When Only the Best Will Do (Part Two)
February 6, 2012 by Brenda Rodeheffer
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part article by the author about hiring new employees. The first part appeared in the Court Times JULY/AUGUST issue.
Ah, what a joy it is to write about hiring a good employee, rather than disciplining an employee for poor performance. Time spent hiring the right employee is so much more pleasant than dealing with problems.
In my previous article, I discussed the selection process up to the point of the interview. Many interviews are conducted in the employer’s personal office and there is a “get to know you” exchange of information in which the employer tries to determine how comfortably the applicant will fit in with the organization. There are a large number of employees who can put on a false persona for an hour or two to give a favorable impression to the interviewer. There are some tools an employer may use to help overcome a false face.
A good place to hold an interview is in a conference room or other neutral room, rather than the interviewer’s personal office. The benefits of this are that the interviewer is not distracted by calls or other work, and the applicant does not have the opportunity to look around the office for clues as to how to relate favorably to the interviewer. Interviews should be conducted with at least one person asking questions and another person taking notes of the interview. Just as when some of us were litigators and we wanted to spend our time focusing on the witness’s answer, in an interview you also want to focus on the applicant’s answer and body language. Someone else should be taking notes so you are not distracted and can zero in on what is being presented.
The same basic list of questions should be posed to each applicant, although you will also use the interview to fill in any blanks in the résumé or to ask special questions you have about a particular applicant. The common list of questions should all seek behavioral information and the wording should be thought through in advance and designed to elicit key information about the person.
Instead of asking “how do you handle difficult subordinates?” you should ask the applicant to give an example of a difficulty that the applicant had with a subordinate and to explain how the applicant handled the difficulty. If the applicant’s response is merely theoretical or otherwise off-point, you should bluntly ask for a specific example. You also should avoid providing clues to the applicant on what you consider to be the best answer. Don’t ask: “how do you feel about working in a sometimes chaotic environment” or “how do you feel about working in a quiet office where you are by yourself most of the day?” Instead, ask the applicant: “Which employer provided you with the best work environment and why was it the best?”
Some experts feel that spending a long amount of time with an applicant allows us to see how the person holds up under scrutiny. If there isn’t time for that, you can still craft good questions to provide insight into the applicant’s real work behavior.
When an applicant becomes a likely choice, or one of the few remaining applicants, you should have the applicant(s) complete a formal application. The application should require the applicant to list and give contact information for every previous job and educational accomplishments.
The applicant should also sign a release authorizing your contact with prior places of employment and schools. You can provide a copy of the release if requested so that former employers and references will be more likely to give frank information. The application should also include a criminal history release and should end with an attestation clause in which the applicant verifies the truth of the information given in the application.
In a recent online poll of job seekers concerning their résumés, a majority said that they would lie in certain situations. Eighteen percent said they would “do whatever it takes” in falsifying a résumé if it would help to get a job. As an employer with a public trust, it is imperative to check all the information given by an applicant including education, job history, and references. Don’t accept excuses for any gaps or discrepancies between the résumé and the information independently obtained. If the applicant has an explanation for a discrepancy, then the applicant should provide proof to verify the explanation. A criminal history check is a basic for public employees; and, if the person will be handling funds, a credit report may also be needed.
Applicants should provide at least three people as references, and one of the references should be someone who has known the applicant for many years. Some employers put little stock in references since almost everyone can find people who will put in a good word for them. However, several times I have eliminated applicants because of a reference check.
First, the reference source should praise the applicant highly, not just give a “good” reference. Weak praise is a strong indicator that there are problems with the applicant. Second, you should have a list of open-ended questions to ferret out any weaknesses and follow-up to encourage conversation with the reference. Third, it is a perfect opportunity to verify with the reference any information given by the applicant on the résumé. For example, you may find an applicant’s claim of being responsible for a major innovation while working for a former employer was exaggerated; and the applicant actually played a minor role on a team that was responsible for that major innovation. Finally, you should make an effort to interview the applicant’s current supervisor if you have decided to make an offer. Tell the applicant you plan to do this.
When you offer a job, you should specify the salary, position and starting date in a letter to the applicant. You should include a paragraph clarifying that the letter does not constitute a contract of employment, such as:
Please be advised that nothing in this letter creates an employment contract, a property interest in the position, or otherwise alters your employment-at-will status.
Despite all these efforts and for a number of different reasons, sometimes an applicant just does not fit well. But if you have taken the time to follow this process, it is much more probable that you will hire an individual who is an asset to your office.
Finally, you should always be kind to those who do not get the job. It is important to acknowledge receipt of résumés, to inform persons when they are eliminated from consideration, and to include a kind or encouraging word in the rejection note.
As always, if you need examples or wish any assistance, I’m here to help.