Monday, July 23, 2007

Interviewing the Right Way

So, you spent weeks screening through dozens of resumes, interviewing abundant applicants, and finally presented an offer to the candidate you thought was a good match with your company.  Now, two months later, it dawns upon you this person is not working out.  

People are, obviously, essential to any firm, regardless of size, scope, function, or business field.  In fact, they are one of the decisive elements; adding to organizational value in both tangible and intangible forms.  Staff add worth through their skills, they generate business or revenue; create or improve the working environment; and, mesh their own image with that of the corporation.  As such, getting the right people and, indeed, retaining them is very important for the growth of any company - hiring the right candidate from the start saves your company time, money, and headache.

Here are few dos and don'€™ts for ensuring you '€˜hire right:'


Do focus on the right stuff.  Isolate the specific skills required for success in the post.  Structure interview questions to uncover if the candidate has what it takes;

Do delve into the past.  Secure precise examples of how a candidate has handled different situations at work;

Do appreciate that three heads are better than one.  Ask colleagues to interview a candidate and contribute their findings with you;

Do put the candidate at ease.  You'll get better answers and make a good impression;

Do seek a balanced view.  No applicant is as perfect as you hope he or she is.  Seek an honest discussion of strengths and weaknesses;


Don'€™t be a part-time psychologist.  Focus on detailed examples of specific behaviours, not personality assessment;

Don't ignore the individual’s interest in the job.  Poor enthusiasm for the job is a leading cause of turnover;

Don't rush.  Managers who fill an opening too speedily almost always regret it;

Don'€™t take insufficient notes.  Relying on memory gives the first and last candidates an unmerited advantage; and

Don'™t place too much stress on a single skill.  Avoid the 'halo effect'€™ - when one exceptional accomplishment overshadows something less attractive.

Conducting Reference Checks

The most important goal of every reference check is to help your company make the right selection decision.  However, don't stop there - bear in mind references also furnish insights on how to manage an employee once they are on board.

Is referencing potential employees worth the time and trouble?  Of course they are.  An incorrect hiring decision will cost you ample in dollars, lost time and lost morale.

When recruiting senior executives or, for that matter, any new hire with a job history, reference calls are a must.  It is during this cycle of the hiring process a candidate's actual on-the-job performance and behavior can be viewed through the eyes of past and current associates and managers.  Through reference checks, you can confirm or deny your own interview impressions and judgments.

The key to reference checking is to direct your questions on the fundamental elements of the post and your firm’s environment, and to encourage each reference source to be open and honest.  The do's and don'ts of candidate reference calls include the following:


Do ask a candidate for references who can comment directly on their past performance - referees who can provide information from diverse points of view;

Do be prepared.  Reread the job spec, think about the interview, and determine those areas in which you want more information on the candidate.  Make a list of specific questions.  Relate your questions to the requirements of the job and company culture;

Do call multiple references.  Five or six is not too many, especially when your questions aren'™t fully answered, or if you have lingering doubts;

Do remember that few, if any, successful people are universally liked.  Ask a candidate for a referee that is likely to be unflattering;

Do ask probing, evaluating questions to open up reference sources.  Then, ask questions to delve deeper into a topic area;

Do listen to what a referee is really saying, and how it is being said.  Read between the lines of the conversation.  Look for subtle clues.  Be sensitive to what isn't said, or how enthusiastic or unenthusiastic a reference is;

Do track the data to see that the information provided by one reference source is consistent with information provided by others;


Don'™t hire a candidate without checking references;

Don'™t call references without the candidate's knowledge, particularly when dealing with a candidate on a confidential basis;

Don'™t rush to judgment or be fooled by limited information.  No one is perfect.  Some less than positive comments should crop up;

Don'™t accept vague answers, dig deeper.  Make the reference think and describe events, actions and personalities as they really are;

Don'™t telegraph '˜correct'™ answers.  Ask the question and wait for the answer.  Accept or press forward based on the response;

Don'™t accept names of people who were not close to the person.  One peer is fine, however most, if not all references, should be supervisors; and

Don'™t ask questions which elicit a simple yes or no answer.

The Art of Supervision

Do you remember your first major on-the-job project?  We sure do a€“ our manager handed us a project outline, said "Here you go, do this," spun on their heels and walked away.  We recall looking at the documentation and wondering if we had made a mistake in choosing management consulting as a career.  That was in 1983 and times have changed somewhat.

What we wanted and, indeed, needed then, was a supervisor skilled at, well; for lack of a better word, supervising, particularly us - the new employee; someone who could relate and explain things so we could better understand our job.  Unfortunately, too many talented professionals, cum managers, spend far too much time developing technical skills and little, if any, time developing an understanding of treating and managing people.

In order to become a successful supervisor, professionals need to build on an ability to communicate, organise, motivate and direct the work of those they supervise.  And, by strengthening this area, you seriously improve your chances for promotion.


Consider the following as necessary attributes:  


Open-door policy:  are you accessible and supportive?  If not, make time for employees to ask questions when you give them new work.  Over the long-term, this will reduce time spent explaining things later.


Big picture:  does your staff see it?  More so, do you allow them to see it?  Successful supervisors provide staff with the overall assignment view early on.  This helps staff understand their jobs better, both on a day-to-day basis and in relation to any project.


Intelligence:  after providing employees with the big picture, it would follow that you give them the detailed information needed to understand and complete the job.  As a manager, balance the need to know with their ability to absorb the information.  Don't overload too much at once, or a lot of information will become lost in the translation.  Give too little information, though, and staff will become frustrated.  Informed employees make better decisions than uninformed.  Push staff to converse; one inspiration can dramatically change the landscape.


Respect:  treat everyone with whom you come in contact with respect.  


Openly demonstrate enthusiasm:  staff seldom gets more involved in their jobs than their managers, therefore, if you display negativity about your job or a project, you can bet your subordinates will exhibit similar attitudes.  Make it a good image.


Constant feedback:  Keep staff informed on their performance, as employees that don'€™t receive feedback often fail to meet expectations.

Motivate:  The fastest way to motivate is though the positive reinforcement of telling employees when they are doing a good job.  Go the extra bit to praise good performance.


Patience:  Supervisors with patience usually develop productive staff.  Give them realistic time to complete tasks before showing impatience.  If you hired good staff, they will grow.


Widen their network:  Help all employees - new and established - develop their networks within your company and make a determined effort to introduce new staff to colleagues.  Get established staff members to help newer members widen their contacts.


Succession planning:  If you want to advance in your firm, train staff to take your place.  By assisting staff to take over your tasks will give you the opportunity to learn new concepts.  Delegate without interfering - as learning and growth don't come to employees that watch you do the work.  Have faith in employees and let them develop professionally.


See beyond the horizon:  all employees have confidence in managers that have a good grasp on the future and plan to make things work well for the firm.


There'€™s no question, technical competence is key, however, a critical and oft neglected area of professional development is managerial skill.  Those promoted solely on technical competence generally struggle and, regardless of qualifications, lose their momentum up the corporate ladder.  To maintain that impetus, concentrate on communication, organisation, motivation and how to direct the work of individuals or groups.