The football coach that focuses exclusively on offensive and defensive strategy without allocating adequate time to special teams is destined to failure.  I suppose that this could potentially be an easy mistake for a coach to make given that special teams only make up a rather small percentage of the total plays his team executes in a game; however, even a football novice recognizes that the best offense or defense on the planet will not be successful if the ball constantly gets snapped over the punter’s head or if the ball is always returned to their own twenty yard line after kick off.  To put it simply, the special teams in football puts the team in the position to succeed so that the offensive/defensive strategies can best be executed.  The very best coaches spend what could be considered as a disproportionate amount of time on special teams because they know that the results of those selective plays could very well determine the outcome of the game.

In businesses, large and small, owners and supervisors do not spend a considerable amount of their time screening, interviewing and selecting the employees that will carry out the organization’s vision and strategy…however, this nominal time spent doing these activities does not reduce the significance of these tasks.  In fact, I would passionately argue that this is, by far, the MOST IMPORTANT responsibility of the owner/supervisor.   Like the football coach’s special teams, the employee selection process puts the organization in the position to succeed.  There isn’t a strategy, there isn’t a vision…until you have the right people, in the right places executing the critical daily tasks that are vital to sustainable success.

With all the recent posts and articles regarding the selection of our website’s new log additions I thought that it might be prudent to write an article that details some of the very basic yet critical elements of employee selection.   It truly does not matter how large your business is…this process will bury you if you do not give it the attention it deserves.  Unfortunately, I have found that small businesses typically do a very poor job at selecting their employees…all too often, employees are relatives or friends that lack the basic skills to augment the organization’s ability to be profitable/successful.   Don’t neglect this process…your business’s survival depends on it.

Detailed below are some very general considerations as you enter into the selection process.  Please note that there are countless resources that will assist you as you develop or refine your current selection practices…this article is simply designed to get you started towards making better hires.

1.     Know what you are looking for:   Whether you are hiring a trainer or a custodian, make certain that you have a very good idea of the basic qualities, skills and experience that would be ideal for that position.  This can be done on your own or through constructive dialogue with those who are already on your team.  Consider your organization’s values and overall business plan…you must make certain that you have a crystal clear visualization of how this position is going add value.  When you finally decide what it is you are looking for, it is then extremely important not to compromise on what you committed to when the actual hiring begins.  Remember, it is not your responsibility to hire someone and then decide where you can best utilize them…it is far better to know exactly what you need and hire the person that best fulfills that need.

2.     Do Not Hire Out of Panic: All too often, business owners, when confronted with a vacancy, get extremely desperate to fill the position.  This anxiety is understandable…the workload in a business does not change regardless whether or not your business has the people it needs to operate well and nobody wants to see a sixty hour workweek jump to an eighty hour workweek due to an open position.  Unfortunately, panic often leads to hasty decisions and hasty decisions typically lead to less than desirable operational results.   Just one poor hire can impact a business very, very badly.  My opinion is that it is better to tolerate an open position for as long as it takes to hire the right person for the job.  The last thing that you want to do is to invite a liability into your business.  Have patience and know that the right applicant will come along…putting your operation into a holding pattern is far better than having to recover the losses that a bad hire can create.

3.     The Interview…get some help: When the time comes for you to start interviewing your qualified applicants, I highly suggest that you invite someone you trust…whether it is another one of your employees or even a mentor…to interview the applicants with you.  For some reason, many, many business owners seem to have the misconception that they give outstanding interviews. They are so confident in their skills that they very seldom feel that they need any assistance in the selection of the employees that will be the best fit for the organization. They are self proclaimed "great judges or character" or have a “sixth” sense that ensures a particular employee is going to be a "future all-star." Unfortunately, these same business leaders are often sitting behind their desk, six months down the road, stating to his or her staff  that “ he was so good in the interview...I could have never guessed that he was so (fill in the blank with a truly dreadful quality)!" At some point in time, we, as leaders, need to come to terms with the fact that we possess biases and blind spots that could potentially prevent us from making appropriate hiring decisions. Don't take this personally, it has little to do with competency or has everything to do with being a human being; however, while our personal biases outside of the workplace might impact what kind of car we like to drive or our favorite flavor of ice cream, our personal biases when selecting employees could very well be very detrimental to our hiring decisions.  Get other opinions from those whom you trust and value them as much as your own.

4.     Find out what they have done…not how they feel: From the time a prospective employee fills out an application to the time that they go through one or more interviews, they are on the “show me” plan.  When asking interview questions, make certain that you ask specifically why they are qualified for the job.  Ask them to describe problems they have solved, ask them about how they helped their former employers succeed, ask them about mistakes they have made and what they did to overcome them.  Don’t allow them to simply theorize why they would be a good fit for your business…have them prove to you why they would be a good fit by their work experiences and proven skills.  Applicants are often very good at avoiding direct questions about their work experience by articulating their opinions and philosophies…the problem is that an opinion or philosophy doesn’t ensure that they are going to get good results for you.  You want proven history to base your hiring decision on, so make certain that you get it.  If someone impresses you to the point where you want to offer them the position, take their resume and verify everything on it…from education completed to the jobs they have worked.  Do a background check and touch base with every one of their references…both personal and professional…even if you know them.  This could ultimately allow you to differentiate between the exceptional applicant and the fake.

5.     After Hire, Put them on Probation: When the time comes for you to offer the position to a qualified applicant and they accept the position, it is always best to institute a probationary time period where his or her performance is going to be intensely monitored.  I would suggest that this can be no shorter than ninety days with formal reviews taking place no less than every thirty days.  During this time, you need to orient them well and set them up to succeed…however, just because you hired them does not mean that you are required to trust them implicitly.  Consider this time as an extended interview where they must keep the promises that they made to you during the selection process.  Make your feedback during these thirty day reviews very constructive and honest…do not ignore opportunities for improvement and do not withhold praise. If all goes well, they can eventually become a valued member of your team…if problems arise, you then have an established system to address the issues and cancel their employment if needed.  While every hire that you make should bring with it a true sense of optimism and hope for the best, the realities of business require us to truly be as objective as possible and not ignore issues that could harm our results.

Please understand that you can do this process perfectly and still occasionally suffer a bad hire…no system is infallible.  However, I can promise you that these steps do lead to a far better success rate when it comes to hiring qualified employees regardless the size of your business.  The people you surround yourself with can and will determine what your business is capable of.

One final note to those who are not supervisors or business owners…in many ways, I am certain that you are probably asking how this directly applies to you.  My advice is to seek out those organizations who take the selection of their employees very seriously.  If the business that you are applying at does not go through at least some of the steps listed above, then it might be a good idea to look for one that does.  If they do not take their employee selection process seriously, then chances are likely that there are other aspects of their business that are being neglected as well.  Poor business practices will always threaten the livelihoods of the employees who serve the organization…do not put yourself in the position to go down with an already sinking ship.