Thomas Edison had an unusual way of hiring his engineers. He’d hold up a lightbulb and ask the candidate how much water it would hold. Some candidates used gauges, measurements, and scientific calculations to determine the answer. Others simply filled the bulb with water and then poured the contents into a measuring cup. Which candidates got the job? The ones who used the simple approach—filling the bulb with water. Develop an “Edison Test” for your business.
The Hiring Process
Once you have determined the type of individual you want to add to your team, have written the job description, and have decided on a salary range, you begin the search. Where do you go to find the people to help you realize your business vision?
The best place to start is within your own business network. Reach out to others whom you respect and let them know you are searching for a qualified candidate. Many business owners and managers are finding themselves in the difficult position of laying off good employees, and they would welcome the opportunity to refer those people whenever possible. (However, keep in mind the importance of identifying a candidate who has entrepreneurial experience or mindset.)
Additionally, almost all businesspeople have friends and former colleagues who are in the process of a job search. For me, networking has always proven to be the best way to find high-quality individuals.
Staffing agencies, although more expensive, can be well worth the money. Typically, you pay a staffing agency a percentage of the employee’s first-year annual salary. However, just as with a temporary staffing agency, they will help you refine the job description, establish a fair-market salary range, prescreen all candidates, conduct testing, and undertake the necessary background and reference checks. If you’ve never had any experience hiring employees, a staffing agency could be a smart way to go.
Hire the Best Candidate, Not the Best Job Seeker
In the quest to find the most talented employees, many business owners wind up with the most talented job seekers instead. Choosing the wrong applicant can be a costly mistake. While there is no method of hiring that guarantees you’ll get it right every time, there are things you can do to minimize mistakes:
- Brush up on your interviewing skills. An interview requires a considerable amount of preparation. Don’t “wing it,” and don’t ask standard textbook questions. Think about what it is you want to accomplish during the interview. What types of information would be helpful to you in evaluating a candidate’s ability to do the job?
- Use an evaluation sheet. If you’re going to be interviewing multiple candidates, record your impressions on an evaluation sheet. This will help you measure each candidate by the same criteria, and it will also help you keep the individuals straight in your mind. I don’t know about you, but after a few interviews, particularly if they are on the same day, I can get confused about who said what.
- Look beyond the résumé. Try not to go through a reiteration of the candidate’s résumé. You already have that on hand and can verify any of the information provided. What you need to find out is what makes the job applicant tick, and whether or not she or he is going to be the right fit for your business.
- Ask open-ended questions. Ask questions that solicit fuller responses. Take notes. Avoid the temptation to do all the talking. You want to learn about the individual. Ask what he or she liked most and/or least about the previous working environment. Find out about the person’s accomplishments. Present a typical business situation the candidate would encounter with your firm and ask how he or she would handle it.
- Assess character. One of the keys to finding the right employee is to identify who is a good fit for your company culture. The most talented individual in the world will cause serious problems for your business if he or she isn’t the right fit, character-wise. Skills can be taught, but you can’t change someone’s personality and character.
The Situational Interview
Situational interviews can help you to move beyond the résumé and get a better sense of the candidate’s true abilities. If left to frame their own responses to your questions, people can spin their qualifications in a way that doesn’t accurately portray how they would really perform on the job. A situational interview, however, is like a work-related test. Research shows that situational interviews are about 50 percent more effective than traditional interviews and more predictive of future success on the job. However, since they do involve more work for the candidate, don’t use them unless you are serious about him or her.
What’s a situational interview? It’s best understood with an example. Say a public relations firm is looking for a new hire. They might ask the potential employee to role-play a client meeting or write a press release. Or they might create a case study of a typical situation the employee might encounter on the job and ask what steps he or she would take to manage it.
Make sure the framework you use for the situational interview closely matches the exact job requirements. To the best of your ability, establish objective judging criteria in advance of the interview. If you have other staff members who’ll be working with the new employee, ask them to meet the candidate and provide input for evaluation, too.
The Interview Boundaries
Familiarize yourself with what are deemed inappropriate and/or illegal interview questions. Questions relating to marital status, age, religious or political affiliation, and so on, are off limits. A potential employer cannot discuss these matters, even indirectly. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers interview guidelines (www.eeoc.gov). If you are still unsure of the boundaries, and know someone who is a human resources professional, he or she would be a good reference, too. Don’t think that because you are a small company, you are exempt from these federal and state antidiscrimination laws.
References and Background
Never rely on your instincts alone when judging potential employees. “Trust but verify” is my motto. Negligent hiring can lead to a lawsuit if your employee hurts someone while on the job. Failure to check backgrounds has resulted in embezzlements, stolen equipment, stolen customer identification, and, in the worst case—violence.
I didn’t listen to my own advice once when it came to hiring a new employee. Not only did I pay the price, but so did my team. My choice had been between two job applicants; one had slightly more digital media experience than the other, but the one with less experience seemed a better personality fit. What did I do? I hired the one with more experience.
He was a bad fit from the very first day. In the end, he slammed the door to our executive producer’s office and marched back to his office. I followed closely on his heels and dismissed him on the spot. Such behavior was not something I tolerated. Fortunately, less than a month had elapsed and the other candidate was still available. He joined the team and he was fabulous.
© 2012 Susan Wilson Solovic. All rights reserved. Adapted and excerpted by permission of the publisher from It’s Your Biz: The Complete Guide to Becoming Your Own Boss, by Susan Wilson Solovic, published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association.