It was the first week after his start that I realized I had made a bad hiring decision. Clients were complaining he was abrupt and negative, and most of staff had the same impression. His intellect and technical skills were evident so I provided feedback and coaching to help him grow in the interpersonal communication requirements of his position. It was clear after 3 months that improvement was not forthcoming so his employment was terminated after his probationary period ended at 6 months.

No one wins when the wrong person is hired into a position. For the person being let-go in this case, it was an unexpected and distressing career derailment. The team members felt somewhat relieved the issue was dealt with, but were upset by the unsettling experience. As an organization it was like taking two steps back in reaching our goals instead of propelling us forward; and our reputation was put at risk. For me, it meant going back to the drawing board of how to recruit into an important position; I asked myself, ‘where had our process gone wrong?’ Most managers I know have a story about the telltale signs that they missed or ignored through a hiring process.

The Harris Poll, as quoted on the Career Builder website cites the top reasons a bad hiring decision was made:

  • Candidate didn’t have all the needed skills, thought they could learn quickly: 35 percent
  • Candidate lied about his/her qualifications: 33 percent
  • Took a chance on a nice person: 32 percent
  • Pressured to fill the role quickly: 30 percent

They also asked the top ways in which the poor performance presented itself

  • The worker didn’t produce the proper quality of work: 54 percent
  • The worker had a negative attitude: 53 percent
  • The worker didn’t work well with other workers: 50 percent

After that experience I reviewed the literature and studied the hiring practices of successful companies and organizations. The result was a significantly improved process that could help to find the person that would be a good match, and to eliminate those who we could have predicted would have difficulty succeeding in the position into which we were recruiting. (I state as an outright caveat that this blog post represents management advice only. Check with H.R. and/or legal expertise to ensure your recruitment practices are compliant with human rights and employment standards legislation).

Here are 8 steps to help you find the right people to interview:

1. Write the job description and job posting to communicate the essential skills of the job, the organization culture and the qualifications you are seeking to attract the largest pool of prospective candidates possible

The time you put into describing the position and job posting, up front, will save much time down the road. Ask the person, in plain language, to ‘tell you who they are’, ‘why they are a fit for this position’, and why ‘they think you are a fit for them’.

  • Communicate the competencies that are required within the core responsibilities of the job, and the expectations of how the person will work with clients or as a member of a team, and any initiatives outside of the core responsibilities to which you wish them to contribute. The way a person works with others in the organization is as important as the skills they bring! For example, the statement for a nurse, for example, needs to go beyond the candidates’ clinical skills to include key expectations of working non-judgmentally with clients, and collaboratively as a team.
  • Post your position via the main target media to attract your prospective applicants. Share the posting internally so your own staff can be ambassadors and get the word out to their networks.
  • To proactively increase your pool of prospective applicants for the key positions in your organization, always be in recruitment mode even when a vacancy is not currently available. Keep a list of people you notice on committees, giving presentations or writing articles. Introduce yourself and mention how you admire their work.
2. Screen and shortlist the resumes to see if you can ‘see’ the person behind the application

The resume and cover letter are of course the usual first communication from the prospective employee to you. The best resumes rise to the top when you see that applicants:

  • have taken the time to customize their resume to suit your job posting. A cover letter is a reasonable expectation to enhance the details in a resume. They get bonus points if they have researched the position or organization. If the instructions said to forward their application to the CEO, it is nice to see if they researched who that was. Where it is clear there is a hiring committee, I like to see, ‘Dear Hiring Committee members’ as the salutation.
  • communicate their experience with clarity as it relates to the position description, showing what is directly connected, or is transferrable if their involvement was in another area of work
  • provide reasonable explanations for gaps in work or study timelines
  • accurately reflect their past work and study experience.

Use these expectations to shortlist the resumes. The first 3 of the 4 points above are subjective and easy to assess. The fourth one about accuracy is the barometer of how truthful the applicant is.

Cited in Workopolis, HR managers shared the most common lies in Canadian resumes:

  • Education –Many people claim to have obtained a degree, even before they have completed the program.
  • Employment dates – People often fudge the dates of their previous employment to exaggerate their tenure in a role (or mask periods of unemployment in between jobs).
  • Second language proficiency – Candidates with a conversational knowledge of a second language often claim to have native fluency.
  • Job titles – People will often tweak job titles. They do this to match the role they are applying to, or because they think their current job title undersells their contributions and/or skills. In an example of embellishment provided by Forbes in their list of 10 most memorable lies, an “applicant claimed to have been a construction supervisor. The interviewer learned the bulk of his experience was in the completion of a doghouse.”
  • Technical skills – Claim to have a skill such as computer proficiency or proposal writing that they do not possess.

There are ways for managers to root out lies or to find inconsistencies for further questioning of applicants who interest you. Some of these are detailed in the next steps.

3. Scan the applicants’ online social media profiles

It is estimated that 1 in 5 managers scan the social media profiles of candidates. HR Zone cites a survey carried out by CareerBuilder finding that 43% of hiring managers who research candidates said they had discovered information on social media that caused them not to hire them. Scanning profiles may now seem like a ‘must do’ in your hiring process, but caution is advised as there are ethical considerations of privacy and free speech to consider. I recommend getting advice from an H.R. consultant or lawyer to establish an organizational policy to ensure your practice is in keeping with ethical guidelines.

Reviewing profiles on Linked-in, on the other hand, presumes the candidate’s expectation that others will review their employment and educational background. Even so, it is wise to ask yourself whether you can rely on the information contained there anymore than what one has put in their resume.

4. Request proof of the applicants’ credentials

Where educational certification is mandatory in the position you should request that the applicant provide confirmation of transcripts or verification that they graduated from the named program. If your job posting says a Bachelor or Master degree or equivalent experience would be considered an asset, you can ask questions during the interview to assess the extent to which the person has the level of learning or critical thinking the degree represents.

For regulated professionals who require specific credentials to practice you can, and should, request verification of their status from their regulatory college. You cannot practically test that the physician has the skill to do a pap smear or prostate exam but you can count on his or her peers to have done so. Do not accept a photocopy of their registration card as proof – call the College, or request that the applicant arrange written confirmation of their status mailed directly from the College.

5. Contacting the applicant through a phone call or Skype can also bring important information to your selection process

This call allows both of you to ask questions that will fill in any gaps in information you each have about the other. You may, at this time, wish to clarify that the well qualified person is aware of the salary level of the position if it has not been included in the job posting. If level of pay is a significant personal factor in their selection of a job it could allow them to remove themselves as an applicant.

6. For those you invite to an interview provide a tour, guided by someone who is not on the interview panel

Providing a tour of the organization to the applicant before or after the interview gives the person valuable information about your organization, and can provide insight about the applicant you might not otherwise get. The tour is an opportunity to observe how the individual interacts with people on a less formal basis than in the interview setting.

Choose a tour guide who is not at the level of manager but is well informed of your organization’s activity, and is an excellent ambassador for your organization culture. After the interview ask the ‘tour guide’ to share what they observed about the applicants’ level of interest in the organization and their interpersonal communication to the guide and to others they met during the tour. Did they pay attention and ask questions, did they share information that would give cause for concern? An article by Jeff Haden in Inc. gives the example of an applicant on a tour who shared off-the-cuff and inappropriate remarks about his impressions of the position for which he was an applicant. As well, the informality of the tour may allow someone’s personality to shine through, in a way it might not have in a formal interview setting.

You may find that providing a tour is not practical if the interview is held off site, or if the candidate wishes their application to remain confidential.

7. Do technical testing for those positions for which proficiency is required, but for which there are no standardized, external certification or credentialing available

Let the candidates know ahead of time they will be asked to spend a half-hour doing technical testing, if appropriate for the position. Going back to the ‘list of common lies’, proficiency in language, computer applications, and proposal writing can be tested and scored.

8. As you go through all the above steps be sure to demonstrate that your organization is an exceptional place to work

The best of your applicants will have alternative opportunities of where they could work. Be respectful at all times of the candidates’ interest of getting timely updates on their status. Make all steps of the process as friendly as possible to mitigate the anxiety of going through a hiring process. And, showcase what is great about your organization through all the steps of the hiring process.

The next blog post, 8 steps to support hiring the right person – Part 2, will provide tips on the interview, reference checks, and on-boarding. 

In the meantime please share your hiring stories about what worked and didn’t work, keeping names and places of work confidential.

Also, what do you think about doing social media scans and tours? What have been the positive and/or negative outcomes if you have included those steps as part of your hiring process?