SLOW DOWN – Timely Suggestions for Careful Hiring

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Paula M. Singer, PhD and Laura Francisco
Originally published in IPMA HR News, April 2010

Though careful hiring is always an imperative, the current economic environment requires a new look at some of your practices in this area. Many of today’s job hunters have been out of work for several months or even a year or more. Through application processes and interviews, these folks may have learned how to tell you just what you want or need to hear. In the best of circumstances, hiring can be tricky—whether you need to fill a vacancy due to a long-planned retirement or to very quickly fill a critical position in your organization due to unforeseen circumstances. These points are in no way meant to discourage organizations from hiring someone who may have been laid off due to the economy, but rather to describe a few situations and suggestions to help you make the best and smartest hiring decisions.

Tina Hamilton, president of hireVision Group, Inc., in Allentown, Pa., highlighted some red flags for hiring managers in a recent webinar.  None of these things in and of themselves would necessarily constitute a reason not to hire a candidate; however, one person demonstrating three or four of these should probably set off warning signals.

Has the candidate told you she has had many interviews but no offers? What about her references—do they include any past supervisors?  When you do reference checks, do you find that a candidate’s dates of employment on his resume do not align with the dates given by the reference? Does the candidate explain that he was laid off, but was actually the only one laid off at his company or in his department?

Is the candidate saying exactly what you want to hear, but her background or attitude don’t line up with what she is saying? Does he use the word “desperate”?

Hamilton suggests that you not only do your due diligence in making hiring decisions, but that you also “listen to your gut.” If you sense that something is off, it very well may be. Try to get to the source of your concern and unease through multiple interviews and thorough reference and background checks so that you can avoid having to kick yourself for not listening to your internal alarm system.

There can be a dangerous counterpart to following your gut, however. According to Lou Adler, veteran recruiter and best-selling author, one of the biggest hiring mistakes is whole-heartedly supporting a candidate based on first impression only. A candidate’s impressive answers to questions accompanied by poise and thorough preparation can sway you before you take the time to discover the person’s actual knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences. It is human nature for us to reinforce what we like about a candidate, supporting our own conclusions but not looking for facts that might say otherwise.

Adler recommends that you set a 30-minute timeframe during the interview before drawing any conclusions. This way, you will allow yourself a “much better picture of the person you are interviewing.”  Asking each candidate the same questions also helps maintain that objectivity.

In Any Case, Use Hiring as a Strategic Opportunity

Any time an employee leaves your organization for any reason is an excellent opportunity to revisit and reevaluate the needs, goals and strategic direction of the department and the organization. In what ways could new talent and new ideas help improve these? And what skills, abilities and behaviors are needed to accomplish these goals?

Adler also writes that at least half of hiring missteps can be avoided by knowing the specific needs of the job to be filled. Make sure your hiring managers or interview teams take the time to thoroughly review, revise or rewrite the job description to understand the “specific results and deliverables expected from the individual filling the position. There are usually six to eight dominant factors important to the job.” An accurate and up-to-date job description ensures that HR, the hiring manager and the new hire have the same expectations for the job.

Slow Down…

Recruiting is rarely a leisurely process—most job openings are accompanied by department managers who need the position filled yesterday. Of course, hiring too quickly can backfire. Consider your internal pipeline, encourage employee referrals, and advertise the position in appropriate venues. This economy has presented those responsible for hiring in government agencies with a glut of qualified choices. Still, taking the first warm body who seems “good enough” can land you in hot water, whether it’s as drastic a situation as a negligent hiring charge or simply leaving you with the same vacancy two months from now because the candidate didn’t fit.

Take the Rose-Colored Film off of the Windows

You expect well-prepared candidates to have gathered some information on your organization before the interview, correct? Even if the person has done their homework, they still need to know about the goals, culture and environment of your organization. It isn’t in anyone’s best interest to give a false impression. If the department manager expects employees to begin work at 8 a.m., sharp, each day, don’t tell your candidate that work hours are “flexible.” If internal job growth or reclassification to a higher pay level is unlikely in the near future, don’t tell the candidate that the advertised salary is “just a starting point.” False assumptions naturally lead to higher levels of job dissatisfaction.  Remember that employees who leave your organization will be talking, sending emails, Facebooking, Tweeting, and otherwise broadcasting their impressions of your organizations with their personal and professional networks.

The hiring missteps described above are often made innocently and unintentionally, but can still cost your organization time and money in the long run. Remember that each new employee can be a crucial part of your strategic plan if recruited successfully.

The Singer Group is a management consulting firm that helps public, private and social sector organizations reach full potential through forward-thinking human resources and organizational development strategies that get results.

To schedule a complimentary consultation, contact Paula Singer at 410-561-7561 or email


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