Optimizing Your Hiring Process

Return to main page

Digital Library > Human Resources Management > Employee selection"Optimizing Your Hiring Process"

Hiring great people is a must for every company hoping to grow. Create a hiring system to streamline and standardize your search for talent.


When hiring, you need a strategy with a consistent format. Construct a firm idea of what you are looking for in a candidate or you'll conclude the interview knowing what the candidate wants you to know, rather than what you need to know to reach a successful decision.

"You must have consistency," confirms Phyllis Shurn-Hannah, president of Cascade Associates, headquartered in Philadelphia. "And in the rush to hire an employee, some companies overlook essential steps, which gets them in trouble."

Indeed, the American Psychological Association says that 67% of job seekers embellish their resumes. That places you in the position of creating a system to identify the truly excellent employees among those who are only pretending.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  1. Strategies to standardize your hiring approach.
  2. Useful reference-check tips.
  3. Different types of interview styles.


Hiring great people helps you build strategic assets. You are hiring the people who are the future builders of your products and services. It's one of the most important functions you can develop — and one of the most difficult. But if you hire correctly, you dramatically increase your chances of success.

Strategies to standardize your hiring approach

  1. Create and publicize (internally) the methodology for recruiting employees at your company. If there is a point person, such as a human resources director, who coordinates all new hires, let your staff know that. That way when they encounter promising prospects, there is a person who can pick up the contact and run with it.

  2. Know ahead of time the publications and Web sites in which you want to post vacant positions. This will speed the process of placing advertisements.

  3. Write job descriptions for all your employees before you need them. This will save time when you have a sudden departure that you need to fill. You can pull the description from the file and quickly adapt it for the job posting. It is much easier to alter an existing job description than to have to write one with a quick deadline looming.

  4. Have a set of documents that describes your company and its philosophy. Send this to candidates before you interview. This will give them a sense of what your company is about and will save valuable interview time. This also serves as a first test to see if the candidates read what you send them. You will be able to tell by the questions your materials prompt.

  5. Develop a set of questions that all interviewers will ask at every interview. Leave some flexibility, though, for an interviewer to follow up a particular line of inquiry.

  6. If several people are interviewing the candidates, coordinate the questions each person will ask so that candidates don't get the same question asked of them multiple times.

  7. Set aside an interviewing day each week or month, and ask all managers and key employees to be on alert at that time. An effective screening conversation requires an hour; to streamline the procedure for everyone, schedule more than one conversation per visit.

  8. Pay strict attention to how well the person seems to fit into your corporate culture. It takes more than a technical or skill-set fit. Most hires go bad when the person can't adjust to the way a company does things.

Remember that hiring is not just a way to fill empty chairs around the office — it's a strategy for making your company stronger. Don't wait for a position to become vacant in your company before starting the search — keep a constant watch for new talent. If you find a great programmer or salesperson when you're "fully staffed," hire him or her anyway. The new business brought your way could more than pay for the salary. (For more "guerilla recruiting" techniques, see our Quick Read "Recruiting in Tough Times.")

Interviewing tips

Success boils down to uncovering more than one facet of a candidate to see if he or she matches your company goals and isn't exaggerating his or her abilities. To play fair, require interviewers to ask all candidates the same set of preselected questions, and write down the answers, along with the manager's impressions. However, resist taping the conversation because this scares job seekers unnecessarily. Don't overlook colleagues' input — the candidate's future coworkers deserve a say.

Human resources experts use a multitude of interviewing styles, such as:

  • Competency based (behavioral): The interview draws out previous life experiences as predictors of future performance abilities. Here you dig at an experience from practical to cerebral levels to ensure the candidate isn't indulging in fictional storytelling.

  • Situational: A version of the "what if?" game, this approach asks job seekers to conceptualize a problem and decide on a course of action on the spot.

  • Life themes: The choice of heavy-hitters like Gallup and the Cleveland Cavaliers, this style defines the dominant themes in a person's life and then matches those against model themes for high performers in the position.

  • Puzzlers: How many gas stations are there in the United States? The response to this goofy question in Microsoft's screening bag-of-tricks indicates a candidate's mental agility.

Check references carefully. Don't skip this step. Some companies you call may only be willing to confirm facts for fear of a defamation lawsuit. Others, however, may give you some insight into the candidate. Listen to the tone of how the reference tells you about the candidate. For example: one former employer told the reference checker, "We agreed in the lawsuit not to say anything negative about that candidate." Take the clue you've been handed and move on. At the very least, checking references will confirm the truthfulness of the candidates and their resumes. Be willing to spend significant time on this step as it is one of your best tools for preventing a bad hire.


When you operate a biking and hiking excursion service that covers vacation tours at more than 100 locations, the guides' attitudes hold your business in the palms of their hands. Just ask Marcy Porus, the vice president of operations for Backroads in Berkeley, Calif., who oversees the hiring process.

"Our trip leaders are Backroads employees — not subcontractors — and we feel they are the core asset of the business. Weather can be great, hotels can be superb, but it's the leaders who add the personal touches that make the trip unforgettable," she says. "Our guests return to Backroads and tell friends to come along because they prize the experience."

Porus sets up initial interviews with an existing trip leader who has been prepped on the personality and skill qualities she seeks. Between this interviewer and Porus, the two cover both behavioral and fact-finding questions, although in a mixed fashion so the conversations don't become predictable.

Next, the potential employee must perform an on-site bike test (diagnosing a sick bike and naming bike tools) a s well as complete a math test and writing sample. Porus calls her final phase the Leader Hiring Event, where Backroads executives treat the 100 or so candidates who've made the cut to this point to a two-day camping excursion in April. Here, they rate individuals during role-playing games. Typically the management team agrees on 40 to 70 tour leaders by the end of the session.

DO IT [top]

  1. Ask your department manager to determine exactly what the job entails and to develop a working job description.

  2. Ask the candidate to bring a work sample, whether a presentation, a white paper or even a personal organization system to show interviewers.

  3. Meet with the interview team before the candidate arrives to agree on what everyone wants to discover, and assign specific question sets to individuals. Having all interviewers ask "tell me about your upbringing" wastes everyone's time and makes a bad impression. Major areas to uncover through a variety of question styles: how they handle problem situations, their sense of ethics, their attitude toward work, what motivates them. Again, write the questions in advance.

  4. Take notes to provide concrete data on why you like or dislike a candidate.

  5. If the position requires relocation, lay out what such a move entails, e.g., sacrificing existing family and friend networks; uprooting spouses; and identifying new schools, doctors and other professional services. Ask the candidates to describe the type of physical and emotional support they expect from your company in this transition.

  6. When you call previous employers, check the employment dates, verify all former titles and salary history. (Accept that sometimes people change titles to a generic version to better describe their roles). If someone paid $100,000 for an employee who stayed in a position six years, chances are good this person is on the up-and-up. Note: Make sure you have a signed release from the candidate authorizing you to call previous employers for verification purposes. Most job applications have this legal language built in. Some employers will request a copy of the release before they will share information about a previous employee.

  7. Phone any universities mentioned in the application to confirm degrees, and check with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to verify a valid driver's license. Your goal is to determine if this person bends the truth, not to glean personal information.



45 Effective Ways for Hiring Smart!: How to Predict Winners and Losers in the Incredibly Expensive People-Reading Game by Pierre Mornell (Ten Speed, 1998).

Hiring Great People by Kevin C. Klinvex, Matthew S. O'Connell, and Christopher P. Klinvex (McGraw-Hill, 1999).

Hire With Your Head by Lou Adler (Wiley, 1998).

Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting & Orienting New Employees, 4th edition, by Diane Arthur (AMACOM, 2005).

The HR Book: Human Resources Management for Business by Lin Grensing-Pophal (Self-Counsel, 1999).

A Manager's Guide to Hiring the Best Person for Every Job by DeAnne Rosenberg (Wiley, 2000). Interviewing technique tips.

Internet sites

"Hiring: Tell me about it," by Teri Lammers et al. Inc., (December 1990): 149.

"The ABCs of Interviewing," by Peter Carbonara. Fast Company (August 1996): 80.

"Interview Quiz," Interviewer's Edge. Management Team Consultants, 2001.

Interview Techniques, from Tips on the Hiring Process by Bill Prince and Patrick Milliken. eJobs, Inc., 2000. Click on Contents in the navigation column and select Questioning Techniques.

Article Contributors

Writer: Julie Sturgeon

Related Articles
Recruiting in Tough Times

Revealing the Person Behind the Resume: Pre-employment Testing

Value of Orientation

Establish a Culture of Success

You Got a Problem With Me?

Human Resources Management

Articles in our Entrepreneur’s Resource Center appeared in print and online newsletters published previously by the foundation. More than 1,000 articles can be found in the categories below, addressing timeless challenges faced by entrepreneurs of all types.