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Six Steps to Smart Hiring Decisions

Max Messmer

Max Messmer, Chairman and CEO of Robert Half International, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

If you’re a manager at a small business that needs financial talent, quite often you aren’t recruiting an accountant — you’re recruiting the accountant for your firm. There is no one else to pick up the slack if this new hire fails to perform.

The impact of just one new employee joining a small company can be significant. With no room for error, you need to make the right hiring decision and choose someone who can hit the ground running.

Managers who realize they’ve made a poor choice often find in retrospect they skipped steps they should have taken. Careful attention to the evaluation process can save you headaches down the road. Here are six steps every small business should take to hire smart:

Don’t deviate from the hiring criteria

This point should govern your entire search. Prioritize the skills and experience that are essential to success on the job. For instance, you may rate knowledge of particular software applications higher than possessing a college degree.

Define these needs in a detailed job description that will serve as the foundation for your hiring process. This set of criteria will allow you to better assess each candidate’s qualifications. Use it with each person you interview. When managers don’t rate every applicant using the same criteria (and record their findings), information or applicants interviewed earlier in the process may inadvertently get overlooked.

Occasionally you may have to compromise on your must-haves. For instance, you could realize you were unrealistic with earlier standards and can’t find any suitable applicants. Or perhaps, once you start interviewing candidates, it occurs to you that what you thought you wanted doesn’t adequately address the real challenges of the job.

If you’re uncertain what the keys to success are in a particular field — for example, you need to recruit a marketing manager but have no marketing background yourself — try to find someone in your network who can offer advice.

Make it personal

In a small business, it’s especially critical to find people who mesh with the culture. In fact, it can be even more important than formal hiring criteria. One poor match can alter the entire group’s dynamic and create problems.

Look for people you can envision working closely with day in and day out. Will their personality blend well with everyone in the company?

Slow down

If you’re desperate to fill a position right way, you’re more likely to rush a decision, and you have a higher chance of choosing the wrong candidate for the job. You may determine an applicant is “good enough” just to place someone in the role.

There is value in streamlining your hiring process — particularly when your top contenders may be considering other offers — but make sure you’re not acting in haste. If you feel you must find someone immediately to keep projects on track, consider bringing in a temporary replacement as you continue your search.

Be careful with “dream” candidates

Make sure you’re not letting emotions dictate your hiring decisions. Here are two traps managers sometimes fall into:

  • The “halo effect”— You are a victim of the halo effect when you become so enamored by one particular aspect of a candidate — the fact that the person is from your hometown or attended your alma mater, for example — that it overshadows all other considerations.
    The halo effect is also operating when an applicant has so many exceptional skills and attributes that you jump to hire the person without thoughtfully reviewing your hiring criteria. The worst thing you can do is try to put a good worker in the wrong job.
  • The “cloning effect”— Avoid becoming so impressed with an applicant because he reminds you of a top performer you once had on your team that you fail to notice the individual isn’t qualified for the job.

Limit the decision-makers

Seek input on prospective hires from colleagues you trust. Those solicited should understand the job, your company’s culture, and the personality and working style of the incoming employee’s manager.

Restrict your group of decision-makers to three to five people. If you have a larger review team, the likely outcome will be a compromise. Instead of selecting the best employee, you’ll end up with the person who’s the least objectionable to everyone. A smaller group will help you focus on the qualities that matter most while still benefiting from a variety of perspectives.

Check references

Once you’ve made your hiring decision, invest time in a thorough reference-checking process. It may be tempting to skip this step altogether. If you really expect to find the right person for the job, however, it’s worth the extra effort to try to obtain these insights.

When checking hard-to-check references, handle the responsibility personally and via a phone call. Instead of passing the task off to someone else, calling a fellow manager yourself can yield more candid feedback. It also gives you the chance to repeat comments made by the candidate during the interview. You can start out saying something such as, “Eric tells me you consistently gave him 5-star reviews on projects,” and have the employer take it from there. To gain additional feedback, consider asking references for names of other individuals you may contact for information about the candidate.

Be careful about relying too heavily on information found online. Entering someone’s name in a search engine to see what comes up may yield inaccurate or irrelevant information, including facts that are illegal to consider in a hiring decision.

Finally, try to cross-verify what you learn about an applicant. Be careful about relying too heavily on any one source such as reference checks, interview impressions, resume data or testing. If something doesn’t add up, use another approach. For example, if your final choice doesn’t perform well on a software skills evaluation, as expected, you might ask a former employer for impressions of that person’s proficiency level on-the-job. You’ll have all of the information you need to make a more informed hiring decision.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.

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