Due diligence in the hiring process

The process of hiring new employees can be expensive and time-consuming, but making a bad hiring decision is even more costly.

“At the present time, hiring new people is the number one concern among CEOs,” says Joel Adams, president and CEO of Devon Consulting in Philadelphia. “But even experienced executives frequently fail to follow a good hiring process.”

Smart Business talked to Adams about what steps CEOs can take to make sure their companies make the best hiring decisions.

What is the most important part of the hiring process?
First, it is important that there be a documented process. Without a checklist or written process of some sort, people start forgetting steps or dropping them because they don’t see the value. Some parts are more important than others in the hiring process, but any step can uncover information that can eliminate a candidate. That is why we say following the complete process is hiring “due diligence.”

So what are the individual steps toward hiring the right people?
There are the basics: reference checks, credential checks and interviews. There are skill testing, role playing, drug testing, background checks and credit checks for the positions where these things are appropriate. And, it is important to have planned out how many interviews and by whom and what we are trying to accomplish with each step, usually right down to the questions that need to be asked and the things you are looking for.

For example, instructing a hiring manager to “check the references” is not very helpful. But instructing someone to speak, voice-to-voice, with two individuals who had management roles over this candidate is very clear. Then, listing three questions that need to be answered or listing specific pieces of information that need to be obtained from the references ensures that the process generates sufficient information about every candidate, every time.

You mentioned credential checks. Isn’t that just for certain professional positions?
Certainly you must do credential checks for professional positions. But we think of credential checking as verifying the factual information on the resume regardless of the job or individual. Did they really work at this employer on these dates? Did they really graduate from that school?

We like to distinguish between credential checking and reference checking, even though you might perform some of both in the same phone call. In a credential check we are verifying their honesty. In the reference check we are looking for opinions on “how good” their skills are.

Are references more important than the actual interview?
We tend to check the references first. They are a fast and efficient way to decide who to interview. A company that interviews dozens of candidates for a single job is not being picky nor is it [necessarily] a hard position to fill; the company simply has an inefficient process. You should be able to know a person’s ability to do the job and his or her manageability from the resume, skill testing, and the references. If you think about it, a person who has managed a candidate over a period of time is vastly more qualified to judge abilities than an interviewer just meeting that candidate for a short amount of time.

If you already know someone is able to do the job, what is the interview for?
The interview is crucial to verify manageability, determine the candidate’s willingness to do the job and, most importantly, the cultural fit.

A good hiring process will include multiple interviews by different people. Three interviews by three different people are optimal for most positions. And since most managers don’t conduct interviews very often, they need to be supplied with some basic training in behavioral interviewing and some specific questions prior to sitting down with a candidate.

What is behavioral interviewing?
Most everyone is able to give a good answer to a theoretical question about how they would react to a situation. Far more relevant is how the candidate reacted to a past situation. I want to know how you performed in the past; give me specific examples of what you have done and how you did it, because your behavior in the past is probably how you will perform in the future.

Behavioral interviewing is a well-known term among human resource departments, but it is not yet particularly well-applied by line managers or executives. An executive sees an impressive-looking candidate and forgets that his or her job is to ask good questions, listen to the answers, and dig deeper when appropriate.

This all sounds like hard work.

Yes; it requires diligence! But that candidate’s past is your company’s future. Make sure you know it.

JOEL ADAMS is president and CEO of Devon Consulting. Reach him at (610) 964-5703 or [email protected].