Fortune 500 companies can afford recruiters and HR consultants to assist them in the process of finding and hiring the right people. But what about you, the small-business owner?
Whether you’re hiring your first employee or your 50th, you can use the same practices espoused inside the largest corporations, and perhaps do it even better.
1. Create a competency model.
Contrary to popular belief, a proper competency model for hiring is not a 17-point wish list describing a mythical human being who, like Mary Poppins, is “practically perfect in every way.” What you want instead is an extremely succinct set of “must have” competencies, usually only about three-to-five total.
Now here’s the secret sauce. The key to picking the right three-to-five competencies for a hiring model is to analyze the job and identify the top barriers to excellent performance. There are probably a variety of people who could do the job at an average level, but what are the challenges that might make it hard for the typical plumber/stylist/accountant to do the job really, really well? Then match your competencies to these top barriers.
For example, one job might be hard to perform at a high level because the rules are constantly changing. The matching competency would be the ability to adapt quickly and constantly.
A different job might have the challenge of tedious repetition. The matching competency would be the ability to be extremely consistent during highly repetitive tasks.
A third job might have the challenge of dealing with irate customers with a matching competency of maintaining calm under fire.
2. Select with behavioral phone interviews.
After writing and posting a job description and reading through resumes, you’ll wind up with a short stack of people to screen by phone. (At my company, we’ve had good luck with craigslist.) These candidates should have already passed the resume/cover letter tests of minimum education, experience, required licenses, etc.
Here’s where you’ll deviate from the traditional job interview (a.k.a. “Tell me a little about yourself”) and use a behavioral interview format instead. The logic of a behavioral interview is quite simple. Much like a credit score, a behavioral interview produces a score based on the assumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. So the interview collects information on the candidate’s past behavior in regard to the competencies.
For example, you might ask questions such as, “Tell me about a time you had to adapt quickly and constantly to a rapidly changing environment,” or “Can you share a story about a time you had to maintain a calm and cool demeanor even while dealing with someone who was very upset?”
These types of questions yield excellent data, much better than hypothetical situations or the candidate’s self-descriptions. Be sure to take good notes about the specific situation, the actions taken by the candidate (not the larger team), and the outcome or result of the candidate’s actions.
Immediately after each behavioral phone screen, you’ll give each candidate a score. If you have a four-competency model, then the highest possible score is 4 out of 4, based on the candidate’s evidence of having displayed those competencies in the past. Keep doing behavioral interviews until either a) you have a handful of “4 out of 4s”, or b) you decide to modify the model, the job description, or the recruitment strategy.
3. Finalize with face-to-face meetings.
Then finalize your selection with face-to-face meetings with the manager and key stakeholders such as co-workers and strategic partners. Once you have a lead candidate, be sure to run a background check and call references to confirm employment dates, etc. I like to ask references about the candidate’s strengths and for tips on how to best manage them.
The traditional process of interviewing is typically inefficient because initial in-person interviews are driven by rapport and chemistry. All interviewers and hiring managers are human beings, and it is very difficult to resist the effects of similarity and liking at this early stage. The behavioral phone screen turns this process on its head, ensuring that you filter candidates by their competencies first, then check for interpersonal fit second.
Remember to use these hiring best practices borrowed from corporate America, because in a smaller company, it is even more important that every hire is a success.
Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is a syndicated business writer, executive coach, and the author of "Ask the Mompreneur: Small Business Advice on Starting and Growing Your Own Company," available at www.JennieWong.com. Email your entrepreneurship questions to TheJennieWong@gmail.com.