Saturday, December 15, 2018

Finding the Right Hire

Posted by OnCourse Staff June 1, 2011 6:03pm

Photo Credit: Chodra

  As a member of industry and fraternal organizations, I often get asked by people I know if I can help them find a job.  Sadly, some of these individuals have been out of work for a year or more, making them members of the long-term unemployed.  You can see the look of desperation as they actively look for their next opportunity.  Many were laid off during the economic downturn, dubbed “The Great Recession”.  I wish I could do more to help.  Many of us know individuals in similar circumstances and feel bad and want to help.   Then I come to the office and the exact opposite occurs: I can’t find qualified candidates for our open roles.   Management often complains, “Why can’t we find any qualified individuals?” or “How come we are not getting responses to our posted job ads,” and my personal favorite “why should I pay a fee to a recruiting agency when so many are unemployed?”  With about 400,000 unemployed people looking for jobs, you would think recruiting would a cinch.  However, the “war” for talent still rages.  A recent study examining the experiences of senior HR leaders found that more than half have struggled filling their open positions in the past six months and 70% attribute a skills shortage in the market for these difficulties.  We can all take some solace in our shared experiences!

Prior to this current economic downturn, some economists and demographic experts predicted there would be two types of job seekers.  The first is a large pool of unskilled labor struggling to find work. Second, a small, highly talented and well educated labor pool which creates a talent shortage.  These two labor pools are evident already in today’s recruiting market.   Many firms would have little problem finding administrative assistants but struggle to find a qualified controller.  This divide will only become exacerbated when the baby eventually retire, taking their knowledge, skills, and abilities with them.  This brain drain will have an incredible impact on firms of all sizes and planning for it now is extremely necessary.  To further complicate matters, cost constraints is also a factor.  It would be easy to hire an agency, but at 20-25% of compensation per search, those fees can add eat up your recruiting budget fast.  All of these factors, plus the need to fill the positions in a timely matter, keeps up HR Directors, Recruiters, Hiring Managers, and C-Suite Executives.  We all agree on what the issues are, however, how to solve them is a totally different matter.  There are no easy solutions, and it will take some creativity and an investment by each firm.  My recommendations are:

  1. Focus on Quality
  2. Keep or develop an entry-level college recruiting program
  3. Develop a flexible interview and hire process

These are not going to be easy.  Many firms have deeply entrenched interview and hire processes but in this war for talent, removing obstacles is critical to landing a top candidate.

Many readers are probably asking, "why quality"? Quality generally equals increased cost that we might not be able to compensate.  How do you define quality?  While they are very valid concerns, however, quality is important as it will allow you to better position your firm when the economy does recover.  Remember, you are not just recruiting for the short-term; you need to keep your long-term needs in mind.  Where does your firm want to be in one, three or five years?  Do you currently have the quality in-house now to achieve your strategic goals?  As more and more strategic plans are developing from grass-roots efforts vs. a blueprint from the Board of Directors, HR departments can no longer wait for the strategic plan to arrive like manna from heaven prior to begin recruiting.  Recruiters need to spend time with the hiring managers probing them for what the key driving factors in their businesses are for the next one, three or five years.   Translating the articulated business drivers into a recruiting strategy, while not easy, will allow you to recruit for quality that will position your business for the future.  It is difficult to think this way, however, you are not just recruiting for your current needs but for tomorrow’s needs as well.

As this is graduation season, many firms have already hired or decided to skip hiring from the 2011 graduating class.  Whether you hire an entire cohort of students or just one or two during the course of the spring/summer, you are certainly ahead of the pack.  During an economic downturn, it is easy to stop college recruiting efforts.   On-site college recruiting and attendance at job fairs can be expensive and the dollars might be needed elsewhere in the firm.  You might not have an immediate need for entry-level staff, however this can be shortsighted.  As already noted, baby boomer employees are getting ready to retire (and majorities will retire once their 401K’s and other retirement assets regain their value) and having this next wave of employees ready to step into the baby boomer shoes can minimize the brain drain that will occur.  Hiring these recent college graduates will take a bit of an investment that might be difficult to justify during this economic downturn.  However, the investment will reap major rewards when the 2011 class of hires learn from the baby boomers prior to their exit from the workforce.  The baby boomers will retire, the only question is. "do you have a labor pool ready to take their place?"

The fast-pace of technology development allows firms to continually re-evaluate many of their processes.  However, recruiting seems to be stuck in neutral.  Smaller firms that cannot afford, or do not have the need for a large talent management technology solution (and there are some really great ones on the market) will still benefit from updated and making their recruiting process more flexible.   Whereas these talent management systems are good for managing the data (such as census, sources, and core skills), firms still need to go out and find the right candidates.   Flexibility does not just mean who, where and when the candidate interviews. Nor does flexibility mean using recruiters over job board and networking.  Using recruiters can be very expensive.  Flexibility, in terms of the war for talent, means that you can’t hire only those candidates that tick every box of your requirements.  Hiring only those individuals that meet every qualification on a job description will only prolong not only your recruiting efforts but in general the war for talent.  This does not mean you have no hiring criteria. The candidate should posses the basic criteria to accomplish the functions of the job, match your company’s values and be fit into the strategic vision of the firm.  However, if your firm holds hard and fast that every candidate has to tick all of the boxes and only the boxes found on the job description, you might be continuously losing out on talent that can help grow your firm.  Firms need to ensure that recruiting is not a box-ticking exercise and train managers to access interviewees on core behavioral aspects that match the values of your organizations in addition to meeting the basic job requirements.   Below are the behavioral interviewing guidelines we use to train our managers:

Behavioral Interview Guidelines & Sample Questions

Objective: A systematic approach to interviewing where both HR and Line Management evaluate candidates past behaviors to ascertain future success.

Process: Both HR and Line Management ask similar questions to identify key knowledge, skills & abilities (KSAs), behaviors, and core competencies that are critical for successful job performance.

Take notes during the interview.  Post-interview, complete the Candidate Assessment form, scoring the candidate on a scale of (1-5), adding comments that can used for future reference.  Return the complete Candidate Assessment form to HR.

HR will compile all date and finalize an average score for candidates.  Once all candidates have been interviewed and scored, we can use scores to assess future job performance and company fit.


Sample Questions: Below are sample questions for each of the 11 sections on the Candidate Assessment form.  You do not need to ask every question listed; however, you do need to ask at least 1 question from every category.  Ask follow-up and drill down questions.  You should ask enough questions to be able to score the candidate.

Section 1: Educational Background

  1. What are your professional reading sources?
  2. Through your career have learned more about your profession through coursework or through on the job experience?  Explain.  What is more important to your profession, experience or continued education?
  3. What was the last work-related educational seminar or class you attended? Why did you attend this course? How have you transferred the knowledge gained in the course to your work?
  4. Why did you choose your undergrad/grad college?
  5. Describe the decision to get a professional designation?

Section 2: Prior Work Experience

  1. What would your last boss say about you?
  2. Describe how you like to be managed, and the best relationship you’ve had with a previous boss.
  3. Explain the phrase “work-ethic” and describe yours.

Section 3: Technical Qualification/Experience

  1. Tell me the steps you take to monitor the quality of your work?
  2.  How do you decide when something is “good enough” or when it needs to be a close to perfect as possible?
  3. Have you ever solved a problem others couldn’t? Tell me about it.
  4. How computer literate are you, and which software programs are you familiar with?
  5. Could your performance be improved by incorporating new technical knowledge and developments?
  6. What is your level of experience with software used in your job?  What resources do you use when faced with a PC problem?
  7. Have you ever used software to make a work related presentation?

Section 4: Verbal Communication

  1. Describe a difficult time you have had dealing with an employee, customer, co-worker?  Why was it difficult? How did you handle it?  What was the outcome?
  2. What do you do when others reject your ideas or actions?

Section 5: Candidate Enthusiasm

  1. Describe an ideal work environment of “the perfect job.”
  2. What skill set do you think you would bring to the position?
  3. Why have you applied for this position?
  4. Why should we hire YOU?
  5. When can you start?

Section 6: Knowledge of Company

  1. What do you know about our company?
  2. If the position required, would you be willing to travel?
  3. After learning about the position, what made you take the next step and apply for the position?

Section 7: Teambuilding/Interpersonal Skills

  1. You are a committee member and disagree with a point or decision.  How will you respond?
  2. How do you know when you are stressed?  What do you do to de-stress?
  3. Can you tell me about a time during your previous employment when you suggested a better way to perform a process?

Section 8: Initiative

  1. Can you tell me about a time during your previous employment when you suggested a better way to perform a process?
  2. Tell me about a personal career goal that you have accomplished and why that was important to you?
  3. If you are the successful applicant, how would you expect to be different after a year in the position?
  4. Describe a time when you performed a task outside your perceived responsibilities.  What was the task? Why did you perceive it to be outside of your responsibilities? What was the outcome?
  5. What are your career path interests?

Section 9: Time Management

  1. Give an example of a time when you were trying to meet a deadline, you were interrupted, and did not make the deadline.  How did you respond?
  2. When you a have a lot of work to do, how do you get it all done?  Give me examples.
  3. Describe a time you identified a barrier to your (and/or others’) productivity and what you did about it?
  4. How do you determine what amount of time is reasonable for a task?

Section 10: Customer Service

  1. Have you ever contacted a customer with the sole purpose of seeking feedback about a product or service you delivered?  What did you learn? What did you change?
  2. Describe a time you received unsolicited feedback from a customer about your work?  What did you do?  What improvements/changes were suggested or made?

By removing obstacles and giving hiring managers tools for accessing talent based on behaviors and values versus matching to the job description will give your recruitment process and add value to the long-term, strategic success of your recruiting.

Even in a bad economic climate, recruiting is tough.    Recruiting will only get more difficult as the economy improves, and then the wave really hits when the baby boomers leave the work force altogether.  However, there are steps you can start to do now to help make your firm’s recruiting more strategic: focus on quality, invest in college recruiting, and add flexible to your process.  It is not going to be easy nor is it going to be achieved quickly.  However, over time, you will reap the rewards and hopefully a good night sleep!



Alexander Mann.  “How do you balance short-term financial needs with strategic requirements?”  Found at

Schramm, Jennifer.  “Jobs and Joblessness”.  HR Magazine.  May 2011: 88.

Smith, Dave Sumner.  “Companies struggle to recruit good staff-despite high unemployment levels”. Found at




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