Gut busters

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Do you do things on ‘gut feeling’ very often? I know it’s a fairly normal human tendency but there are times when it can be an extreme liability to both you and your business. Possibly the worst time to trust your intuition is during the staff selection process, yet this is where we keep encountering our worst problems. The attitude: ‘I can pick `em’, is still prevalent among the senior managers we deal with, despite our best efforts to enforce a logical and thorough recruitment procedure.

We use a five-step recruitment process when we are searching for key staff on behalf of our clients. The five steps are: resum? or telephone screening, 1st interview, reference checking, aptitude testing and final interview. I know this sounds unnecessarily complicated, but we had to learn by our own mistakes in the past and evolve a recruitment process that is as failsafe as possible. We’re happy to share our experiences with you.

Before you begin the recruitment process, it is important that you have the right objectives fixed in your mind for the various steps in the selection process. Putting it simply, the first four steps of the process are not intended to find the right person, but they are aimed quite the opposite — to reject all the wrong people.

This sounds fairly straightforward, but we have continual trouble getting people we are training to discipline themselves to avoid jumping to conclusions and act only on the facts. Feeling vaguely uncomfortable with a person is not sufficient reason to reject them during the early stages of the recruitment process. If they are not suitable or they won’t fit in, the latter steps in the recruitment process will deal with this. People applying for jobs are often nervous and struggling to try and control their body language. This is often picked-up subconsciously by an interviewer who perceives it as an uncomfortable feeling about the applicant.

It helps if you think of each of the steps in the recruitment process as a series of sieves that have smaller and smaller meshes. You should aim to sift out all the people who are unsuitable in a logical and orderly process, removing as much emotion as possible. If you tackle the task this way you should be left with a small number of people who are all suitable for the job at the final interview. Then you should select the one you are the most comfortable with.

We’ve found that you have to be very careful of putting your desperate need to fill the position ahead of the applicant’s needs at the time. The number one reason for early resignation is simply that the job ‘isn’t what I want’.

We try to get our clients to hold the fort with agency staff or short term contract staff to buy time to recruit properly. If you succumb to the desperate need to fill an urgent staff shortage and grab a ‘warm body’, you’ll probably live to regret it. Probability suggests that either the person you put on won’t work out or they’ll be very mediocre but not bad enough to sack.

Good interviewing will sort all of this out but it’s quite an art and takes a while to learn. We teach it as a step by step procedure designed to extract critical information from an applicant, but not everybody makes a good interviewer despite our best efforts. If we find that a manager is not very good at it, we encourage them to train subordinates who have the aptitude to handle the first four steps of the recruitment process for them. It doesn’t matter who does your interviewing as long as they get it right

I can never stress the importance of thorough reference checking during the selection process too much. We don’t place much faith on the referees that people provide on their resum?s — would you list a person who would be likely to say bad things about you on your resum?? We do our own detective work; it usually takes about half a day for each short listed applicant. When we consider the financial effect on your business of a good versus a bad key staff member, it doesn’t make sense to try to shortcut the process to save a few dollars. Good reference checking can be an expensive process initially, but it has a handsome payoff down the track. It can also be done by relatively junior staff with a bit of basic training.

We go a step further by following up with an aptitude test. You probably don’t have easy access to this facility, but we find it invaluable. We had problems some years ago with a few senior appointments and learned the hard way that there is no relationship between verbal fluency and ultimate job performance. Someone can be quite impressive in an interview but incapable of handling the rigours of reality. We need to insure ourselves against ‘con artists’ and have found a modern aptitude test will do this quite effectively.

So, I think that gut feeling of yours can get you in a lot of very expensive trouble. I don’t mean for you to discard it entirely but, don’t let it rule you. An old, politically incorrect adage provides some good advice in the matter: ‘A wise man keeps his suspicions muzzled, but he keeps them awake’. I think you’re better off letting a step by step methodical procedure lead your selection process than blind faith in extra sensory perception. What do you think?

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