Most of us have heard the axiom: the most important resource in our company is the staff. But how do we go about recruiting the best people for the positions available?
Esther Livingston, human resources expert and recruitment specialist, who spoke at the PrintNZ conference in October, spends a lot of her time finding out what makes people tick. She says, “In my role, I am in and out of a number of organisations and I get to see a lot. I do a lot of face to face and also a lot of video conferencing and a lot of audio. What I find is that all people decisions involve a balance of analytical and intuitive abilities.”
Companies, whether large corporations or small to medium businesses, don’t want to make mistakes when sourcing candidates. They have a range of assessment tools at their disposal but which ones work best? According to research, assessment centres qualify as the most accurate. Unfortunately, we don’t have many of those in New Zealand and most small to medium size companies can’t afford to make use of them anyway.
Most employers use a mix of aptitude tests, personality questionnaires, structured and unstructured interviews and educational qualifications. Livingston says, “We typically rely on interviews after employers have placed their ads shortlisted their candidates. We also rely on reference checks which provide information to confirm challenge or support our findings.
“When you have a specific skill set that can be measured, aptitude testing is useful. For example, I once hired an accountant who had a good personality but couldn’t do the numbers. An aptitude test would have saved me a lot of time and money.”
Smart interviewing techniques can improve the chances of securing the best candidate as an employee. Livingston comments on the necessity of asking the right questions. She says, “Begin questions with ‘how’, ‘please explain’, and ‘provide an explanation of.’ Seek specifics. For example, when someone says, ‘I have really high standards.’ You have to ask yourself what that means. In the interview, you have to push really hard with that answer and ask them how does having high standards manifest itself at work.
“Avoid closed, leading and loaded questions. Start with an open question such as, ‘Describe for us some projects you have been involved in.’ An example of a leading question, which you want to avoid, is, ‘You would enjoy working here, wouldn’t you?’. Loaded questions like, ‘You have stopped hitting your dog haven’t you?’ don’t add any value. One thing I see a lot of is over communication on the part of the interviewer.”
A good interviewer listens to the candidate. Livingston says, “Talk less listen more. The 80/20 rule applies here. Your candidate should be doing 80 per cent of the talking. It is all about them. And don’t be afraid of pauses in the conversation. It doesn’t matter if you have a bit of quiet time in an interview. Don’t feel you have to fill the gaps.”
Livingston prefers a structured approach to interviewing. She says, “I think structured interviews can be highly effective. You need to orientate the person to the beginning, the middle and the end of interview. Start with a general question, for example, ‘What I’d like to do is give is a brief précis of your working life in chronological order in five minutes.’ Then follow your plan – you might find out that one of their answers takes you off track. Involve the candidate using the 80/20 rule and leave enough time to close.
Alarm bells and pitfalls
SHE adds that several types of candidates should start alarm bells ringing for interviewers. She says, “Everyone has spoken to the Pollyanna, the person to whom nothing bad ever happens. What happens to them when you get them at work is that nothing ever goes wrong. They have no insight into their own weaknesses and any mistakes were always someone else’s. Another one is the candidate who says, ‘My current boss is a wanker.’ That is a really bad look. Also the person who says, ‘No you can’t speak to this person as a referee.’ Be really careful and ask, ‘Why is it that you don’t want me to talk to them?’
“Ms/Mr Generalisations are problems when you want specifics about their previous work experiences – they can’t give any. I know a lot of employers have problems with Action Man (or Action Person) – the employee who always has a focus on the task but they disregard relationships. At the other end of that scale are the people who prefer to keep their relationships intact. Both these types can cause problems at work.”
Other common pitfalls for interviewers include the halo effect. Livingston says, “Sometimes the interviewer thinks, ‘He or she is great’ or ‘He or she is just like me.’ You need to avoid this type of thinking. Also if you only focus on one outstanding attribute, you will ignore the other necessary job attributes that the candidate is deficient in. Interviewers also need to take care with the primacy and recency effects. They remember the first and last candidates really well but forget about the ones between.
Livingston also believes in the value of an application form. She says, “Get people to declare their qualifications. You want to know about someone’s health and things like criminal convictions. The reason is it’s good to have it in writing; if they have disclosed wrong information it makes it easier later on.”
She concludes, “And be truthful to the candidate. You will never get in trouble for being honest.”