It has happened to all of us who manage others. We’re overloaded at work and need extra help. After what seems like pulling teeth, our budgetary requests are granted and we can go out and find someone to ease the workload. We create a “wish list” job description and send it out to a headhunter, in-house recruiter, or the local newspaper’s classified ad section.
We always start out with the best of intentions. We’re only going to hire someone who meets all our expectations; we want someone who fits our “wish list” to a tee. After wading through piles of resumes with misspelled words, obviously inflated skill sets and skills clearly mismatched for the position being offered, we shift gears.
Okay, revise the wish list. We’ll take someone with a bachelor’s degree instead of an MBA. Do we really need five years’ experience; maybe someone with 6 months experience will do. After all, we can train just about anyone to meet our needs, can’t we.
After a few weeks, or for those of us with abundant patience, a few months, we toss out the wish list altogether. “Just find me someone, anyone who can do the job,” we beg our recuiters. And they do.
We interview three to five candidates for the job. Then we make an offer to the best of the candidate pool and we cross our fingers — on both hands.
As an employee relations manager for a Fortune 100 company, I frequently received calls from managers that went something like this, “I hired this man (or woman) about three months ago. He interviewed well but he’s been a disaster. He can’t meet any of the job standards and I want to terminate him today.”
After further discussion I learned that the manager had some doubts about the employee before hiring him but “I was desperate for help. We were swamped with work here.” When asked what the managers had done to counsel the employee in question, the response generally was “nothing.”
What many managers don’t understand is that terminating an employee can’t be done on a whim. Terminate someone who hasn’t been counseled about his performance deficiencies and hasn’t had an opportunity to improve, and the result can be a lawsuit, a complaint with a state agency that the termination was discriminatory, a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that the termination was discriminatory, etc. Forget about the fact that no discrimination is involved (in most cases) and the employee simply cannot do the job. Before the ink is dry on the termination paperwork, the manager has been called racist, sexist, incompetent or all of the above; and the company is a insensitive corporate bully.
And after all that, the manager has to start over again, looking for someone to fill the position. More time, more money, more training for the new employee.
Do It Right The First Time
So how do you avoid the nightmare outlined above? You do it right the first time. You hire the right person for the right job. It’s called “hire hard, manage easy”. If you take the time and energy to hire the right person, even if it takes a great deal of effort to identify the candidate who can make the grade, you will have an easy time managing him and you won’t have to repeat the hiring process over and over again.
Start with that “wish list”. What exactly do you need? If you’re looking for a Senior Accountant, you probably want someone with a substantial amount of experience in addition to formal education. It’s unreasonable to expect that someone who just graduated will be capable of taking on the responsibilities of a senior accountancy position. Exactly what skills are needed for the position? If the job requires a great deal of written communication, toss out those resumes and cover letters filled with grammatical and spelling errors. If oral presentations will be required in the position, don’t even consider a candidate who appears flustered or inarticulate during an interview.
More than once, a manager confided that she felt something in her “gut” when she was interviewing the candidate. “Something just didn’t seem right but I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I went ahead and hired him.” Listen to your gut. If something during the interview sounds alarm bells, listen to the warning.
The interview itself is crucial but many managers haven’t been trained to interview. Behavioral interviewing is an excellent method of learning how a candidate will fit in at your company. “Tell me about a problem you had at your last position and how you resolved it?” “Talk to me about the worst supervisor you had and what made him or her so difficult to work for?” If the candidate says something like, “Well, my last boss expected us to work overtime if we were behind schedule and I don’t like working more than 8 hours a day,” this tells you a great deal. If the candidate’s way of resolving a problem at work was to give it to his supervisor, is this someone who is going to reduce your workload — or increase it?
Many employers will only give neutral references to protect themselves legally, so it’s hard to get much information when you call for references. But listen carefully, when you call references. And it should be the hiring manager who calls, not your recruiter. You’re the one who needs to know what kind of employee they were at other companies. If the previous manager seems hostile when asked about his former employee, this could be a signal of potential problems ahead.
If the employee is going to work closely with others in your department, it’s not a bad idea to have someone else interview him. You wouldn’t want a candidate for a director position to interview with a potential subordinate; but you could ask another director in your department or one closely aligned with your department to conduct the interview. Or you could ask someone in a senior position (e.g., vice president) to interview the candidate. It always helps to have a second opinion.
Once you have made the decision to hire a candidate, give that person every opportunity to be a success. From the outset, let him know what you expect of him. Schedule conferences during the first few weeks to check on his progress; let him know where he is meeting your expectations and where he falls short. In those areas where an employee is falling short, give constructive criticism, letting the employee know that you want to work with him to succeed.
Despite our best efforts, we may occasionally fall short when it comes to hiring the right person for the job. But putting our energy into identifying the right person will more likely than not result in a successful outcome for us and for the new employee.