How to Pick the Best Candidates in a Competitive Job Market
If your newly-hired employee asks for a couple of months off on his first day of work, console yourself with the thought that he wasn’t caught watching porn in front of customers.
When it comes to workplace horror stories, everybody can pull out a favorite “can you believe this” anecdote. That goes with the territory. Every employer is capable of making a mistake when it comes to hiring. It’s when a company demonstrates a failing pattern of bad choices that it’s time to worry.
Bad hires can lead to lost productivity, create problems within an organization and leave clients upset. And that gets expensive. A recent study of nearly 60,000 workers across 11 firms in various industries found that a toxic employee was worth about $12,500 in turnover costs. (And that doesn’t include other potential costs, such as litigation fees and lower employee morale.) In a 2012 CareerBuilder survey, 41 percent of the businesses polled said that a bad hire could cost an organization $25,000; a quarter believed it was higher—$50,000 or more.
Yet when the Harvard Business Review examined corporate recruiting track records a few years ago, it found that just a handful of companies excelled at one or more aspects of the hiring process. Even fewer organizations came close to having anything resembling a hiring “gold standard.”
Haste leads to waste
It’s a standard business cliché but employees are the lifeblood of any company. In the technology field, where there’s stiff competition for qualified candidates with highl desired skills, there’s extra pressure to get this right from the get-go. But some recruits may dazzle during the screening interview and yet turn out to be duds once they’re on the job.
Even though hiring the right people is less science than an art, staffing professionals say organizations can limit the likelihood of making mistakes by adhering to proven practices.
Colleen Hughes, CompTIA’s senior vice president of Human Resources, says there are familiar types of hires to avoid. These include:
- The person who won't answer any questions directly.
If hired, she or he probably will deflect all problems and negatives onto other people and take responsibility only when it benefits them.
- The person who is in it only for him/herself.
If the position needs to be part of a team—and most jobs are—problems will most likely arise.
- The cultural misfit.
It is critical to be sure that the person you are extending an offer to can not only do the job, but also fit with the culture of your organization. If not, the new hire will not be happy and probably create negativity in the work environment.
The challenge is especially acute in tech, where there is still competition for qualified individuals for many jobs. It’s a problem that Hughes says hiring managers exacerbate by being myopic.
“Hiring managers often state that they must have candidates with `X’ number of years' experience and won't look at anyone who doesn't meet that requirement,” she said. “Consequently, great candidates with a good background, lots of drive and the ability to do the job are overlooked.
“Inflexibility in looking at candidates that aren't cookie cutter perfect or meet the requirements of the job but are a horrible cultural fit,” she continued. “The later mistake can take a terrible toll.”
Meet the nightmare applicants
When it comes to vetting perfect strangers, hiring managers wind up playing the part of detective, hoping to glean clues into the candidate’s makeup and suitability. But some applicant traits leave little doubt about the next step in the process. Here are some personalities to avoid:
- George Patton’s Second Coming
Some people come with natural rough edges and that’s part of their charm. But here’s one instance where too much of a good thing isn’t good at all in an office setting. Overbearing, dominating personalities may work well in certain hierarchies, but you’re not pulling together an army outfit. You want team players, so be careful about injecting any element that will disrupt workforce chemistry.
- Shifty McBlame
If the candidate speaks negatively of former employers or seeks to shift responsibility—and blame—for past outcomes, think long and hard about whether this is a person for you.
- Mr. Smarty Pants
Every organization wants someone who's sure of themselves. But there's a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance. Watch for overconfidence, and a “my way is the only right way” attitude. They may know what they’re doing, but you still need someone who knows how to talk to clients.
Hiring tips to mind
Get a clear idea whether the person seeking to become part of your organization is going to fit with the corporate culture. Don’t rely on your gut to make a decision. This is closer to a marriage so it pays to take enough time to vet the candidate thoroughly. Hold several rounds of meetings where the applicant meets well-trained interviewers from various parts of the organization.
Take your time. There's the obvious temptation to rush through the process and hire the first warm body that has the right resume. But don't be too quick on the trigger.
Avoid conducting the job search on an ad hoc basis. Dip into a deep pool of candidates that includes insiders and outsiders. Sometimes the best candidates come via the personal recommendations of partners, friends or other people in your network.
It’s obviously critical to find qualified candidates. But at the same time, make sure to hire someone who is a cultural fit, wants to grow, learn more and will look to be a contributing part of the organization. This last point is especially critical, says Eric Torres, the channel development manager at data backup specialist Datto Inc.
The Practitioner’s Voice
Here’s what Torres counsels:
“Whether it’s hiring for an engineer or anyone else within the organization, I think the biggest thing to think about is whether the applicant will fit with your people. That’s the key question to answer. Will this person get along with everybody on the team and mesh? Or are they going to come in thinking that they have all this experience and that their way is the only way?
One practice I recommend – and this extends from operations to sales to engineering – is to get the team involved in the approval of any new hire. As an MSP grows, it should try and get multiple people involved in the hiring process. You don’t want to hire an engineer just by having other engineers interview them. If you bring someone from sales or from marketing into the process they now feel as though they’re part of something. They’re a part of that interview process. They actually have a say in what happens inside the organization and that’s how you start building a great culture among the staff.
Hiring too quickly can cause problems later on. Often, especially on the engineering side, you’re hiring somebody because there’s a need that is immediate. Maybe there’s a project coming up, or there’s a backlog of service orders and so you’re hiring because of that. But if you pull the trigger too quickly, that’s when you start making offers to somebody who hasn’t gone through the typical interviewing process. I’m a processes and procedures kind of guy and I think that there should be processes for everything.
If you like someone, bring them in a couple of different times. Once you start deviating from any kind of process, that’s when things start happening and that’s when you’re going to make the mistake of hiring the wrong person. Just because someone just wowed you in that first interview, you should still get feedback from other people.
When you’re hiring engineers, put them on the spot with job-related questions, asking them to resolve a problem. What are the resolution steps they would suggest? Get to see how their mind works and how they would approach a tough situation.”