Have you ever interviewed Dr. Jekyll and had Mr. Hyde show up on their first day of work? If you’ve hired more than 5 staff odds are this has happened to you at least once. Not only is this frustrating, it can be very costly.

Bad hiring decisions inhibit you and your team’s ability to get work done and achieve your business goals. If the individual is not the right fit, they either don’t have the skills to do the job or they are somewhat of a disruptive influence to the team. Either way, you probably have an unproductive employee, a disgruntled team and as a manager you spend far too much of your time trying to make them work out or trying to manage them out.

More importantly, bad hires cost you money. If you factor in both hard and soft costs, you can spend from 50% – 200% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them, depending on experience level, skill set, scarcity of talent, and other factors.

But it doesn’t just cost money to replace a bad hire, it costs to keep them as well. Hewitt estimates that a dis-engaged employee loses up to 1/3 of their annual salary in productivity.

Conversely, hiring well can create exceptional teams who perform at peak levels. Skilled, cohesive teams are also happier teams. A happy team makes for a happy manager – and one with more career opportunities.

But how do you ensure that every hire is a good hire? Well – quite frankly you don’t. After spending 15 years in recruitment and interviewing over 5,000 candidates (for myself as well as my clients) I can safely say that hiring is, as they say in Texas, a Craps Shoot. Human beings are unpredictable so you will never be able to get it right 100% of the time.

But you can load the dice. And one of the easiest and most effective ways to load the dice is to learn to interview well.

I know, I know. How hard can it be, you ask? All you need to do is to go through the resume, make sure you can get along with the candidate, check that they will fit into the team and ask questions about whether or not they can do the job. Then select the best candidate – and hope you’ve made the right decision.

And you’d be right. That is exactly what you need to do. The problem is, most managers have never been trained to do this effectively and therefore lack the tools and skills to do so. Interviewing is one of those skills that managers think should come easily. But, without proper training it’s actually one of the toughest things to do well.

As a result, many managers go by “gut feel” or a set of inexact criteria poorly applied to all candidates interviewed. Many times to their detriment.

So how do you hire well? By following these 4 steps; Prepare, Determine if “we want them”?, Determine if “they want us”, Wrap Up.


How many times have you “prepared” for an interview by simply printing the applicant’s resume off, taking it off of the printer and reading it on your way to the interview room. I know I’ve been guilty of this from time to time – and have always paid the price.

It’s essential to prepare well for the interview.

The first step in preparing well is to think about the venue. Do you want the candidate to be relaxed or under pressure and stressed? Opposite sides of a desk or table in a business setting invokes a formal or structured, business like environment. This could work well for a first interview, but could also be used for a second or subsequent interview, when the previous interviews have been more relaxed or casual. Conversely, sitting at forty-five degree angles without a desk or table between you, or taking the candidate to a coffee shop or restaurant will invoke a more casual atmosphere.

You can play with these venues and mix them up for various effects. For instance, you might want to have a more formal, in office interview during the first interview and then take the candidate out for a coffee for a second to “loosen them up” and get them talking a bit more freely. Conversely, you could do just the opposite and take them for an informal chat the first time around and then put them under pressure in a more formal setting to see how they will react.

I recommend a combination of both types of interviews. It can be very helpful to see how the applicant reacts to a bit of stress. Conversely, if you make someone comfortable and give them enough rope…you just never know what they will say.

Bottom line is – think about the atmosphere you would like to create in advance. Don’t decide on the way to the interview.

The second and most important step in the preparation process is to think about the questions you will ask.

It’s helpful to have a list of pre-prepared questions that you can replicate for each candidate. This way you can compare the candidates objectively, based on the same criteria.

Once you’ve come up with your questions type them out into an interview sheet and use this to record the answers for each candidate. This way you can easily compare and contrast between candidates.

What type of questions should you ask? Certainly you will want to delve into their skill set. But don’t make the mistake of most rookie recruiters and stop there. Although you will want to establish a base line skill set, the applicant’s culture fit and strengths are much more of an indicator as to whether the candidate will fit the role on offer.

Lets talk first about culture fit. While it is certainly important that you are able to work with whomever you hire, liking a candidate and having “a good feeling” about them is no substitute to rigorously asking them questions to ascertain the information you need to make the right hiring choice.

So what is culture fit? It can actually be defined a couple of ways. The first is by looking at the values of the company, team or hiring manager. Does your company or team have pre-defined values? Not the kind that are written in a mission statement, put in the drawer and forgotten, but the kind that truly informs the strategy and behaviors of the company and its staff. What about your own values as a hiring manager? What’s important to you? If integrity is of paramount importance decide what behaviors embody this and then create interview questions that will determine whether or not someone has the integrity you are looking for.

The second way to look at culture fit is by looking at the personality of the team. Does your team laugh and joke throughout the day? If so, someone a bit more serious may not fit in well. Conversely, if your team is “head down, bum up” all day, you’ll want to be very careful about hiring someone into the mix that may upset that.

Now lets talk about strengths. The strengths movement has been originally credited to various sources including Peter Drucker. However most of the work in this area over the past few years has been done by the Gallup Organization as a result of their massive research study spanning over a million people and 20 years. In this study they asked themselves, “What constitutes excellence?” They were trying to determine what makes the difference between people who perform at or above expectations and those who were truly excellent at their jobs.

It turns out that the common denominator across all lines of business and socio economic strata is this: those who are truly excellent at their jobs are those who are able to play to their strengths during the majority of their work week.

Just what are strengths? Gallup defines strengths as those innate abilities that are hard wired in your brain from the ages of 3 – 15. It is incredibly difficult to rewire these strengths after the age of 15.

This concept refutes the idea that people become better at their job by over coming their weaknesses. A hard concept to grasp since this is so indoctrinated into our thinking, even from childhood. But the evidence overwhelmingly supports the fact that people actually become better at their jobs, more productive and certainly happier by exploiting their strengths.

So, if a persons strengths are one of the best determining factors to their success in the job, it’s critical that you as a hiring manager think in advance about what strengths are needed for a particular role.

But how do you know the difference between a strength and a skill? By asking yourself a simple question: can this be taught? If the answer is no, it’s a strength. If yes, it’s a skill.

Examples of strengths include the following. Do they need to be able to work autonomously? Do they need have great influencing skills (sales)? Do they need to have a high degree of accuracy (accounting)? Do they need to be able to think laterally and to solve problems (programmer, manager)?

Determine if “we want them”

Even if a manager understands the importance of hiring for a set of values, culture fit and strengths and building skill set, they can lack the tools to properly identify these things. Because most managers lack the ability to structure questions in such a way as to elicit what the candidate did do in a similar scenario rather than what the candidate would do.

This is critical because, unlike the share market, when it comes to potential job candidates, past performance is indicative of future results.

And this is hard because, even when asked directly about a past event, most interviewees will talk in theoreticals, trying to impress by giving the right answer, instead of giving specific examples. And most interviewers don’t press them because itʼs not in most people’s nature to hold others’ feet to the fire when they give information that’s not exactly what they are looking for. But itʼs the interviewerʼs responsibility to do exactly that. To continue to press until the candidate relates a real live incident – one that can be verified with reference checks. This is a skill that must be learned.

To determine whether we want a particular applicant it is essential to ask what’s commonly referred to as “Behavioral Based Interview Questions.” This simply means that you need to ask questions that will get the candidate to give you specific examples from the past. And if they don’t press them until they do by asking clarifying questions such as:

• What company does this relate to?

• When was this?

• What was his / her name?

• What happened specifically?

• Could you quantify the results for me?

Even when asking situational interview questions (where you give a candidate a scenario and ask how they would respond) the structure many managers use to ask these questions often seeds the very answer they are looking for! Questions like, “At ABC company we pride ourselves in our self managed teams, tell me, what kind of management style do you work best in?” It’s like giving an open book test – what’s the point? You don’t actually learn anything about the candidate except that he or she can listen and parrot back what the manager asks.

Finally, you can find out as much or more about a candidate by the types of questions they ask you as by the answers they give. Give them the opportunity to ask you questions and see how well thought out they are. Do they ask you about your company? The industry? Challenges and opportunities? Or do they concentrate on leave policies, promotional opportunities and the culture of the company? None of these questions are right or wrong, but they can help you determine an applicant’s priorities and give you insight into their thought process.

Determine if “they want us”

Make no mistake about it. Any market is a competitive market for quality candidates. But it’s going to get more and more competitive. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia will be facing a 1.7 million skills shortage by 2025 unless we do something radically different.

Wooing a good candidate is equally as important as selecting a good one. And nothing turns a highly sought after candidate off more than a company who cannot make up their mind or doesn’t seem to be unified when it comes to growth strategies, company culture, company direction or company values.

If you are interested in a candidate make sure you find out what the candidate is looking for in a company or a role. Do this by both asking them directly and if they come from a recruiter, ask them as well. Make sure you and your fellow managers are clear about the value proposition your company offers as it relates to what the candidate is looking for. Then make sure that everyone articulates that same value proposition to the candidate during second and subsequent interviews.

And don’t take too long to go through the process. Good candidates go quickly.

Wrap up

Set clear expectations for the candidate. If they are not a fit for the role or for your company tell them up front. And save yourself a lot of time and frustration fielding phone calls. Don’t delay the inevitable. It just sours a candidates experience of you. And who knows, they may not be a good fit, but they may no someone who is?

Let them know when you will make a decision. And if that’s delayed call them and tell them. If you are interested in them and leaving them wondering or make promises you don’t keep, they may have second thoughts about coming to work for you.

Give them an accurate sense of the entire interview process. Let them know up front how many interviews will be required, with whom and if there are any other pieces to the process, such as testing.

You will save yourself a lot of time and frustration by following these tips.

Hiring the right team is instrumental in growing your business, serving your clients and accelerating your own career growth. Hiring the right team begins with interviewing well. Follow the steps above and dramatically increase your ratio of good hiring decisions to bad. And if you still have any questions, many consultants such as myself hold “Interviewing skills workshops” to help you develop and practice these extremely important skills.

Kim Seeling Smith is a Sydney based, international consultant on Employee Recruitment, Engagement and Retention as well as Career Management after originally training as a CPA and Management Consultant with KPMG and spending 15 years as a recruiter in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Kim is a co-author (along with Brian Tracy and others) of the book 101 Great Ways to Enhance Your Career available on Amazon.com. http://WWW.KimSeelingSmith.com

Please feel free to use this article in whole or in part as long as you quote the author and reference http://www.KimSeelingSmith.com.


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