Selecting a New Employee: An important process that takes time

Oct. 1, 2003

Selecting A New Employee
An important process that takes time

By Brandon Battles

From my observations when visiting maintenance facilities, most managers begin the workday busy and end it the same way. Basically, and it's true for many of us, our typical workday keeps us so busy that we have little time for surprises or events that fall outside of the norm. So, when an unusual event occurs, such as losing an employee, how do you handle it?

Due to the infrequent (hopefully) nature of the event, you probably do not have much time to deal with the situation properly. For one thing, your typical busy day has just gotten busier because you are now forced to compensate for the loss of someone that was performing important tasks. In a good scenario you simply have to monitor the situation more closely as others attempt to perform the work. However, in a difficult scenario you have to perform the tasks yourself. In either case, you don't have much extra time to properly find and hire a replacement.

The immediate tendency is to fill the position as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, while this approach may fill the vacancy, it can also raise many concerns. Will the person perform the job adequately? Will the person work well with existing employees? Does the position meet the longer-term needs of the employee?

If the new employee is not a good fit then the likelihood of remaining for any extended period of time is decreased. If the employee leaves then you are in the same situation as before, looking to fill a vacant position. If the employee remains, you may have a more difficult situation than when the position was vacant. Either way, don't forget that employees can be one of the most expensive assets for an organization and your objective is to spend your organization's limited assets efficiently.

What can you do?

So what can you do if faced with this situation? The following information should serve as a quick reference outlining the process or steps that you may want to perform to identify and select a candidate to join your organization. It will take time to perform these tasks, but the long-term results will make your job as a manager easier.

Some of you may work for an organization that has a human resources or personnel department. Check with them first because they have policies and procedures for identifying, interviewing, and hiring candidates. They will, more than likely, take care of some of the following steps but eventually you will or should become involved with the hiring process.

Review the job description
Identify the requirements of the position. What type of person is it that you would like to see in the position? What skills and characteristics does the person need to have to succeed? A good standard may be the person that was in the position previously, assuming the person was a good employee. Additionally, you may have a job description that describes the duties and responsibilities of the position. With the standard set by the previous person and the job description, you may believe that you have enough information.

Resist that urge. Review the job description. Does it accurately identify the responsibilities and duties that the prior employee was performing at the time of departure? Many times actual performance can creep away from what was once the described standard.

Does the job description include the duties and responsibilities that you would like the new employee to perform? Remember, this may be your opportunity to make changes before you hire the new person.
Does the job description accurately describe the necessary requirements or skills to accomplish the duties and responsibilities of the position, or are there items that are "would-like" skills that eliminate potentially good candidates?

Don't overlook communication
Identifying the necessary skills and requirements of the position is important but don't overlook another aspect of this step - communication. While you know what is important for success in the position, the prospects don't. Therefore, whatever forms of communication that you choose to advertise the position must reflect clearly and accurately what it is you are looking for.

Once you have identified the important requirements of the position and developed a clear message for the potential applicants, then you must decide how to get the message out to those that you would like to reach.

Spread the message that you are looking to fill a position. How do you get the word out? The method(s) that you choose can vary for each situation. Some may be more formal than others but the primary objective is to let individuals know that you have a position to fill. In some cases, you may want to reach as many individuals as possible while other times your intent may be more limited.

For example, you may have a position that is designed to supervise employees while still performing technical work. The position may represent an opportunity for growth for a current employee. In this case, you may initially want to let folks within the organization know about the vacant position. (An internal posting may be a requirement in some larger organizations.) Or to expand the internal search slightly, you may rely upon an informal network of friends and professional acquaintances to identify candidates. Sometimes word of mouth is effective.

If current employees are not a likely source then you or your organization may want to open the search to external candidates. A variety of methods exist. Common external sources might include local or national newspapers, industry trade journals (AMT perhaps!), professional recruiters, and your organization's web site. Recognize that some of these will allow your organization to remain anonymous, while others identify the searching organization. The first three options can offer anonymity, if desired, by having candidates send information to a post office box, call a telephone number established solely for the search, or send e-mails to a generic and difficult-to-identify address. Recognize that if you choose to post the position on your web site, the candidates will know who you are.

Remember, whatever method you choose, the ultimate objective is to have qualified candidates apply so that you and your organization benefit from your eventual selection.

Identify the best candidate for the position. If your search extends externally and you do a good job of clearly stating the requirements for the position and spreading the message that you are looking, then the chances are good that you will receive many responses. You may receive so many, that you will be overwhelmed. How do you start to reduce the list so that you can focus your attention on the most qualified applicants?

Review the candidates
First, review each application in a general sense. In this initial review, you are looking to eliminate the applicants that don't meet the requirements. You will be surprised how many are eliminated. It's interesting how many people submit applications to any type of posting. Remember, their point of view is that it doesn't hurt to try. The worst they can hear is no. Your task is to stay focused and avoid the temptation to deviate from your objective. Our experience indicates that this screening step can eliminate 70 percent of the applicants.

So out of 100 applicants, you're down to 30 possible candidates. That's still a high number and you don't have enough time to interview each, given your busy schedule. What's your next step?

Narrow it down
Second, go through the remaining candidates to whittle the list down to a more manageable number, a number that represents the individuals that you are willing to eventually spend the time to interview.

A good exercise to reduce the number is to develop a spreadsheet that lists the remaining applicants and the job requirements. Only list the requirements that were listed in the job posting. Otherwise your exercise may unfairly and unintentionally eliminate applicants. For each individual determine how well he or she meets each requirement. You may want to be somewhat sophisticated, depending upon your available time, by assigning a rank (1-5) or take a less time-consuming but effective approach. For each requirement, state yes or no as to whether the applicant meets the requirements. Select the applicants that meet the most requirements. Ideally, you want to identify five to 10 applicants for further consideration.

As with the previous screening step, this exercise significantly reduces the list. You'll be surprised how easily the applicants' separate themselves. You may have a difficult time deciding on a few, as some other piece of information will catch your attention, but the best applicants will rise to the top.

Conduct phone interviews

With the remaining five to 10 folks, conduct telephone interviews. Have your questions prepared ahead of time. Also consider having another manager listen in on the conversation. That person may not participate in the conversation but he or she can take notes and provide clarification about the applicants' answers at a later time.

If you do not use another manager, make notes immediately following the conversation. As absurd as this may sound, the notes will help you keep the applicants straight as you make further evaluations. The candidates will tend to run together after making a few calls.

As with the previous steps, the telephone interviews will separate the applicants. You will learn that certain factors other than the listed requirements will become more prominent. For example, a person's phone voice can make a completely different impression than what opinions you drew based upon on paper. Also, the applicants' ability to answer specific questions without preparation can give an indication of the applicants' ability to communicate. These are important considerations if the person will interact with customers. Another factor that may surface is the applicant's inability to start when you need that person.

You may agonize over a couple of the applicants but the telephone interviews should reduce the number of applicants to two or three. You should be serious enough about these applicants that you would be willing to pay the applicants' travel expenses to visit your facility to interview in person. And that is the next step.

Interview in person
Make the arrangements to have the top two or three candidates visit your location for an interview. The number of people the applicant interviews with is often based upon the organization and its policies. This is a safety net that should reduce the risk of making a bad decision.

The decision at this point may be easy or difficult but as with the telephone interviews, certain peripheral characteristics may play a role in your decision. Probably the most prominent characteristic is the applicant's appearance. To borrow from the old saying, the applicant only has one chance to make a first impression. How they carry and present themselves is important and will come into play despite your best efforts to remain neutral.

Which applicant should you interview first? The applicant that has impressed you the most during the telephone interview. Why? If the face-to-face interview goes well and the applicant seems to be the one that you want, then if you can work out the offer and acceptance, you would not need to bring in the others. This would save your organization some expenses and just as importantly, your time.

Next issue I will discuss how to conduct the interview. In the mean time, remember that taking the time to go through the steps to identify and select a new employee is important to you and your organization. Your responsibilities as a manager dictate that you perform this very important process properly.

Brandon Battles is a partner with Conklin & de Decker. He has spent more than 15 years in aviation working with maintenance organizations in the areas of cost collection and analysis, systems review, inventory analysis, and management training.