the applicant, said Heidi Parsont, CEO and founder of TorchLight Hire in Alexandria, Va. Candidates lose interest in positions when hiring managers don't share feedback or a timeline, she said.

Another pitfall is not being honest with the candidate about the position. If the candidate's salary requirement is $75,000 but the position only pays $50,000, or if the position doesn't offer a path for advancement, it's important to address that in the interview, Parsont said. "There's no need to address it in the first interview, but it needs to be discussed at some point," she said. "If you sugarcoat too much, you won't find a candidate who's going to stay."

Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.


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