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Hiring from the Outside: Strategies for Hiring Managers

It's a good feeling when you're in a position to hire someone new, since it probably means your business is on the upswing. If you've looked at internal candidates and have made the decision to bring in someone from the outside, there are some guidelines that will help you hire the right person for the job.

Before you begin, it's important to think about your past hiring track record to determine if you have any blind spots that could prevent you from hiring the best candidate. Do you have a tendency to become overly impressed by someone's credentials or how smoothly he or she handles interviews? Or are you perhaps you too critical, with the attitude that no one is able to live up to your exacting standards? Or have you put off making a hiring decision for fear of making a mistake?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you're not alone. Bad hires are surprisingly common. Even highly experienced leaders make bad hiring decisions—and they are costly mistakes. Exceptional qualifications, strong interview skills and glowing references will not ensure you hire the right person.

Consider the case of Jay, the CEO of a specialty-staffing firm who hired a new COO from the outside. "The candidate was outgoing in all of the interviews--personable, easy to talk to and seemed bright and articulate," said Jay. "Her references were outstanding and her resume was spotless. But after we hired her and she had to present to our clients, she clammed up, and time after time she appeared completely awkward and even phobic in client situations. It was like we had interviewed someone else."

The following hiring checklist will help you reduce the risk of making bad hiring decisions:
  1. Define the job so well that it's easily explainable to anyone. Take the time to clarify reporting relationships and responsibilities.  Carefully describe the level of autonomy/supervision the role requires, make decisions about compensation and be specific about the goals the candidate will have to achieve to be successful in the position.
  2. Create a profile of the ideal candidate. Imagine you could go to central casting. How would you describe the perfect candidate for the job? Think about the professional characteristics that are most important.  Consider what the person's presentation skills should be.  Will he or she fit in with your team, or does your organization need someone with a different approach that will help shake things up?
  3. Don’t compromise. In the course of the search, you may find someone who seems solid yet lacks some key attributes for the job. You may be tempted, as time passes and the job remains open, to make do with that person. However, keep in mind that a bad hire is worse than no hire, as it may actually impede the organization’s productivity. Keep searching until you find the best person for the job.
  4. Develop a balance sheet. As the interviewing and reference checking process continues, create a document for each candidate that includes all of the person's professional assets, liabilities, areas for growth and areas that need development.
  5. Network. Beyond formal references, tap your network to learn more about the front-runner candidate(s). Do you know anyone who knows them? Can you contact vendors, suppliers and consultants to gather informal "off the record" feedback? Keep in mind, however, that everyone has an agenda, so make sure the person you go to for information doesn’t have an ulterior motive to either laud or trash your candidate.
  6. Try before you buy. Arrange a situation that allows you to work with your chosen candidate before you make a hiring decision. Consider bringing the person on board as a contractor for three months. No matter how well someone interviews or how well his or her references check out, the on-the-job reality is usually different from the picture painted during the hiring process. By arranging a trial period you will increase the likelihood of long-term success.

In today’s competitive world of business, no organization can risk the expense and productivity drain that a bad hire brings. You’ll find that the time and energy you spend finding just the right person for the job will pay off for all the parties involved.