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Hiring the right employee takes more than Miss Cleo's intuition

Posted by Ryan Howard on Fri, Jan 25, 2013

Miss Cleo

"The cards don't lie honey"... 

Human Resources professionals are expected to wear many hats. From administrator of complex benefit plans to "monitor" mediating a spat between coworkers, HR types perform multiple tasks, often answer to multiple bosses and face multiple challenges, all three of which are often in evidence when hiring employees. 

Hiring employees is usually a thankless task.  If you hire the right person, you've only done the job you're expected to do.  If you hire the wrong person, however, well....

A bad hire is rarely forgiven. 

Why?  Well, because you are a pro expected to have the skill, the competencies, the intuition necessary to always be able to identify the right candidate. Still, no matter how experienced you are, hiring the right employee takes more than Miss Cleo's intuition.  

Miss Cleo?  You know, the famous self-proclaimed psychic who once blanketed late night television with infomercials about a psychic hotline you could call to have your fortune told. "Call me Now!", in an accent purported to be Jamaican, Miss Cleo would tell your fortune based on her intuition.  Unsurprisingly, she wasn't Jamaican, had no verifiable psychic powers and, after a few years of success, ran afoul of the law and was soon in hot water financially.  Now, we're not saying that there isn't some component of intuition necessary in managing the human capital of an organization, but you'll be no more successful as an HR pro than Miss Cleo was as a psychic if you rely primarily on your gut when hiring employees.  

So what should you rely on?

Well, that depends on what you expect of the potential new hire.  The strategy to find the right candidate to fill a specific position may differ, for example, depending on the job description. 

Human Resources

Given the current high unemployment rates, it's likely that any openings you post will generate more responses than what you've seen historically which will require you bringing tools other than your gut to the process, tools such as:

  • Identifying the specific need you desire the new hire to meet.  Believe it or not, this is critical.  If you don't know where you're going, what good is a map?  Hiring employees requires a complete understanding of what you are hiring them to do.  Develop a wish list and then review it in the context of a detailed job description of the job you're filling.  Do they relate to each other?  If not, then what you are looking for may not address what you need.  A hire based on this scenario usually doesn't end well. 
  • Research the resume.  No matter how well-formatted, how impressive the stated accomplishments or list of employers may be, do not rely on the written page, even if someone you know and trust has passed the resume along to you and can "vouch" for the applicant.  Do you really want to abdicate your responsibility to someone else.  Can you afford to rely on second-hand information/opinions/conclusions derived from interactions/a relationship about which you now little to nothing?  If the new employee doesn't work out, do you really think that "Well, Frank said he was great" will serve as sufficient support for your hiring decision?
  • Check references.  Yes, we know that many (most) prior employers won't provide much more than "name, rank and dates of employment", if that, when you call about an applicant.  However, the prospect of reference-checking can still provide helpful insight into the quality of your candidate if, when you advise you will be calling prior employers, you tell the candidate the questions you'll be asking and how she/he thinks the reference will respond as well as how they'll describe their relationship.  Though certainly not a foolproof strategy, you'll probably be able to determine just how confident the candidate is in using each reference.  If, as the saying goes, "there's no there there", you'll be able to tell pretty quickly. 
  • Ask for samples of work product or pose a hypothetical problem and ask the candidate to suggest solutions.  A standard interview favors those who can talk a good game; an interactive interview will help you find the candidate who can actually play.
  • Check backgrounds.  Hiring employees requires a fair amount of trust on your part that the applicant is who she says she is.  But not blind trust.  Pre-employment background screening and verifications eliminate much of the "I wonder if" doubts that frequently linger even after you've made the decision to hire.  And, as it turns out, the information that often turns up using these tools includes the very things you definitely don't want in a new employee.


Conclusion:

Like Miss Cleo, we're not really psychics.  However, we predict you'll make better hiring decisions if you only let your intuition be your guide and not your primary hiring tool.  

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Topics: Hiring and Recruiting