Whether you are hiring your first employee or are faced with finding a replacement employee, the process of recruiting and selecting qualified employees can be daunting. In today's tight labor market, recruiting qualified candidates to choose from is a struggle for many small businesses (see the Tips & Tactics publication, Recruitment Strategies for ideas). Once you have a pool of possible job candidates, you must go through the process of reviewing applications, interviewing, testing, evaluating, etc. so that an objective, legal and appropriate selection decision can be made. From hiring a part-time, hourly employee to selecting for top management positions, following the steps will help you make an informed, objective decision.
There are 3 main phases in the process of hiring a new employee:1) preparing for the interview, 2) conducting the interview, and 3) making the selection decision.
Preparing for the Interview
Job descriptions. Developing job descriptions and search criteria before resumes/applications are reviewed is the most vital part of the hiring process (see the SBDC Tips & Tactics publication, Job Descriptions, for more information). Job descriptions result in objective criteria against which every applicant is evaluated. Not only does a job description list the tasks and duties required of the job, but it also outlines the requirements necessary to successfully perform the job-including the knowledge, skills, abilities and personal characteristics necessary of job incumbents. The persons responsible for the hiring decision must familiarize themselves with these job requirements and have a clear profile of the ideal candidate, i.e. what technical skills, job knowledge and "life skills" (reliability, ability to cope with stress, tolerance of ambiguity, etc.) should the ideal candidate possess. Evaluation of candidates then is based directly on whether or not they meet the requirements of the job and how closely they match up to the ideal candidate profiles. Selecting a candidate on this basis will not only help ensure an appropriate fit with the candidate and the job, but will also reduce your risk of discrimination litigation.
Initial Screening. Regardless of how pressed for time you may be, it is critical that you set aside time for reviewing applicants' completed job applications/resumes. This step allows you to draw some preliminary conclusions about the person's job suitability as well as identify key areas in which you will need to get more information from the applicant. Using an application form in the pre-screening process (rather than, or in addition to, a resume) will help ensure that the information gleaned from this pre-screening process is consistent among job candidates.
Structuring the interview format. As alluded to earlier, both job application forms and interview questions must be structured so that all inquiries are job related. This is critical to avoid being accused of violating EEO laws. The most effective way to ensure that information obtained from a job interview is job related, is to use a structured interview format. The format should include the following:
--information about the job and its requirements (provide the candidate with a job description),
--information about the organization, (a tour of the company can provide insight into the company culture and atmosphere),
--standardized interview questions designed to determine the job candidate's suitability for the job (behavioral-based questions are usually most effective),
--time for the applicant to ask questions, and
--a discussion of the hiring process and what will happen following the interview.
Not only will this type of structured format provide legal protection, but will also provide the interviewer consistent information across job candidates on which to base the selection decision. In addition, a structured format which provides adequate information to candidates about the requirements of the job and the organization may cause certain candidates to "self-select out" of the candidate pool.
Conducting the Interview
Once a structured interview format has been developed, it must be applied consistently to all job candidates. In addition, use the following techniques during the interview:
Establish Rapport. Taking a few moments at the beginning of an interview to put the applicant at ease will result in a more relaxed atmosphere and, consequently, a greater exchange of information.
Practice Active Listening Skills. Interviewers should concentrate closely on what the applicant is saying and should talk no more than 30 percent of the time. This time should focus on asking questions, providing information, answering questions, encouraging the applicant to talk, periodically summarizing, and keeping the applicant on track
Take Notes. Write down key words and ideas during the interview. Immediately following the interview, review, elaborate on, and clarify your notes as necessary.
Practice Using and Interpreting Body Language. Nonverbal communication, or body language, can easily be misinterpreted, so you should try to use gestures and movements that are likely to be interpreted positively. Also, be aware of the applicant's nonverbal pattern.
- Encourage the Applicant to Talk. Some applicants have no trouble talking about themselves. Others, however, need to be drawn out. Using positive body language yourself will encourage the applicant to talk. Brief verbal statements such as "really," and "please tell me more" are also encouraging. In addition, periodically summarizing what the applicant has said or repeating part of his or her most recent statement often encourages an applicant to provide additional information.
Practice Effective Questioning Techniques. Hypothetical and open-ended questions will yield the most valuable information during an interview. These questions can present situations related to the available position, so the applicant can provide potential solutions. You can then see their approach to problem solving.
You will want to avoid the following interview pitfalls:
- Avoid interrupting the applicant as long as what he or she is saying is relevant.
- Avoid expressing agreement or disagreement; express only interest or understanding.
- Avoid terminology or language the applicant is unlikely to understand.
- Do not allow the applicant to interview you or to control the interview.
- Avoid reading the application form or resume back to the applicant.
- Avoid comparing the applicant with yourself when you had the job, the incumbent, or the last person in the job.
- Avoid asking more than one question at a time.
- Avoid asking questions that might be considered illegal, even in a roundabout way.
- Do not be insensitive to cultural or educational differences between yourself and the applicant.
Making the Decision
Using additional selection tools. In addition to interviewing, many companies use additional selection tools and tests to determine an applicant's suitability for a job. Although these tests can provide further information for employers to make a sound decision, they must be used with caution. Any kind of tests that an employer uses (whether they're written tests or physical tests) must be tested for validity. In other words, they must be proven to measure skills and abilities that are job relevant.
Check references and backgrounds. Information provided by applicants on a job application, resume or during an interview may be exaggerated or downright false. It is important to do some investigating to verify this self-reported information. A thorough reference check should be conducted prior to making a job offer, and, when appropriate and job related, background checks should be done.
- Guidelines for selection. To follow are some guidelines that may help you reach a final hiring decision.
Review your goals and objectives.
Review the duties and responsibilities of the available position, as well as required skills and knowledge.
Review and compare the experience and education of all the candidates under final consideration.
Be wary of applicants who did not let you end the interview, bad mouthed former employers, asked questions about areas you had already discussed, had difficulty with or refused to answer certain questions, seemed more interested in the photographs on your desk than in what you were saying, or arrived late and did not offer to explain why.
Review and compare the applicants' reactions to key questions asked during the face-to-face interview.
Consider the salary requirements of each candidate in relation to the salary range for the position.
Review each applicant's reason for leaving previous employers.
Consider your company's affirmative action goals.
Once you make the hiring decision, be careful what you say orally and in writing when you make a job offer to any applicant. The positive statements you make to an applicant about long term opportunities can come back to haunt you if you later fire that person.
It's courteous to let unsuccessful applicants know that you've hired someone else for the job. A short letter informing the rejected applicant of your decision is the least painful approach. Keep the letter simple and upbeat and keep a copy in your files along with the employment application.
Portions excerpted from "Managing Human Resources in Small and Mid-Sized Companies." American Management Association, 1995.