Is There a Recipe for Hiring Success? – Originally Published in MM&D

OCCASIONALLY I like to cook. When I pull out a favourite recipe or search for one from a great website, I am virtually guaranteed success if I follow it carefully. If only hiring new employees was so straightforward! Unfortunately, even with a highly disciplined process in place, we all know we cannot guarantee hiring success. That said, we can certainly focus on some key areas to greatly improve results.

As a recruiter working within the supply chain vertical, I’m deeply involved in the hiring process with a wide variety of clients. Our clients range in size from small companies, with just a few employees, to multinationals, and the processes that we see range just as greatly. Interestingly, I’ve learned just as much from some of our smaller clients about a well-tuned hiring process as I have from companies with thousands of employees. There isn’t enough room in this column to cover every piece of the process, but I will highlight those that I believe make the biggest impact.

Clear Job Description

First and foremost, a clear and concise job description must be in place. As they say, if you don’t know where you’re going, you are sure to get there. If the job description is missing or vague, you’re already going down the wrong path. It is absolutely worth all the time and effort it takes to gather the people within your organization who are required to nail down exactly what the expectations are for a job for which you’re hiring. Because organizations are fluid, job descriptions must be current to stay relevant. At the same time, the job description must be realistic. Many times I’ve encountered four-page descriptions of jobs that literally no human being could accomplish. This is just as futile as having no description at all. Realistic and attainable are the words to measure by.

Sourcing Decision

Second, a decision on how to source outstanding candidates must be made. We’ve all heard that people are the most important asset in an organization. It’s absolutely true. What amazes me is how often this is just lip service, as opposed to a strategic decision with respect to sourcing potential employees. To be sure, sourcing can be an expense. Whether the company chooses to advertise, use one of the many available tools such as LinkedIn, or employ a recruiter, the decision needs to be made with a long-term view in mind. Occasionally, companies that are particularly well networked can source employees without stepping outside the organization. It’s great when it works, but I’ve often seen a very short-term view taken in such circumstances, causing the candidate pool to suffer greatly in terms of both quality and quantity.

Just a quick word on the distinct differences between posting a position on a job-related site and using a professional recruiter. Unfortunately, posting a position does not prevent multitudes of unqualified people from applying. Twenty years ago, a newspaper advertisement would generate the same quantity of unqualified candidates. After all, there is simply no downside for people to apply. Of course, the result is that someone in your organization has to spend considerable time sorting through résumés.

Perhaps even more importantly, job sites do not tap into the passive network of outstanding people. Typically, the best people are highly engaged in their careers and require a personal approach in order to be interested in a new opportunity. In the recruiting business, we think of it as concierge-style service. As an example, if you were in New York City and wanted to take your best client to an outstanding restaurant, years ago you might have grabbed the Yellow Pages and found hundreds of restaurants. In today’s world, you could search the Web. But if you truly wanted to provide a guaranteed-memorable experience, you would talk to the concierge at an excellent hotel. That’s the value in a well-established network.

The Right Interview

When it comes to interviewing, there are a few key areas that will bring success to the hiring process. First, embrace the idea of panel interviews, because several viewpoints make for better hiring decisions. The panel style gives the interviewers a chance to reflect, take notes and formulate better questions as they participate in the interview. Further, a behavioural interview is the best way to validate the candidate’s previous achievements and whether or not their skill set lines up with the position description. As we all know, résumés can make big claims that need to be validated and clarified with open-ended questions. This is the most important part of the interview; the candidate’s ability to clearly back up what their résumé says is critical.

I gained an important piece of advice from a long-time mentor many years ago. The advice goes like this: We all enter into interviews with stereotypes and preconceived ideas. The first few minutes of an interview can often determine where things will
go. With that in mind, we all need to be very aware of what our initial reactions are to a candidate. If we find ourselves feeling negative from the beginning, it’s important to relax somewhat on the early questions in the interview. In other words, give the person a chance to recover from whatever negativity you are experiencing. You may find yourself feeling quite differently 10 to 15 minutes into the meeting. It’s just as important to caution yourself on the other side of the spectrum. If you find yourself saying, “Fantastic. This is the right person” within just a few minutes, you need to be very determined to pursue key questions and guard against waltzing the person right into the job.

Cultural Fit

Finally, a few words on cultural fit. It’s critical to understand that résumés, skill sets and previous experience are important. But just as important is an individual’s ability to fit within your company’s culture. This is the number-one area on which I focus as a recruiter. With a broad range of clients and an equally broad variety of cultures, it is essential to focus on the right match. This is where an honest assessment of company culture is so important. If you know your culture is particularly demanding, with high pressure, long hours and so on, you need to own that and be clear with potential candidates. Disaster is waiting if the truth isn’t revealed at this point.

Art and Science

It’s important to remember that hiring isn’t an exact science, and there is no perfect recipe. That said, when we successfully match the science of a well-developed process with the art of interviewing to carefully select the right people, we can greatly influence the outcome in a positive way. When we do this, our actions match our words and we place the proper importance on ensuring that people truly are the most important asset in the business.

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