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Hiring right the first time Featured

10:08am EDT July 22, 2002
Seven years ago, Elizabeth Juliano had seven people on staff at her Cleveland-based firm, Litigation Management, and she was desperate to add more. But she was having trouble making new hires stick.

It's not to say that people were quitting right and left; but as founder and president of the business-which works with corporations defending against medical-related lawsuits-Juliano noticed that many of her new employees either had the skills to do the job but weren't interested in the work, or were interested but didn't have the skills.

The work involved sifting through mountains of documents, identifying important issues and writing summary reports for corporate attorneys to use in court. She knew the right people were out there; she just didn't know how to spot them in a crowd.

Says Juliano, "I would hire people with long-term medical experience, but they couldn't write. They would interview well, but I wouldn't realize they couldn't do the job until after I'd hire them. Then, it was hard to let somebody go because they weren't cutting it."

It's a common problem among employers in all fields. Resumes will tell you what an applicant has done-but not how well he or she did it. And the traditional interview process is usually a one- or two-shot deal that's only as good as the people asking the questions.

Yet, with the high cost of recruiting and training-and with today's job market so in favor of the applicants-companies can ill afford a hiring process that doesn't bring in the right people.

That's why Juliano turned to a corporate psychologist for help. She was familiar with pre-employment testing as a method of narrowing the applicant field, but she didn't know how it could be used to help her hiring process.


Determine qualifications

Juliano got help from Donald Walizer, president of Solon-based Corporate Psychological Services. Walizer, who specializes in pre-employment assessments, ran a battery of tests on Litigation Management's effective employees, including Juliano.

"We had to find the difference between what makes people successful in that line of work and what doesn't," Walizer says. "You have to separate the ability to do the job with the suitability to do the job. Just because you can handle the tasks doesn't mean you should be doing them. Turnover is more related to people not liking their job than not being good at it."

The testing covered abstract thinking skills, vocabulary, personal characteristics and mathematics skills. Walizer wanted to determine the best combination of abilities and interests for new hires.

He found that people who were successful at Litigation Management scored high in vocabulary and had exceptional abstract-thinking skills. Says Walizer, "They were able to take new knowledge they'd read and successfully apply it to existing knowledge."

Math skills on the other hand, turned out to be unimportant for Litigation Management's needs.

Walizer also determined that Juliano's staff was composed of a distinct personality type. "They tended to be thinkers, not talkers," he says. "She needed somebody with an investigative nature that liked to dig in and find out the reasons why. It takes a lot of cognitive horsepower to do that type of work."


Developing procedures

Armed with a profile of the successful candidate, Walizer devised a pre-employment test for Litigation Management. The idea was to run every applicant through it to screen out those who had little chance of success at the company.

For the first few hires, applicants were sent directly to Walizer for the assessment test and a biographical interview. The entire process lasted around two hours per applicant.

People who made it past that stage were then invited for an interview with Juliano.

"It's very hard to fool the test because of the way it's constructed," Walizer says. "It's easy to fake the interview part, but once they take the test you can get what you're looking for and determine if they're the right type of people for the job."

After working out the kinks in the first few sessions, Litigation Management began administering the process internally, with Walizer's role limited to interpreting the test results. Now, Juliano says, she uses the tests for temporary hires as well as to fill permanent full-time positions.


Reading the results

Seven years later, Juliano reports that the company has almost no turnover. Her staff of 50 has handled major cases for clients such as Dow-Corning and Merck & Co. Inc. The firm has outgrown its 4,000-square-foot office downtown and is planning to move into 22,000 square feet in Mayfield Heights. Juliano says the company also projects the need for 30 new hires in the next few years.

Walizer believes that's because Juliano has been able to match the right people with the right job. "When you have people who are not only good at what they do, but like it, productivity soars," he says. "And when the bottom line improves like that, the psychological well-being of the owner skyrockets as well because they're not having to deal with those personnel problems and can focus on the business itself."

Juliano agrees. "While recruiting takes longer because we're rejecting more candidates, we have people who are qualified skill-wise, personality-wise and who are organizationally suited for the company," she says. "I can't tell you when the last time was that we let somebody go for a failure to do their job."

How to reach: Litigation Management (216) 248-9920

Corporate Psychological Services (440) 778-5424