The decision to hire staff to assist you with the performance of your job is one of the most important ones you will make during your career. Making the right choice can help your business shine, increase your profits, free you to develop new endeavors, and give you the peace of mind to take vacations and not worry about who’s minding the store.

The wrong choice, however, can saddle you with problems such as costly mistakes, poor customer relations, time lost to extensive training and even lawsuits. Whether you are a new manager or the owner of a small business, the following guidelines will help you to pick the best candidate for the job that needs to be done.

JOB SPECS

Prior to posting your “Help Wanted” ad on the Internet or in the local newspapers, have a clear idea of what the exact duties, hours, and pay will be. While every position is subject to a certain level of alteration with the passage of time, you nevertheless need to draw up a list of primary responsibilities.

Although you don’t have to mention every angstrom of detail in your ad, as complete a list as possible needs to be shared with prospective employees during the interview process. You will also need to specify upfront whether a college degree, specialized training, or a certain number of years of related experience are required in order to qualify.

Given the current state of the economy, you can expect to be inundated with applicants. For that reason, a lot of employers will omit the specific name of the company (to avoid phone calls and walk-in’s) and/or request resumes to be sent to a post office box for screening. Those applicants whose education and experience best match the desired qualifications are then contacted to come in for an interview.

GETTING READY TO INTERVIEW YOUR TALENT POOL

Sometimes in the giddy excitement of hiring one’s first employee, there’s a tendency to make snap decisions. Although both the first and last candidates being interviewed always have a psychological advantage over everyone in the middle, you still need to reserve judgment until you have had the chance to meet with each person on the list. In some cases, you may also want to schedule call-back’s for a second evaluation.

Prior to the interviews, prepare a standardized set of questions. The same questions should be asked of every candidate to ensure a level playing field. While the amount of information that applicants share in their replies will vary from one-liners to chatty half-hour dissertations, you don’t want any of them to come back later and accuse you of bias or discrimination. Be aware of those questions which are illegal and/or unprofessional to ask (i.e., age, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, etc.).

In addition to general questions regarding work experience, you may want to include hypothetical situations and/or performance tests pertinent to the tasks they will be doing at the workplace. For clerical positions, for example, the test could include typing, spelling, math, and demonstrating proficiency with various computer software programs.

If you have a large pool of interviewees, be sure to take notes or have a recorder on hand so that you can accurately remember who said what. It is also recommended that you invite an associate to sit in on the interviews in order to provide you with valuable feedback.

FRIENDS IN THE WORKPLACE

As famously as you may get along with your friends outside of work, you should always proceed with caution if you are ever tempted to hire any of them as your employees. Many a friendship has turned into feud once the dynamics of interaction have shifted to a more professional setting. For one thing, the relaxed relations you currently have with a best buddy will impact their interactions with–and your respect from–other workers on the premises.

Secondly, a friend may feel slighted if you’re not divulging company secrets as liberally as you share your love life and your problems. Third, you will have higher expectations of loyalty from a friend than a stranger and could, in fact, feel insulted if they leave you for a better paying job with one of your competitors.

Likewise, you can’t look upon the hiring process as a chance to widen your social sphere. While many a professional relationship has gradually evolved into a personal one, be wary of any applicant who’s a tad too eager to be your best pal. Just like with romance, liaisons that are quick to ignite will often burn out just as fast.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The truth about the hiring process is that the majority of personnel decisions are made within the first 30 seconds of contact. A person’s punctuality (or lack thereof), physical appearance, personal hygiene, manner of dress, handshake, eye contact and voice all factor into the interviewer’s assessment before a single question is even set forth.

Learn to trust your instincts and to pay close attention to how the interviewees present themselves. These often yield clues as to how they will react to situations and rules of the workplace. While there’s nothing wrong with taking a diamond in the rough and polishing him or her into a shining employee, don’t lose sight of your reasons for wanting to hire someone in the first place. Makeover projects will rob you of valuable time in building your business and your clientele.

REFERENCES

Always ask for and follow up on employee references. In the case of young employees or those who have been out of the workforce for a long period of time, references can take the form of teachers, school counselors, clergy, neighbors, or friends of long duration. Don’t discount an applicant’s volunteer experience, either, as this usually reflects an enthusiastic commitment of time and energy to community causes and campaigns.

MAKING YOUR DECISION

Congratulations! You have finally narrowed down your list to one person whom you believe will be an asset to your organization. When you call to deliver the happy news, be prepared to tell them what day and time they will be reporting, what the salary and hours will be, and what they should bring or wear to their first day on the job. It’s also important to advise them that they will be on a probationary period for X amount of time to make sure that this will be a comfortable match for both of you.

This will not only allow the new hire to see if he or she likes the environment and the duties but allow you to determine if this person has what it takes to learn the required tasks, deal effectively with your clients or customers, and manage their time responsibly. In the event that your new employee just isn’t working out, you have given yourself a graceful exit to let them go and commence your next search.

As for those applicants who didn’t get the job, you owe them the professional courtesy of a call, letter, or email advising them of that fact. Unfortunately, it’s a practice that has seriously fallen by the wayside in modern business. Why? Because no one likes to be the bearer of bad news. Try to keep your remarks as positive as possible.

In the event that the applicant takes the initiative of asking you what he or she could have done differently, you will be doing both of you a favor by taking a few minutes to offer constructive advice. The benefit to the applicants is that this advice can be applied to their future job interviews.

The benefit to you is that if these individuals are serious about working for you someday, you are providing useful information on how to better prepare themselves for upcoming openings and opportunities.

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