Workplace Wisdom

Are You Hiring the Best Candidate for the Job or the One You Like the Most?

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

There’s no perfect test (yet) to discern who will be the best possible hire. Even after preparing thorough job descriptions and formal assessments covering everything from personality to hand-eye-coordination, it’s a challenge to sort through the way people present themselves in interviews and in their resumes.

During the screening and interviewing process, employers can be distracted by multiple kinds of bias and their own personal taste and preferences. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of trying to hire the same kind of person who last held the job, if she was successful, or the complete opposite if she was not.

Some candidates have the skill of interviewing, of being appealing and making the interviewer feel comfortable, whether they meet the qualifications of the job itself. Relying on these four keys will help improve your chances of coming up with a successful match.

Focus on the skills that are essential to the job.

Most jobs today require a whole host of activities and duties, and it’s unusual to find a single person who has significant experience with all of them. So, after you’ve listed everything you want from the person and the job identify the handful of tasks and responsibilities that are the most crucial, the ones without which you would never even consider the candidate. Don’t bring in any candidates for interviews who don’t demonstrably have the required skills and experience.

Standardize the interview process and compare notes promptly.

Prepare in advance with your teammates: Who will ask about different aspects of the candidate’s history, expertise and aspirations and how will you evaluate the answers? Specifically ask colleagues to look for the crucial matches of skill, experience and cultural fit. Their assessments will help balance and complement yours.

Be sure that all candidates will be asked the same set of initial questions before discussions veer off into candidate-specific territory. Use a combination of behavioral prompts like “Tell me about a time when you had to handle X” and situational prompts “What would you do if Y?” Compare notes with other interviewers as soon after the interviews as possible so the concreteness of the experience doesn’t have a chance to fade or become confused with other candidates.
Give candidates a real work sample or try-out.
Present applicants with an actual assignment, whether you ask for a coding exercise, a sample sales pitch or a full presentation. If the try-out requires the candidate to do research and preparation, pay him or her for the time or delivery as if you were hiring this person to do a small project; it’s a small expense to pay to weed out someone who talks a good game but can’t do the work.

If the job consists of conceptual, knowledge or managerial work, hold an in-depth discussion of a real work topic or situation with a group of team members or a couple of your advisors to see how the final candidates interact, share opinions and express disagreement in a potentially uncomfortable situation.
Check references as if your business depended on it.
Ask candidates to provide references who have already agreed to talk about them in detail. When you contact the references, describe what your organization is like and the skills you’ve defined as absolutely crucial for the job. Then ask the reference about the candidate’s capability in those specific areas, and whether he or she believes the candidate will work well in your kind of environment.

And don’t rely only on the individuals your candidate lists as references; check with your own network, as well, to try to find someone who has worked with the candidate. Even if you’re using a recruiter, insist on doing the reference-checking yourself, because you want to hear the tone and specific language references use.

Once you have all the data — a match for the required skills, a consistent perception among the interviewers, a positive work sample and supportive references — consider the future. Picture your business now, and three to five years down the road. Think of the job you’re trying to fill, and how it is likely to evolve and grow. If you can visualize the candidate doing well in the job and growing as the business does, you may have found the right combination of skills and styles.

Copyright 2018 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

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