(from Maine Townsman, April 1999)
By Deborah L. Gallant, president of D. Gallant Management Associates

Most worthwhile things that occur are the result of someone’s planning . . . a good meal, an effective speech, a nice vacation, a well-written report, coordinating numerous activities on the job. Although occasionally productive activities occur spontaneously, it is more likely that a great deal of preparatory thought and action has taken place.

The same is true for "Selecting the right person for the job" – the person who will stay for the long term. Several actions need to be taken long before applicants walk through the door. They are:

• Review the job description, job scope and "real" candidate requirements.

• Develop a selection model for this job in this culture.

• Establish a strategy for recruitment.

• Effectively screen the resumes and applications.

• Prepare for the interview by: (1) reviewing the applicant’s background data carefully and circling incomplete or confusing information; (2) noting important background data on the resume which you wish to discuss; and (3) formulating interview questions concerning standards and requirements.

Hiring Process: Begins by Understanding the Job

The hiring process begins with the identification of an unmet need. An unmet need may be a task that needs to be accomplished. Maybe it’s a new need, or perhaps it exists because of a job vacancy. Just as a person sometimes must take inventory of his or her experience and best skills and abilities, it’s important to assess the specific employee skills and abilities that will best answer this unmet need.

You need to translate your unmet need into a job description that lists the various duties, tasks, and responsibilities of the job. The more detailed the job description, the easier it will be for you and your candidates to understand exactly what kinds of skills and experience are necessary for success in the job.

In addition to reviewing the job description, you may also want to talk with other employees who hold similar positions. Ask them what their job involve and what it takes to be successful at their job.

Once you have gained a thorough understanding of the job for which you are hiring, a "selection model" must be developed. A selection model includes a listing of:

• Technical skills that the job requires.

• Performance skills that the job requires.

• Personal characteristics necessary for success.

You must then establish a strategy for recruitment – a strategy for recruiting "the right person for the job." Placing an advertisement in the newspaper is truly only one of several methods for effective recruitment. Effective recruitment means utilizing all methods, not just one.

Effectively screening the resumes and applications is also an important step in the hiring process.

Interviewing: More Than A Gut Feeling

Asking the right questions is your single best way to get the right kinds of information during the interview – the kinds of information that will lead you to the best hiring decision. Here’s how to develop your questions so they’ll give you the results you need.

Before you begin preparing your questions, take time to understand these three important guidelines:

1) Avoid asking questions that can be answered by a single word, usually a simple "Yes" or "No".

Single-word answers don’t give you much information, and they don’t give the candidate an opportunity to tell you all you need to know about that person. Examples of questions that don’t provide you with much valid information include: "Do you like working with people?"; "Did you like your last job?"; or"Do you like working with computers?"

Instead of asking questions that can be answered with just a single word, you want to pose questions that invite the candidate to talk about what he or she has done in the past. As the candidate talks, you have an opportunity to get the information you need in order to make an informed hiring decision.

2) Use open-ended questions that ask for specific examples of past job behavior.

Remember, past behavior is the best indicator of future performance! This means asking focused questions that prompt the candidate to talk about past job experiences in very specific detail.

Instead of asking hypothetical questions about how the candidate might handle some future task, ask – specifically – how the candidate handled something similar in his or her past or present position. Since past behavior is the best indicator of future performance, you want to get the candidate talking about how the person handled situations similar to those that will be experienced in the new job. Keep your questions focused so the candidate doesn’t ramble and provides the specific information you need. Use "behavior-based" interviewing techniques.

3) Keep your questions focused.

Questions such as "What can you tell me about your best skills?" may or may not produce the information you want. Instead, be focused and ask for specific information.

For example, instead of asking something like . . . "Tell me about your experience in training."

You can say something like . . . "Think back to when you’ve trained a new employee. Tell me exactly what you did to train that employee and bring the person up to the job’s performance standards."

Your open-ended questions should be based on the skill definitions you identified after reviewing the technical and performance skills needed in order to be successful on the job. These are the kinds of questions that will encourage the candidate to give the information you need to make the right hiring decision.

Allowing for Silence

Occasionally, a candidate will simply have trouble thinking of a specific instance of the kind of behavior you’re interested in, and will sit for a moment or two in silence. Don’t hesitate to let the person know that silence is okay, and that you don’t mind waiting while the person tries to come up with the best example. Remember, a quick response that lacks solid behavioral information does you no good when it’s time to make your hiring decision.

Asking for Contrary Evidence

If ever you begin to realize that you’re forming a one-sided impression of the candidate – whether it’s all good or all bad – stop and challenge yourself to ask for contrary evidence. For example, if you’ve been consistently impressed with how the candidate has handled all the difficult situations you’ve talked about, ask the person to describe a situation in which things just didn’t work out as planned.

For example: "Steve, describe a situation in which you had to deal with an irate customer and it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to."

Likewise, if you catch yourself forming the impression that the candidate can’t do anything right, challenge yourself you ask for contrary evidence here too. For example, if the candidate has told you about several instances of going against normal procedure when getting things done, ask the person: "Inga, tell me about a time when you did follow organization procedure, perhaps even when you didn’t want to or thought your own ideas would work out better."

Evaluating Candidates and Making Job Offer

You’ve conducted your interviews using behavior-based questions. You’ve taken notes during the interviews on how each candidate responded to your open-ended questions, and on the questions each person asked you. You’ve probed for specifics. Now it’s decision time.

When you have a system for evaluating candidates, you’ll take less time to make your decision and you’ll do it with more confidence than when you just had your assumptions and intuition to rely on. Your evaluation system is just as important as your interviewing system.

Evaluating candidates after your interviews doesn’t have to be tedious or complicated. You must simply develop a candidate performance summary chart based upon the original selection model developed at the beginning of this process.

Your summary chart has been prepared, you’ve reviewed the notes for any possible warning signs and you’ve checked all candidate references. Now is when your interview notes really prove their worth, because if they aren’t sufficiently detailed, it will be difficult to recall if a candidate gave you the kind of behavior-related information you now need.

Your final task in the hiring process is to notify all candidates of your hiring decision.

Your first communication, usually a phone call, will, of course, be to the successful candidate as you make the job offer. The job offer over the phone should be followed the same day by a letter detailing the offer. The follow-up letter will help to ensure that there is no misunderstanding regarding the offer that was made by phone.

Wait until your first choice says "Yes" before notifying the other candidates. That way, if your first choice declines the offer, you still can contact one of the other candidates if any of them have the skills needed to be successful in the job.

Give the candidate time to consider the offer before responding with their answer. How much time? Up to several days is fairly standard, depending on the level and location of the position. If you need the position filled quickly, you can tell the finalist that you need to confirm the position as soon as possible.

Your hiring procedure should also include a notification step for the other candidates, the ones not selected. You run the risk of hurting your organization’s reputation as a good place to work if you don’t notify all the candidates of your decision.