Are You Hiring Strategically?

Strategic hiring is a process – one that many managers would prefer to forget about but one that is necessary all the same.  And when you consider that replacing the average mid-level manager costs the firm double that person’s annual salary, it’s definitely worth the upfront investment.

In the midst of the panic of trying to fill a critical position, one of the first things that managers neglect is the first stage of the hiring process, or the job analysis.  This is because people tend to think that if the position has been occupied before, things like requisite skills, responsibilities, and performance criteria should be obvious.  In fact, many firms never take the time to detail out what a job specifically entails, relying instead on institutional knowledge and subjective opinions of what a person is supposed to do in a certain role at a certain level.  They also fail to take into account the possibility that a previously occupied job might need to be changed to meet the evolving needs of the firm or department.

Finding the right candidate is much easier when you take the time to carefully analyze the job you need to fill, and everyone who is part of the hiring process agrees in advance on a set of criteria.

What Do We Need and Why?

The first step is to determine your business requirements for the position, in the context of the overall company landscape.  What are the core products, services, initiatives, and financial circumstances that will impact this new hire?  In filling this position, what are you hoping to achieve?  What are the business problems the new hire will need to solve in the first 90 days or the first year, and what are the major projects he or she will need to complete to this end?  Who will be the key players in this new hire’s work life, including supervisors, colleagues, reports, other departments, customers, and partners?

Next, you’ll want to do some in-house interviewing.  Your mission?  To uncover a profile of the top performer in the position you’re looking to fill.  Talk with and observe in action those who are already doing excellent work in the same or similar jobs, and/or get input from the person you’re replacing on the traits, skills, behaviors, attitudes and experience that make them successful.  For a broader perspective, encourage co-workers who have worked with those who’ve held the open position in the past to share their thoughts on the behaviors that were most and least valuable on the job.

What Does Our Perfect Candidate Look Like?

Use the information you glean from these interviews to create a written job analysis, which you will later pare down into a punchier job description.  You will need to list the major, everyday duties of the position in question.  Focus on the typical problems the potential employee might face, and what measurable results she will be expected to achieve. When it comes to education, you’ll want to differentiate between what’s essential and what’s preferable.  Candidates are more likely to lie about their education than any other aspect of their background, so if a certain degree or certification is absolutely necessary, you will need to have a system in place for verifying credentials.

Consider the professional behaviors that will be most valuable for your new hire to exhibit and personality traits you’d most like them to have, all the while taking into account your own style as a manager. Understanding your personal problem-solving and decision-making process is critical to knowing how any new employee will complement your strengths and cover your weaknesses.

Who Should I Tap to Reach a Consensus?

Once you’ve compiled an initial job analysis, you should select a committee that will assist you in making the hiring decision. The committee, which will consist of 3-5 stakeholders, should provide feedback on the job analysis.  In your first meeting, you should also discuss the number and/or level of people supervised, decision authority, scope of projects, developmental track, and special considerations such as technical and physical requirements and travel and relocation.

Now, using your interview notes and your job analysis as a base, select as a group the four most critical knowledge areas, skills, and work experiences the candidate should have already obtained.  Also agree upon the four most essential educational attainments and four most desirable personality traits based on the vacant position and its place within your culture.

Finalize your selections in an easy-to-digest job description, making sure that every member of the group understands the meaning behind each item and is on the same page regarding exactly what you’re looking for.  It’s critical that all of the relevant stakeholders reach a consensus on what exactly the job is now, before the recruitment process begins.  Otherwise, stakeholders may dispute the qualifications of given candidates as a way of trying to steer the position in the direction they want it to go.

As you look ahead to interviewing, it’s helpful to take your job description and rank the 5-7 most important items on it in priority order.  At this stage, it’s also appropriate for you and your colleagues to outline how to sell the opportunity and your company’s value proposition to the highly desirable candidate you’re hoping to attract.  Additionally, you may want to get input from your committee on the upcoming candidate search.  Items of discussion might include the sources to target and the sources to avoid, the group that should interview candidates, the timeframe for bringing a new hire on board, and the compensation package that will be offered.

Why Should We Bother with All of This?

In addition to improving the viability of hires and decreasing turnover, a thorough job analysis is essential to the legal defensibility of your hiring processes.  Even better, a completed job analysis has many useful applications beyond hiring – including employee onboarding, training, and development, headcount assessment, and operations management!

Have you systematized your hiring process?  Has a less arbitrary approach increased your effectiveness?

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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