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How to properly screen job candidates

Oct 27, 2015 | Human Resources

There are few bigger decisions in business than who to hire.

Searching for and screening talent is no easy task, and even after it all, you still do not really know if you’ve made the right decision until the individual has started working alongside you and your colleagues.

A recent CareerBuilder survey highlighted just how fraught with danger the recruitment process can be in the modern age, pointing out that almost two-thirds of the working population have embellished their skill set. But that’s not all: over half had exaggerated their level of responsibility, with a third lying about their job title and one-fifth of those surveyed claiming to have received awards and accolades they did not receive.

Obstacles like this mean the modern-day HR manager has to broaden the criteria used to evaluate any candidate, while also going back to some basic tactics that may have been forgotten or managed hastily in a digital world that has us doing everything far too quickly. So how to give yourself the best chance of making the right choice in the first place? Let’s take a look at some essentials for the screening process.

Assess character as well as qualifications

Of course, any new hire needs to be fully equipped to do the job, but nothing is more important than personality when it comes to recruitment. Skills can more often than not be learned and acquired, while personality and attitude likely won’t change to fit the environment.

So be sure to evaluate any candidate on a personal and social level as well as a professional one. Look out for the usual tell-tale signs of poor social intelligence – a lack of eye contact or short, closed answers are potential giveaways.

It is very easy to get swept away into thinking that just because a person has relevant experience to the role on offer they will automatically be the right fit. This, however, does not take into account the unique culture of your organisation. One good measure is to consider your existing employees when making the decision and consider whether they will welcome this person to the team or not.

Personality clashes, after all, can be very costly for a company, and you want to do your best to anticipate whether the fit is there or not. To put it another way, we simply cannot ignore just how difficult human relations are at times and how office politics can play a role in stabilising or destabilising your company. The hiring process is not a time for idealism.

Get clever with your questioning

Unfortunately, you can’t just come out and ask an interviewee if they will be a good employee or not. But you can ask a series of more subtle questions to come to a conclusion on that question yourself. One particular question to pay close attention to is the reason the individual left their last job (or is considering leaving their current job). Any answer that is overly vague or looks to apportion blame on somebody else should automatically set off alarm bells. While it is natural to have issues and conflict in the workplace from time-to-time, it is how people put that all in perspective that defines how well they work with others. Blaming others is addictive, after all, and anyone looking for problems is going to find them.

And you can also get a bit philosophical with your questions. Instead of asking “Why do you want to work here?”, ask “Why do you work?” Don’t ask “Where are you going to be in five years time?”, but rather, “Who are you going to be in five years time?”. Questions like this should lead to more thoughtful answers rather than stock responses and give you an insight into the candidate’s work ethic, level of ambition, and of course personality.

Finally, don’t always be the one to ask the questions – let your candidate take the lead. Actively invite questions throughout the interview process rather than just at the end, and always be thorough, open and honest in your answers. After all, you want candidates that truly wish to work for your company, and you’re not going to get that by offering a sugar-coated version of the day-to-day goings-on.

Make sure you really know what you’re looking for

While this may sound obvious, it is all too often overlooked. Usually, a vacancy arises because someone is being replaced, and in the panic of finding a replacement in time, those hiring can lose sight of what is required to fill the position. Therefore, the first stage of any recruitment process should be to analyse the job in question.

Drill down into exactly what is required of the successful candidate in terms of skills, responsibilities and performance, and do not let yourself cut corners in the search due to your haste to fill the role. And just because a role has been previously occupied doesn’t mean it should not evolve or change as the company moves on. Take advantage of forced change as a means to improve. Are there any new responsibilities that could be incorporated into the job spec? Or, on the flipside, should any duties be removed to bring more focus to the role?

No talent search can begin until the roles and responsibilities of the job in question have been thoroughly laid out and everyone involved in the recruitment process has a comprehensive understanding of what’s expected from a successful applicant. So get everything on paper and take your time doing it. The upfront effort will likely lead to a far better scenario down the road.

Go with your gut

No matter how detailed and formulated your interview process is, how many opinions you canvass from colleagues who are also involved in the interview process, or how closely your candidate fits the job specification on paper, if you can’t shake that feeling that it’s just not the right fit, then go with that instinct every time. Ask any hiring manager about bad decisions they’ve made in terms of recruitment and most of them will tell you they had a bad feeling about the hire right from the beginning but ignored it because from a practical point of view all looked in order.

Equally, never settle because you feel you’re out of options. If you reach the end of the recruitment process and still don’t feel that you’ve found what you’re looking for, get in new candidates. While a delay in recruiting for a vital role may have consequences, they are likely to pale in comparison to what can await you should you fill a vacancy with the wrong person. In urgent cases, better to look at short-term options such as a freelancer while you continue to search for a candidate that you are 100% happy with.

The process continues long after the job offer

While being mindful of these tips will certainly give you a fighting chance of hiring only the best, there are always going to be unknowns in recruitment, and sometimes – despite best intentions – things don’t go to plan. That’s why as well as pulling out all the stops during the recruitment process, it’s just as important to know – once you’ve hired your chosen candidate – when things aren’t working out.

If this is the case you have two choices: You either determine that the problem can be fixed by developing a plan to bring the hire up to speed; or you pull the plug. If the latter, do it quickly. It’s always best to rectify the mistake and go your separate ways rather than over-investing time attempting to fix a situation that cannot be fixed.

Some of the greatest business minds will tell you that of all the many tasks they have in running a company, the one they spend the most time on is finding the right people. Running a company is after all about building something great, and to do that you will need a strong team.

The key is to strike the balance between a rigorous recruitment process and a personal evaluation of each candidate – ensuring whoever you hire is not only the best at what they do, but can also complement the way you work now and in the future. It is your vision after all, and so you want to keep it healthy – and keep in control of it – by finding those who will contribute to it.

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