Hiring: Get it Right the First Time

Posted on November 3, 2011 by Erin Daruszka in Best Practices, Human Capital Management, Talent Acquisition

By Erin Daruszka, a member of TriNet’s Human Capital Services team

Our clients often tell us they do not have any time to waste in the hiring process.  The ‘right’ hires are integral to growing their businesses, and to retaining key employees, who depend on capable colleagues who possess not only the right skills and experience, but—as we mentioned in an earlier blog post—also are the right fit from a cultural perspective.  Unfortunately, not planning carefully and unwittingly hiring the wrong person can be more detrimental than not having a person in the position at all. A little planning can go a long way; what may seem like an arduous process on the front end could save you time and money on the back end.  As an example, we once worked with a technology client who hired an individual with mostly enterprise-level experience; no experience working in a startup.  Our client did not screen this candidate to assess the candidate’s ability to handle the unique nature of the startup environment.  A few months into the employment relationship, this employee was already being counseled regarding poor work performance.  Since the employee’s prior experience was in a large, structured work environment with well defined roles and narrow responsibilities, it was a struggle to adjust to the “multiple-hat,” nimble nature of a new company in its first few years.   When the manager spoke with the employee about the employee’s resistance and poor quality of work, the employee claimed unfair treatment due to race and age. This serious allegation led to an investigation, which was ultimately determined to be unsubstantiated.  Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the investigation, the employee cited subsequent treatment of retaliation.  This resulted in a second investigation, of which the claim was again found to be unsubstantiated.

This entire process spanned several weeks, and required significant management time working through the investigation and creating proper documentation and follow-up.  Meanwhile, the employee continued to not meet expectations. That poor performance lowered morale of the other employees who were left picking up the slack, and wondering what had happened to their company’s standards. Finally, in an act of good fortune to all involved, the employee resigned.

Hindsight is 20/20, right? If our client had applied proper candidate screening based on the unique needs of the company’s lifecycle, this employee would likely have never been hired.  Perhaps you have been lucky enough to avoid a similar tale, but even having one employee who is slightly under-performing and taking up your time for counseling, while other employees pick up the slack, costs your company money.  How can you avoid this from happening? If you have a trusted advisor, it’s always best to loop him or her in prior to starting the process. If you’re navigating the hiring landscape on your own, here are some tips:

  1. Define the position.  What opportunities are you looking for the role to fulfill in your organization?
  2. Understand what the required knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) are to be successful in this role and in your company.  I find it is easier to back into this by thinking about what hasn’t worked. Also consider the employees who are already successful within your organization and identify their key attributes.
  3. Generate behavioral interview questions that get to the root of what you are looking for.  Use open-ended questions, such as, “Tell me about a time you were working on a project and the direction of the project shifted; how did you adjust and deliver the outcome anyway?”
  4. Listen to your gut. If something doesn’t sound right, ask more about the situation or ask for further details.  Make sure the candidate is specific.  You want to know how they DID something in the past; not how they MIGHT do something in the hypothetical future.
  5. Be honest. If the position requires long hours or travel, let candidates know that up front.
  6. Create a candidate report card. This will allow you to assess fit based on the KSAs you are looking for; perhaps they are strong in communication and weak in working with teams.  If the position does not require team work, they may still be a fit.
  7. Have more than one colleague interview the candidate. Have them ask different questions, based around the same KSAs, and then compare report cards from the interviews.
  8. Check references and conduct a background check. Conducting due diligence raises red flags early and ensures you don’t receive a surprise down the road.

Beware of falling into the trap that you are ‘home free’ once an employee starts working.  Running a company and managing employees requires communicating performance expectations regularly to employees. All-too-often we hear executives say phrases like, “Oh, she’s a VP of Marketing. She knows what she needs to do.” And when we hear that, alarm bells start ringing—and ringing loudly—as  even the most high-performing employees are not mind readers. It is critical to tell employees what you want from them and let them know quickly if they are not meeting those expectations.   If you regularly meet with your employees and create an open environment, there should be no surprises.  Employees will know what is expected of them, they will be able to ask for help if they need it, and all employees will know they are each held accountable and poor performance will not be tolerated. This type of environment tends to keep morale high even in stressful times.  Nothing is more disheartening to a good employee than seeing a less productive employee get away with underperforming, especially when the extra work gets handed to them.

The economy is changing and if you want to retain your top employees and hire talented new ones, it is most beneficial to your company’s success to spend some time upfront and get it right the first time.