United States: OP-ED: When Hiring, Go On the Defensive

Employers are well served to develop a strategy for hiring. One strategy may be the "defensive hiring process." Although the name sounds bad, the strategy itself is sound. Defensive hiring allows the company to identify the most qualified candidates for open positions and screen out those applicants who are unlikely to be assets to the organization.

There are multiple benefits of defensive hiring, such as fewer employee relations problems, higher customer satisfaction, and higher productivity. Most employment lawsuits are caused by poor hiring decisions. Similarly, other employee discontent and morale issues are often related to employees who should not have been hired by the organization in the first place. Eliminating these employees before they are hired is the key.

Similarly, qualified and satisfied employees create satisfied customers. The converse is true as well, which means that poor hiring decisions will ultimately lead to poor customer service. Poor customer service financially impacts the company, and either directly or indirectly, every other employee.

Finally, poor hiring decisions affect productivity in two ways: 1, an unqualified candidate will produce less than you expect; and 2, that same candidate will distract other employees and cause their productivity to decline as well.

The question now becomes: How does one go about defensive hiring? Fortunately, the characteristics of a potential problem employee are readily identifiable in the hiring process. The following procedures are designed to help you identify these characteristics so that you are hiring defensively.

First, the employer should establish a defensive hiring checklist. This will let every individual involved in the hiring process ensure that each step the employer has deemed worthwhile and necessary is completed prior to making an offer of employment. The most basic checklists will contain items such as a timely application, an assessment of the application, a screening interview, a secondary interview, background and reference checks, and a decision concerning a potential offer.

While the application review process is pending, don't promise anyone a job conditioned upon completion of any particular item on the checklist. For example, do not tell an applicant, "You are hired so long as your job references check out." If you do this, you may inappropriately raise the expectations of the applicant, who will expect a much more detailed explanation if you decide not to make an offer.

You may also find a better applicant prior to the offer being extended, which leaves you in a difficult position. It is better to simply wait until the entire process is complete before making anything that could be construed as a promise of employment.

Generally, the initial contact with the applicant will come in the form of the application. This is your first insight into potential employees. Make it count. Was it submitted timely? Be cautious in allowing late applications. If someone cannot meet the deadline for an application, what are the chances the person will meet other deadlines? Also, thoroughly review the application for "red flags."

Red flags may include: unexplained gaps in job history; blanks and/or incomplete responses; prior employment terminations; reasons for leaving prior jobs indicating a negative attitude toward management (e.g., personality conflicts, "disagreements" with management, leaving by "mutual agreement," poor working conditions, etc.); lack of candor regarding background; a history of declining wages; criminal convictions, within the last 10 years, that are pertinent to the job; and lack of personal references. While any one of these items may not in and of itself disqualify an applicant, the items should be evaluated because they may indicate that an applicant is not a wise choice for employment.

Ideally, every applicant should be interviewed by at least two supervisors. However, the initial interview is usually a "screening interview," beyond which no interviews will be necessary if the initial decision is that the candidate is not ideal. Although in-person interviews are always preferable, the screening interview may be handled by telephone, particularly for employees who will use the telephone in the course of performing their job duties.

Three of the keys to successful interviewing are: 1, getting applicants to talk; 2, listening to what they say; and 3, taking notes. Resist the temptation to spend the majority of your interview time "selling" the candidate on the position. Good interviewers generally are talking during 20 percent of the interview and listening during 80 percent.

Supervisors should have several standard questions directed to each and every applicant, so that they and their answers can be compared more consistently. Interviews should also always include questions asking applicants to divulge what they have liked and disliked in their prior jobs.

Supervisors often wonder whether they should take notes when they interview applicants. Take any notes necessary to allow you to remember key aspects. Notes should never be written directly on the employment application itself because it will become a part of the company's personnel records. One common technique for taking notes is to write them on post-it notes, which can be attached to the application while it is pending. When the application process is completed, irrespective of how it concludes, the notes should be discarded.

Once a potential candidate has been identified from the interview process, the next step is usually to check references. Both personal and professional references should be checked for every applicant.

Even though many former employers whom you call may refuse to provide substantive information, attempt to contact at least three for each applicant. Try to call former supervisors directly rather than personnel departments or business offices. If people seem hesitant to answer direct questions, ask them indirect questions such as, "Is Jane eligible for rehire?" Sometimes indirect questions and answers are all you will get, but that doesn't mean they aren't informative.

Once you have an applicant who successfully meets all items on your defensive hiring checklist, you are ready to make an offer. While no system is foolproof, establishing a solid procedure and following it each time is one way that employers can lessen the odds of hiring problem employees who eat up time, resources, morale and profits.

Originally published by DJC Oregon and The Daily Record.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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