In every workshop, I ask one question, “Who has made a recruiting decision they have lived to regret?” Every manager puts his or her hand up. The carnage caused is relived in their facial expressions. Why does this happen so often?

Recruitment should be the most important activity a manager ever does. It should be the most prepared exercise we ever do, for the following reasons:

  • Recruiting properly is like putting a fence on the top of a cliff—it is better to spend 40 hours recruiting a candidate properly than to spend 400 hours cleaning up after a recruiting mistake.
  • You can recruit for technical skills and through training improve skill levels, but you cannot change a person’s values. If an individual’s values are different from those of the organization, you will always have conflict.
  • Better recruits will lead to more internal promotions, both saving costs and retaining institutional knowledge.

As one CEO said to me, “I always told my managers to remember that a good vacancy will always be better than a bad recruitment.”  

To have a leading-edge team requires being able to sift the wheat from the chaff in the recruitment process. It is time to revamp the process from the antiquated interview process and accompanying cursory reference checking.

Here are 12 steps I recommend.

1. Look for Values and Fit Before Focusing on Expertise

Recruiting will never be successful if the recruiters do not have a shared understanding of the organization’s core values and purpose. The primary objective should always be to weed out candidates who do not share the same values and who will not buy into the organization’s purpose.

It is wiser to recruit someone slightly less experienced who is clearly able and has a close fit with the organization’s core ideology than to recruit an expert who will not fit from day one.

2. Paint the Picture First

Peter Drucker advised that you understand the job, so you have a better chance of getting a good fit. Here we need to understand not only what the duties are, but what skills and expertise are required. If you have a previous high performer in that role, model the job on that person’s traits.

Far too often, the only time spent painting the picture is drafting a job description based on a format from the HR department. These job descriptions may not paint the right picture. We thus need to further touch up the picture in the job advert and during the first interview.

A retired, very well-respected CEO recommended setting the bar higher than the person leaving that position. That way, your organization’s talent pool has been enhanced.

3. Never Give a New Job to a New Person

Drucker stated that you should never give a “new job to a new person.” Drucker believed that outsiders do not stand a chance implementing new systems in an organization due to concerns over change, a lack of credibility, and the overpowering nature of the default future. Instead, you need to appoint and train an in-house manager who is well respected in the organization and who has a pile of “I owe you” favours that they can call on.

If the position is new to the organization and there is to be likely resistance (e.g., implementation of a new system, new general ledger etc.), you will be far more likely to succeed by utilizing the best person within the organization than any very skilled external person.

4. Seek Internal Referrals First

Great organizations recruit heavily from internal referrals. They target their high-performing staff and ask them if they know a person who would fit in the team before they advertise a position. Often, this has proved successful in saving hours of sifting through the great unknown.

Google is famous for its referral recruiting. Staff members who recommend candidates are rewarded for their efforts when their contact becomes an employee.

5. Recruiting Agency or Not

You will already have a preference as to whether you use agencies to recruit staff for your team. The reasons for using agencies include:

  • An agency specializing in recruiting staff in your sector will be in constant touch with the market. They will know the available talent pool.
  • In smaller cities they are likely to know most of the senior accountants, how they perform, and what environments suit them best.
  • If you are going to be busy and not able to contribute to the process fully, then they will act as a great safety net.
  • The more senior the role, the more benefits there are in using a specialized agency.

When selecting an agency for the first time, ensure they specialize in recruiting accountants. In addition, as a friend in the recruiting business warned, make sure they are not currently overloaded with active positions; otherwise, your recruitment exercise may become compromised.

6. Begin with a Good Advert

You need to sell the position using the emotional drivers of the potential recruits. Do not let the recruiting agency draft the advert without your active involvement. The job advert should include:

  • Career prospects
  • Technology they will be working with
  • Working conditions of the team
  • The scope for them to make a difference
  • 10 to 20 percent of time to pursue ideas that might make a substantial impact on the organization

7. Commit to Communication

Throughout the process, your communication must be seamless to the potential recruits. If some candidates are no longer on the list, inform them, offer some guidelines, and remember—they may well come across your path again.

If candidates are having to chase you about where their application stands, you can rest assured that they have been thinking about it for some time already. Great communication with candidates augers well for the future and could be the deciding factor in a competing-offer scenario.

8. Commit to four rounds

The First Round

Here we are trying to sift out those candidates who are not suitable. As Dr Richard Ford, a specialist in senior executive assessment, has suggested, it is useful to send information about the job to the candidates and ask them to assess themselves against the key knowledge-specific, role-specific, team specific, and culture-specific competencies required for the role. This can be handled by having candidates complete a web-based application form. As Ford points out, candidates with limited insight, self-awareness, and understanding of the role can be easily eliminated.

You may also wish to review the LinkedIn and Facebook profiles for those you are unsure about.

The Second Round

The next session could be a 30-minute screening phone conversation for those who have provided adequate self-assessments. You could ask them the following questions:

  1. What are your proudest achievements?
  2. What has been the hardest decision you have had to make that may have made you unpopular?
  3. What are your strengths?
  4. What will reference checks disclose about the way you operate?
  5. How will your style impact on other team members?
  6. How do you plan to grow and stretch yourself in the next five years?

Study candidates’ performance records to find their strengths so that you can ascertain whether these strengths are right for the job. Drucker was adamant that you should focus on the interviewee’s strengths and if these fitted the job specifications, the candidate could progress in the selection process. He saw no purpose in delving into weaknesses that often are not going to be exposed in the job.

The Third Round

Consider three to five people in the shortlist to maximize your chances of getting the best fit. Often, we only have one or two suitable candidates. Drucker warns us that this is not enough. Cast your net wider to attract more interest.

You could ask them the following questions:

  1. Why did you leave your last job?
  2. Why do you want to leave your current job? You then ask, “Why was that?” Welch says you should drill down to the truth.
  3. What sorts of things irritate and frustrate you most?
  • What would your colleagues say is the best thing about you?
  • Give examples of your commitment to innovation?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to persuade people to do something they did not want to do. What happened?
  • When I call your last boss, how will he/she rate your performance on a 0 to 10 scale, and why?
  • What preparation have you done for this interview?
  • Why do you want this job?

Involve the Human Resources Team

Most readers can reflect back to a recruit that they approved that did not work out. In most cases, this would have been based on interviews and references. HR practitioners have found there are far more effective ways to recruit, starting by making an in-depth focus on the job requirements and followed by behavioural event interviews, simulated exercises, and assessment centres. All of this takes experienced in-house resources to manage and deliver. As we all know, the cost of appointing the wrong person can be much greater than just the salary costs.

Use Simulation Exercises and Psychometric Testing

The basic interview is a totally flawed tool; we tend to warm to those candidates who are like us. Clever interviewees realize this and will mimic back to us what we want to hear. Situation, role-playing, or scenario exercises are thus becoming more common in the recruitment process to find out more about the candidates.

It is now quite common for report writing and presentation exercises to be set during the final interview round for the more senior roles.

Many organizations that I have surveyed report that they have been burned by new staff who describe themselves as competent on an important skill, only to find out in practice that they were not nearly so competent.

Psychometric tests, especially arithmetical and verbal reasoning, are found to be valuable predictors and should be used when sorting out which of the short-listed candidates. High scores in these two tests is seen as a sign of a high performer.

One organization comments on the usefulness of a simple scenario exercise as part of the recruitment process, with the candidate and the panel playing their respective roles. The organization says that it is not hard to set up, and yet it helps significantly in the selection process. Candidates are given only 15 minutes’ notice of what the scenario is going to be.

Assessment Centres

First used in the British army, assessment centres have long been recognized as a thorough way to recruit staff. They work particularly well when you are recruiting a group of staff or when you are looking to select senior and middle-management internally.

The Fourth Round

A reference check has little or no validity unless it is from a person known to your organization or a past employer whom you can rely on. Random references, especially if they are received attached to the resume, should be treated with caution.

Reputable recruiting agencies use a landline number to verify the person and organization. At the very least, you should phone and ask questions about the candidate’s (Pat’s) skill base, such as:

  • “Can you give me some instances where Pat has shown her ability to complete what she has started?”
  • “Can you give me some examples where Pat has shown initiative?”
  • “Are you able to illustrate a situation where Pat has shown his ability to handle pressure?”
  • “Does Pat have any special needs we should be aware of?”

9. The Previous Boss Check

Drucker was adamant that you should talk to candidates’ previous bosses. Obviously not their current employment, but those organizations where they used to work. Jack Welch would call a previous employer and ask, “We have Pat Carruthers short-listed for a general manager position. I was wondering, if Pat was reapplying for a similar position in your organization, would you want him back?” As Jack says, he was surprised at the honesty. If he got a no, that was enough for him to cease the recruiting of that candidate. He wanted to hear, “We would very happy to have ________ back; _____ made a significant contribution while he (she) was with us.”

10. Involve the Team in the Final Selection Process

 Far too often, a new staff member is soon found to be deficient in a key process he or she claimed expertise in. This is a shame, as a brief exposure to the team during a casual walk could have exposed a potentially serious weakness in the candidate’s skill base.

It is a good idea to have staff on the team involved to some extent in the final selection from the short list of candidates. This need not be too complex. A meeting over an afternoon cup of coffee can give the staff a chance to subtly quiz candidates on the claimed “expert knowledge.” It is useful to see how they interact with the staff.

11. The Final Check Against Requirements

It is a good idea to summarize your findings of the shortlisted candidates on a one-page matrix; see Exhibit 1. Although it might be tempting to perform some form of weightings, I would advise against this. You are trying to put objectiveness in a subjective exercise. Simply review the table. If two candidates are about even, then other considerations need to be evaluated.

12. Closing the Deal

You have done all the hard work, found a star, and offered the job. Time to relax? Hell, no! Get the CEO involved to make a call; just a 5- to 10-minute call can make all the difference in closing the deal. Remember, talent is sought after; it is a competitive market. Tell the CEO those 10 minutes could be worth $20,000, which is $120,000 per hour.

This is a shortened extract from David Parmenter’s Working guide: Attracting and Recruiting Talent

You can also access David Parmenter’s The Leading-edge Managers Guide to Success – Strategies and Better Practices