I look back at my first experience hiring a new employee with a mixture of embarrassment and regret: embarrassment that I made a poor decision and regret that I had not previously learned how to make those kinds of decisions.
The principal of the middle school where I began my administrative career asked me to hire a person to oversee the school’s alternative-to-suspension program. This program allowed students committing less serious infractions to remain on campus as they worked on class assignments and were supposed to learn more acceptable behavior.
This seemed like an easy task for a new administrator.
After interviewing five or six applicants, I chose a woman whom I personally liked. She seemed very easy-going, was fun to talk with and rather soft-spoken. I’m sure you see where this is going.
The already-misbehaving students took merciless advantage of her. She could not control the learning environment, and discipline issues seemed to get worse at the school instead of better.
The very pleasant woman I hired remained in the position only a few months.
I contrast that situation with what I see happening now in hiring new employees in my husband’s and son’s law practice and what I eventually learned to do as I moved into higher positions in school administration.
Today, I see that checking Facebook posts of applicants and their friends, conducting internet searches for applicant names, making numerous phone calls to former employers, and involving people who will work with a new hire in the interview process are important steps in choosing new employees.
Employee salaries can make up 15-30% of a small business’ budget and as much as 50% in a service industry (Grace, nd). According to Education Week, employee costs in schools can be as much as 80% of a school district’s budget. With this expense, the quality of employees must be the best you can get.
Replacing employees is an additional expense to consider. Sasha Corporation, who averaged the results of 15 studies in 2009, concluded that employee turnover can cost upwards of $5500 for an $8.00 per hour employee, as much as $40,000 to replace a nurse and as much as $125,000 for an IT professional. Costs are related to employee salary, difficulty in finding new employees and training costs.
For these and other reasons, it is unfortunate that effective hiring practices are rarely covered in college courses I have seen…only in seminars and workshops after a new leader takes a job.
Hiring decision become critical to the success of a business or organization and of the people in it. The following hiring strategies will improve the quality of new hires and will reduce the number of poor hiring decisions:
- Hire people who fit the culture. Insure that their values and attitudes mesh with the mission and values of the organization.
- Look at skills required for the position before looking at people who may fill the position. Complete an extensive review of the job to be sure you and the applicant know exactly what skills and tasks the position entails.
- Prepare open-ended interview questions that require applicants to describe specific examples of times they used skills you identified for the job. Follow up on incomplete answers to your questions.
- Include people who will work with the new hire in the hiring process. Be sure everyone knows what part he or she will play. Invite current employees to make recommendations about whom to hire with the understanding that you will make the final decision.
- Review resumes and/or portfolios carefully. Look for gaps in employment history. Check out the possibility that applicants left out former employers. Look for a high number of positions or positions where the applicant left within a short time.
- Check all avenues for information about candidates. Contact people supplied as references, but also contact people who were not included. As you speak to former employers, listen for hesitation or general statements that may indicate reluctance to provide full information about a former employee. Ask direct questions about work habits and skills. Follow up with questions about areas where answers were incomplete. Listen for tone of voice as well as to the words spoken. Check social media and internet to see if the individual is a good fit for the organization and is what he or she portrays in applications or interviews.
- If possible, include workplace simulations in the interview process. If a portfolio was provided, review it carefully, but also find or create activities that allow applicants to demonstrate their skills and abilities.
- Look for verbal and non-verbal cues as applicants respond to questions and participate in simulations. Look for enthusiasm, reluctance, organization, possible deception, attention to detail, and other clues that will alert you to the employee’s potential.
- Notice small details. These include spelling or grammar issues. But, they also include minor comments that lead you to believe something is missing. Use your intuition. Follow up on anything that nags at you that something may not be as it seems.
- If you are “settling” for a candidate you are not sure about, be upfront. Let them know there are specific concerns or areas in which you would like to see additional focus or experience as they take the position. Be sure to include a date to review progress and that you make the offer subject to a probationary period.
In addition to costs to hire, train, pay and replace employees, poor hiring decisions affect customers or clients, other employees, and revenue or organizational success.
With the woman I hired for the alternative-to-suspension program and with other hires, I learned that these decisions have serious consequences. I had to deal with them in often-painful and time-consuming ways. I adopted the mantra: Hire in Haste, Fire in Frustration.
In my career as an administrator, I dealt with ineffective or insensitive teachers, coaches who kissed or fondled students, alcoholic and addicted employees, and belligerent or aggressive staff. One employee, in addition to being a poor teacher, made outlandish and quite false claims about his past and present. I learned that employees and applicants are not always what I want them to be, what I believe them to be or what they profess to be.
Thankfully, I can say most of the major personnel issues I dealt with were not my own hiring decisions, but they took my time and energy away from other, more productive activities, and they affected students, parents and other employees.
As I grappled with those issues, I could not spend time with the effective and hard-working staff members who did a wonderful job every day. I could not deal with the quality of instruction, safety issues, or a host of other important goals.
Ultimately, hiring a person unsuited for a job harms the individual and the organization. The individual is stuck in a position where they are a bad fit and they are not productive. They suffer from poor hiring decisions before and after they must be let go.
Even with thoughtful and careful consideration for hiring, there are issues you cannot catch. It is a leader’s job to try to find these issues before the employee signs an employment contract.
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Cavanagh, S. (2011), Personnel Costs Prove Tough to Contain. Education Week. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/01/13/16personnel.h30.html Accessed: January 12, 2015.
Grace, N. (nd) What Percentage of the Budget Should be Spent on Payroll? Chron: Small Business http://smallbusiness.chron.com/percentage-budget-should-spent-payroll-64862.html Accessed: January 12, 2015.
Schnotz, W. (nd) The Average Cost to Train a New Employee. Chron: Small Business. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/average-cost-train-new-employee-44072.html Accessed: January 12, 2015.