1. Understand That Time Spent Recruiting Is the Most Valuable Time

Far too often managers, when looking at their calendar, throw up their hands when they realize that they have another recruitment interview to do. It is the last thing they need at this point in time. Yet, recruitment should be seen as the most important thing a manager does, for the following reasons:

  • Recruiting properly is like putting a fence on the top of a cliff—it prevents causalities. As Jim Collins, of Good to Great fame, says, “You need to get the right people on the bus.”
  • 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 promotion, both saving costs and maintaining institutional knowledge.

To have a good team it is a good idea to start with the best resources available. There are still too many staff selections made via an antiquated interview process accompanied by some cursory reference checking; the result is a high failure rate among new staff. Greater effort needs to be put into the selection process through the adoption of recruiting techniques as discussed in the following.

Management guru Peter Drucker once observed General Motors’ top committee spending hours discussing the promotion of one employee. On questioning management about the effectiveness of this, the reply from the CEO was, “If we didn’t spend four hours on placing a man and placing him right, we’d spend four hundred hours on cleaning up after our mistake.”

2. Look for the values you need –  Cathay Pacific Recruitment

Cathay Pacific constantly seeks frontline staff that were born with the desire to serve. They firmly believe you cannot train staff to be as good at serving as Cathay Pacific requires—“They have to be born that way.”

In order to sort the wheat from the chaff, all frontline applicants have to go through an arduous five-interview recruitment process that often takes about three months. Only applicants who are committed to joining Cathay Pacific get over this hurdle. During these interviews management is looking for the traits they need. The investment in the front end pays off with a quicker and more successful training process and one of the lowest staff turnover ratios in the industry.

3. Use Peter Drucker’s Five-Step Recruiting Process

Management guru Peter Drucker, on observing great leaders, noted that there were five steps to a sound recruitment:

  1. 1. Understand the job so you have a better chance of getting a good fit.
  2. 2. Consider three to five people to maximize your chances of getting the best fit.
  3. 3. Study candidates’ performance records to find their strengths so that you can ascertain whether these strengths are right for the job.
  4. 4. Talk to candidates’ previous bosses and colleagues about them.
  5. 5. Once the employment decision is made, make sure the appointee understands the assignment.

4. Use these 14 Great Questions to Help Get Select ‘A’ Players

Dr Richard Ford has written a good article on “how to hire the ‘A’players”.[i] The 14 great questions have been slightly altered to accommodate the thinking of Peter Drucker.

  1. Why did you leave your last job? Why do you want to leave your current job? Jack Welch says you should ask the five whys
  2. Of what achievements are you most proud?
  3. What has been your hardest decision you have had to make that may have made you unpopular?
  4. What are your strengths?
  5. What sorts of things irritate and frustrate you most, and how do you express your emotions when frustrated?
  6. When was the last time you celebrated team members?
  7. What will reference checks disclose about your personal and operating style and how will your style impact on other team members?
  8. How do you plan to grow and stretch yourself in the next five years?
  9. What would your colleagues say is the best thing about you?
  10. Give examples of your commitment to innovation?
  11. Tell me about a time when you had to persuade people to do something they did not want to do? What happened?
  12. When I call your last boss, how will he/she rate your performance on a 0-10 scale and why?
  13. How would your colleagues describe your team-playing abilities?
  14. Why do you want this job?

5. Involve the Human Resources Team

One of the most disconcerting departures from better practice has been the demise of the Human Resources (HR) team’s influence in organizations. Where recruitment is left to managers, chaos ensues. Jack Welch states very strongly that the HR team should have the same standing as the finance team e.g. the head of HR should have the same pay and conditions as the CFO.

Most readers can reflect back to a recruitment 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 behavioral event interviews, simulated exercises, and assessment centers. 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 her salary costs. These methods are discussed in the following.

6. Involve Your Team in the Final Selection Process

Far too often a new staff member is soon found to be deficient in a key process he 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 somehow involved 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 their “expert knowledge.”

One technology team had interviewed an impressive candidate and duly short-listed him. In the second round of interviews, they found that the candidate, albeit a certified Microsoft engineer, had little or no practical experience. This was discovered by the team members when they gave him a tour of the team’s IT equipment.

7. Ask Your Top Employees for Referrals

One high-performance manager asks the team members if they know a person who would fit in the team before she advertises 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 if and when their contact becomes an employee.

8. Reference Checks: The Do’s and Don’ts

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. At the very least you should phone and ask questions about the candidate’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 instances where Pat has shown initiative?”
  • “Can you give me some instances where Pat has shown her ability to handle pressure?”

In important positions, Jack Welch, CEO of GE,  would ring a previous boss and ask,  “If ___ want to  work for you again would you have them back?”  If he did not get an unreserved “Yes” the candidate did not get any further.

One important government organization asks all short-listed candidates to find a referee who is known by the organization. If none can be found, they ignore this step. Naturally, this would count against an applicant. They believe a reference is worth getting only if it can be relied upon. They know that a referee who is aware of the organization, how it operates, and its values and staff would be unlikely to give an unreliable reference if he wants to retain his relationship with the organization.

A common mistake is not to verify the academic record. Papers are littered with cases where high-profile appointments have been made where the individual has claimed a masters or Ph.D. degree, only to be found out when poor performance brings his claims into question. Always check against the university records where the appointments are very important to the organization.

Next steps

  1. Buy David’s short paper on attracting and recruiting talent
  2. Buy the leadership toolkit called Winning Leadership: A Model on Leadership For The Millennial Manager” – Toolkit (120 page PDF whitepaper + e-templates).


[i] Dr Richard G Ford “How to hire the ‘A’players” Finance & Management ICAEW March 2010