How’s Your Hiring Process?

You’re down to the two final candidates for your open position but still not sure you’ve found the right person.  You feel like you have looked at 100 candidates, phone screened dozens and met so many of the wrong candidates that your frustration level is high.  You aren’t sure you should make an offer at this point but you aren’t sure what to do next if you don’t.

We hear and see this combination of concerns on a regular basis.  Often times a client or potential client observes that there just aren’t any candidates out there or that the quality of candidates in the market is much lower than they expected.  They can’t believe that after looking at so many applicants that there isn’t one person who fits their job closely enough to hire and why the quality of candidates is so poor.

If this sounds familiar I’d like to share something with you.  The problem is not the candidates.  More likely than not the problem is the process.

For starters – what does your hiring process look like?  Do you even have a documented process?  If not this you have found your starting place.  A good assessment should include taking a look at several key elements.

Job Description

What does your job specification look like?  If the laundry list of acronyms in your spec is rivaled only by the list in the resumes you are seeing you have a problem right out of the gate.  Often I see jobs described with a very long list of technologies, tools and experiences.  So much so that multiple jobs are realistically being described rather than a single position.

While you may have a wish-list of technologies when it comes to your new hire it is very important to sit down and determine the must-haves.  When I am working with a client I encourage them to keep it to three items.  Ask yourself what are the three skills or experiences this person must have in order to be successful in this job.  The answers to that question will form the cornerstone of your search.

woman-resumeThese three items become the “Required” elements of your job specification.  You should also expand upon them a bit in your general job description.  When you meet with HR or other members of your hiring team these are the items that you should build on when you discuss the ideal candidate.

You can continue by prioritizing the items that did not make the top three – but again I encourage clients to stick to the top three as the gateway for an interview.  Given that resumes are not a 100% accurate reflection of a candidate’s experience you can consider this a two way street.  A candidate may have experience with some of your nice to haves and has left them off their resume for a variety of reasons.  The best way to find out is to speak with anyone who hits your top three requirements.

Interview Process

Along the same lines – what does your interview process look like?  Is it consistent for each candidate?  We have seen clients use entirely different coworkers to interview candidates for the same role.  At the end of the day you will not find the feedback consistent and meaningful enough to make a good decision if you don’t have a defined team.

I suggest you identify the people who must interview your candidates early and stick to that group through the process (as much as schedules allow).  Resist the temptation to have the entire staff interview a potential new hire.  Your HR rep, a subject matter expert who can evaluate their skills and a representative from a team you regularly work with are a good core group in addition to the hiring manager.

Next, establish what type of interviews and what number of times you need to interact with a candidate in order to complete the process.  Keep in mind that this process will reflect on your company in the marketplace.  Processes on both ends of the spectrum (quick and easy or long and cumbersome) have positive and negative elements.  You can count on candidates talking about your process.

A pretty solid approach includes a review of candidates between HR and the hiring manager.  This is followed by a phone screen – preferably with the hiring manager.  Many companies start with an HR screen but I am a fan of having a substantive call out of the gate to rule people in or out.  If the phone screen goes well the candidate should come on-site to meet with HR and the whole hiring team.  As the hiring manager you should also meet with the candidate in person when they come onsite.  A “final” interview comes next where the hiring manager gets to ask any questions based on feedback from the earlier rounds and the candidate meets any senior managers who have input to the department.

This gives an effective minimum guideline.  I know many companies like to add technical tests, personality profiles, team meetings/mixers and other activities to their hiring processes as part of their company brand or what makes them unique.  Those are all great things if they work for your company.  Chances are if you have those in place then you likely breezed past this section of today’s entry anyway!

By the way – how long are you taking to get back to people after they apply?  After the phone screen?  More importantly – after they were onsite to interview in person?  If the answer to any of those is more than a few days then you may have a problem.  The best candidates do not last long on the market.  Even those that were passively looking when they decided to apply for your role are likely to become more active once they break the ice.  Even if the update is that you don’t have an update yet – over communicate with your candidates.  And don’t forget to let people know that they will not be moving forward if you have decided to pass.  A top complaint from job applicants is that they never hear from companies after they interview.  Don’t be that company.

Compensation/Benefits

How does your compensation and benefits package compare to similar roles?  Even better – are you able to confidently answer that question?  If your best answer is “the guy who left was making that” then you need to do some real research.  If you don’t know what market is for a role you can save yourself some headaches in this process by consulting with a professional.  It may cost a bit of money – or you may be able to speak with an agency recruiter – but knowing what the market is paying a role will put you in a position to attract and hire the right candidate.

Benefits are a topic that can get touchy for some companies.  Particularly those who are very proud of their corporate culture and what they offer to employees who work there.  Benefits are more often a reason for someone to stay with a company than they are to attract someone.  Think about it – what benefits (not salary or bonus) could a potential employer offer you that would make you leave your current role?  Onsite gym?  Stock?  401k match?  Dental?  Ping pong tables and beer on tap?

In my experience some of the top answers to that question may not even include something you can offer to every candidate.  One is the ability to work remotely.  Another, closely related benefit, is having a job closer to home.  People want to have more of their time actually be their time – not time in the car/bus/train getting to and from work.  In the IT world where work weeks can regularly be 60 hours being able to maintain balance is very important.

Whatever your benefits are – be able to articulate them very clearly.  For someone moving from one job to another the ability to compare health insurance and other benefits to their current role will be important.  Beyond that it generally comes down to compensation and the growth opportunity the new role offers.

Flexibility

What are your expectations in terms of what your new hire will “look” like?  Even the candidate who hits every box on your requirements (and wish list) will require time to get up to speed with your operations.  Wouldn’t the same be true about a candidate you really like who may be missing a technology or experience?  It kills me to see a client pass on a candidate who could really be a great long term investment because they have never worked with a technology they would be happy to learn.

Being focused on the immediate needs around a hire sometimes keep people from looking beyond this year or this program.  In the effort to ensure certain required skillsets are in place sometimes a hire is made to fit the current workload rather than the company.  In those cases I almost always fall back and recommend we find a good contract or consulting type resource to handle the project with the goal of evaluating their perm needs over the coming months.

It may be that you are looking at using a service provider or a consultant to deliver what you need for the current project – which is something we see happening more and more frequently as well.  This can free you up to make a more strategic hire, possibly someone who can grow with you and the company versus someone who may be a short term solution.

Summary

Overall you really need to look at how much technology hiring experience you or your company have.  Does your HR department regularly hire IT professionals?  If your company is not an IT company it is likely your recruiter, if you even have one, does not work on IT roles very often.  That lack of expertise and connections can slow down the review process.  And before you think this is HR specific this likely applies to you as a hiring manager as well.  In a small company you may be on your own to make a hire.  If you only do it once a year or once every few years you will need help.  That may be use of a recruiter – but it may be a hand setting yourself up for success.  A short consulting engagement with a hiring specialist can help you develop a great job specification, double check salary, ensure you have a solid interview process, and put  you in a position to be successful in your next search.  And that is something I would be happy to do if this sounds like you.

Eric Bakke

Eric joined TSP as the Managing Partner of the project management practice. Eric has over 15 years of hands-on project management experience with clients ranging from the SMB space to the Fortune 100. He has successfully managed projects and programs ranging from small server build outs to multi-million dollar implementations. Eric’s goal in creating the project management practice is to leverage his understanding of project management into a high quality relationship for both the client and the project manager.

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