Hiring new employees who will work hard and help inspire the rest of the team to put in their best effort can be vital to the success of any business. Conversely, hiring someone who doesn't work hard can tank productivity and sink an entire team’s spirit, putting the company at risk of losing business and damaging its reputation.
Plus, hiring mistakes can be costly. The average cost of hiring an employee can be nearly $4,700, but that figure can quickly climb depending on the position; in fact, executives can cost $28,000 on average to bring on board, according to benchmarking data released in April 2022 by the Society for Human Resource Management.
How can a company avoid bringing on a bad apple that might spoil the whole bunch? These six hiring tips for managers can help you look beyond a job candidate’s charm and polished resume, so you can choose A-list players who can keep their workplaces humming and their bottom lines strong.
Hiring Tip #1: Define the Ideal New Employee
It can be hard to identify high-performing candidates if you’re not clear about the characteristics you need when hiring new employees. When developing a job description, try to give plenty of thought to the role’s main mission – the key contribution you want the person to make to the business – and the competencies needed to accomplish that mission.
Next, consider the specific qualifications of the ideal candidate. Does the person need to be detail-oriented or step back to analyze the big picture? If the role is customer-facing, what type of industry know-how is needed to impress your customers? To excel, will the optimal employee be a strong team player, able to work collaboratively on projects with other staff? Or will they work more independently, needing the discipline to meet deadlines with little supervision?
Try to find inspiration by looking closely at your current top performers. What qualities make them stand out? What’s the best way to describe their work habits in a job posting, so you can attract top-notch applicants who fit the bill? Defining the skills, strengths, and attributes you need in a particular role can provide a filter to weed out the wrong fit.
Hiring Tip #2: Scrutinize the Resume, But Look Beyond Mere Credentials
Many new hires can end up failing not because they don’t have the technical skills to do the job, but because they don’t have the right attitude and work ethic. An applicant’s education and work experience are clearly important, but hiring a new employee because they attended an impressive school or worked for a well-known firm may not guarantee they’ll embrace your company’s values and work tirelessly to achieve your organization’s goals.
Instead of focusing on top-notch credentials, try to balance the expertise that is truly necessary with the soft skills that are harder for employees to acquire, like the ability to work effectively with others or to use just the right tone to woo clients. You can teach a worker to be more technically proficient through proper training, coaching, and mentoring. For some positions, it might be better to seek out more entry-level workers who are eager to go the extra mile, gain more experience, and grow.
Instead of focusing on top-notch credentials, try to balance the expertise that is truly necessary with the soft skills that are harder for employees to acquire.
Hiring Tip #3: Make the Most of the Interview
Interviewing can be key to separating mediocre candidates from applicants with real talent and the potential to flourish. This is your chance to look applicants in the eye and ask questions that allow you to truly get to know them, so you can try to determine not only whether they have the technical know-how for the job, but whether they will be a good cultural fit.
Try to limit predictable questions that are likely to produce canned answers, like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Consider digging deeper by asking candidates to describe in detail the team dynamics that either inspired their best work or held them back; examples of both successful and unsuccessful collaborative projects they worked on; their biggest accomplishments and failures (both on and off the job); how their careers brought them to this moment; and why they want to work for your company. It’s important to tease out whether applicants took the time to research your company, which could indicate whether they truly want to work for your organization and are more likely to stick around for the long haul.
In the rush to fill positions, hiring managers may sometimes ignore certain interview red flags, such as candidates who arrive late, seem unprepared, or appear inflexible. Instead, try to look for an applicant who eagerly answers questions, comes in with ideas about the role, seems excited about the position, and asks plenty of questions, expressing curiosity about the team and the office environment.
At the end of an interview, try to think of a good reason not to hire that candidate. If you can’t come up with a strong argument, you may have found your next new employee.
Hiring Tip #4: Check References With Rigor
When asking for references, try to get the right mix – not only managers but subordinates and colleagues, too. Carefully prepare questions to follow up on any concerns you may have had during the candidate’s interview and to determine whether the candidate will be a good fit. For example, did the person assist colleagues and pass on knowledge or hole up and hoard information? Did the candidate take credit for team accomplishments or share the limelight? Did the applicant accept responsibility for mistakes or blame others? Did they treat support staff with dignity and respect?
Consider asking simple, open-ended questions, such as, “What was it like working with this candidate?” and “How could the applicant improve?” The answers could give you an eye-opening look at the person you are considering.
Hiring Tip #5: Set Up a Tryout
Hiring managers who have vetted candidates’ resumes, conducted interviews, and checked references may sometimes still feel gun-shy about pulling the hiring trigger, particularly if they’ve felt burned by costly hiring mistakes in the past. If you feel unsure about bringing someone onboard, consider asking them to take a competency test, complete a project, or even work for the company on a temporary basis – for a week or a month, to evaluate how they perform on the job before moving forward.
This mini-internship approach is like an audition for the job. It works especially well with recent college graduates who don’t have much prior work experience.
Hiring Tip #6: Keep Looking for Your Next Hire
Many managers may not plan to hire new employees until they really need them. So, once a position opens, they scramble to fill it quickly. Feeling desperate to put bodies in seats to keep work from piling up can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, consider staying in recruitment mode and actively networking even when you don’t have positions to fill. In addition to talking up your company to former colleagues, friends, and other talented folks in your own network, consider asking employees to keep their eyes open for talent. You may want to offer referral bonuses if you hire someone they recommend.
Another mistake many hiring managers can make is failing to promote from within. The talent you need might already be on your payroll, needing only a little additional training and support to shine in a new position. Try to keep close tabs on your current staff, making note of the employees who seem ready to take on more advanced roles.
Whether you’re hiring from the outside or promoting from within, if you’ve got a go-to list of people to contact when a position opens, you may have a big head start.
The Bottom Line
Avoiding bad hires is important for business leaders, since hiring the wrong employee can have wide-ranging consequences. It can drain company resources, lower productivity, and turn off employees and customers, which could damage a company’s reputation and performance. Taking the time to systematically recruit strong candidates can pay off, keeping your team happy and your bottom line healthy.
A version of this article was originally published on April 12, 2016.
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