Hire the right people and your job automatically gets better; employ the wrong people and it gets worse. This fundamental truth seems so obvious that you’d expect anyone with hiring and leading responsibilities would do everything they could to get it right. Surprisingly, it’s often not the case.
At HES it took us many years to develop a system to find the best performers. The good news: We feel like we have it figured out. The bad: It’s a lot of work. But if you believe, as we do, that nothing is more important to your success than hiring the right talent, you have no choice.
Here’s a recipe (substitute your favorite ingredients) for getting your next dream employee:
- Create a compelling job description. Attracting the right people involves more than just describing the skills you want. Some of the most talented folks aren’t looking for jobs. If you have any chance at piquing their interest, they need to come away with the idea that your company can make all their career ambitions come true — at least in relation to where they are today. You’ll need the help of your very best current employees with similar talents. What attracted them in the first place? What do they love about working there? What makes them excited about their job every day? Don’t over-sell, but don’t hold back either. You’ll attract a lot of folks who aren’t the right fit, but it’s relatively easy to weed them out.
- Cast a W I D E net. Use the standard online and local job posting tools to get the word out, but don’t stop there. Enlist your employees and customers (if appropriate) to spread the message through social media outlets as well as family, friends, and every community group you can think of. Lead with the top trait you’re looking for: Have a passion for helping others improve health? ABC’s Wellness Program does, too… and we’re hiring! Check this out [job description] for (title). Leave no stone unturned. A friend of a friend of a friend could know the perfect person for you.
- Don’t request a resume (at least to start). What someone has done so far is important, but learning about it in a document that’s been polished by others is just as likely to mislead as to inform. Instead, ask them to review the job description, study your website and other materials you provide, and search online for anything they can find about you in preparation for writing a “Why You Need Me” letter. If you’ve written a good job description, you should receive responses you can evaluate for moving on to the next step. And while the candidate may get help with their letter, in our experience it’s a truer reflection of them and their fit for the job than a standard cover letter and resume. Depending on the position, you’re not necessarily looking for the next Tolstoy, but you do want to know the applicant can communicate effectively in writing. If you’re not moved at this point, offer a polite rejection and have top candidates go to the next step.
- Conduct phone interviews (and continue to resist the urge to ask for their resume). Do NOT do the first interview in person. What they look like is irrelevant, and unless you’re more objective than most, you can’t help but be persuaded by appearance. We typically send interview questions in advance, so the person has time to prepare, but we don’t limit our questions to those; the conversation takes us where it wants to go. The primary goal is to get the person to talk about the thoughts behind their letter and answers to best boss/worst boss, most difficult coworker, worst job experience, ideal work setting, etc. In a nutshell, we’re trying to get a sense of their attitude. Are they generally positive or negative? Do they appear to want to solve problems or blame? Are there multiple instances of difficulty at work or is it rare? They talk — you listen and ask additional questions. The more you listen, the more you learn. We have 3 people talk with the candidate independently to form their own opinions and write them down before getting together to discuss. Eliminate candidates as needed and move your best applicants to the next step.
- Create a remote skills test. Depending on the job, this can be hard to do well, but it’s a great way to narrow your choices to the top, motivated people. We’re trying to accomplish 2 things with this step: determine if they have the requisite knowledge and skills and give them a sense of the type of work they’ll be doing so they can make an informed decision as well. The test can be a project, a written test, another phone conversation they can prepare for, or a combination. Because our candidates are almost always already employed, we let them complete this step when they can but ask them to keep track of their time so we get a sense of pace. Never use their work unless you tell them up front and agree on compensation for the effort. After evaluating these test results you’re likely to have a very narrow field of candidates. That’s good — you’ve eliminated anyone who’s not the right fit. At this point you should believe remaining candidates would make a great staff addition… but you’re not done yet.
- Create an in-house test. We ask candidates to block out 3 hours for an in-house interview; 2 for a skills test and 1 for a group interview. This test is just to confirm the applicant can do similar work to what they did remotely — in effect, proving they are who they say they are in terms of knowledge and ability. We don’t let them know in advance the test details, but do give them the tools and guidance they need to complete it well within the 2 hours.
- Hold an in-person group interview with staff who would work most closely with the candidate. The first 30 minutes is just a getting-to-know-you chat, where staff can ask anything they want. We’re looking for rapport, chemistry. The last 30 minutes we look at the resume and have an open discussion.
At this point, you know if you want to extend an offer. If you do, there’s 1 more vital step: checking references. Skip this step at your own peril. While previous employers may only confirm dates of employment, press the candidate to get 3 or more work references, for 2 primary objectives:
- Verify accuracy of the resume
- Confirm what you think you know about the candidate’s personality, work style, attitude.
It’s important you let the reference talk at length about the person’s relationships with others, accountability, and other vital traits you’ve identified for this position. You’re eliminating surprises.
Do Credentials Matter?
Yes. Depending on the position, the right degree, certifications, licenses, etc., can reinforce the strengths you’ve already uncovered. And a person’s drive to achieve professional credentialing can be an indication of their commitment to the field.
If the work doesn’t require these credentials, look at them as a bonus, not a deciding factor. In the end, most jobs that deal with people day to day don’t rely on a string of letters behind someone’s name. But most well-being professional roles do rely on smarts, passion, ability to work well with others, and commitment to improving health and quality of life in those they serve — that’s what you want.
Chief collaborator, nudger, tinkerer; leads the most inventive team creating well-being and sustainable living programs. Reach out if you’d like to talk about employee well-being, emotional fitness, or eco-friendly living.