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Learn from past hiring mistakes

By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

QUESTION: My hiring decisions don’t seem to be very good. The past few people I’ve hired have fallen short of my expectations. I can’t figure it out — I’m hitting it off with them in the interviews.

ANSWER: Be clear about the characteristics you’re seeking in a candidate so that you’ll make solid choices.

Selecting the right people to join your team is a high-stakes matter, so it’s important to make the best decisions you can. To start, reflect on the people you’ve hired in the past, considering why you feel that they have fallen short. Is there a pattern that could help you understand biases you may bring into the interview process? Sometimes people are drawn to candidates who are “just like them,” but this can lead you to make an unsound selection. Also consider successful hires that you’ve made. What factors can you identify that made them successful?

Now, instead of thinking about the people you’ve hired, think about the process you’ve used to select them. To what extent do you map out the competencies, skills and experience that are required for the position? Do you involve other people or handle the process solo? Also evaluate your skills in asking probing questions and moving beyond superficial answers.

Get feedback from others on the process you employ. If there is someone who makes consistently good hiring decisions, ask them about their approach. Also get others’ perspectives about the quality of your hiring decisions. If you’re basing your assessment on personal fit rather than professional fit, you might also not have the best perspective on whether the person is succeeding in their role.

If you’ve been using a more intuitive, gut-feel process, it’s time to put on your planning hat. For example, if you’re hiring a new analyst, what analytical techniques do they need to know? What software tools do they need to use? To what extent can you train vs. needing them to be able to step right in? Be specific about your requirements, and know where you can make tradeoffs if necessary.

But if you’ve focused on the skills aspects of the job, add more focus on the intangibles. Ask for examples of their communication style, teamwork and dealing with frustration. Push a bit to get a more in-depth sense of the person beyond the image they present in the interview.

Don’t go it alone. The best interview processes involve a team, so include other team members. Some up-front planning is helpful so that you don’t all cover the same material, but don’t overplan — much of the benefit will come from the variety of perspectives you’ll get. It’s a better experience for the interviewee, as well, by providing greater insight into the team.

If you need help, get it. Consult with your company’s HR department on designing a good process, or look for books or online resources. If you’re shaky on asking good questions, practice with a colleague so that you see the opportunities for deeper exploration on a response.

Use your head along with your gut to get the right person for your next open position.

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