Managers should look for potential

In this time of massive competition, hiring managers are going to great lengths to make sure they get the right person for the job.

Will Helmlinger, hiring and retention expert and co-owner of Your Hire Authority based in Portland, Ore., said to avoid hiring mistakes, managers should look past hard skills such as education and experience and inquire about a candidate’s soft skills.

“Communications, leadership, conflict resolution, customer service, empathy and decision-making, those types of things can be measured,” Helmlinger said.

If soft skill competencies aren’t factored into the decision-making process, Helmlinger said a destructive cycle is being allowed to continue.

“Well maybe what (a company) has done is hire a C player because that’s the best they’ve seen, when what they want is an A or B player.”

Michael Gauvreau, manager of staffing at IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont., said he doesn’t underestimate soft skill competencies, but prefers to find out the “how” as opposed to the “what” during an interview.

“Demonstrate to me what you’ve learned. How did you reengineer a process? The fact that you were a project manager or an IT consultant means nothing to me until you tell me what you did with the skills that you learned and how you actually implemented them,” Gauvreau said.

Helmlinger said developing a directed interview process that consists of specific behaviour-related interview questions might help eliminate what he calls the “interview mask,” which will allow the interviewer to meet the applicant behind the nervousness.

“If you follow the steps of saying here’s the position description, here’s the success criteria, here’s what it’s going to take to be a superior performer, then develop your questions around that scenario. You’re going to find out a wealth of information about a person,” Helmlinger said.

Grant Savoie, resource manager with OAO Technology Solutions, a company that specializes in delivering managed IT services to commercial clients in Moncton, N.B., said it is important to put the applicant at ease before starting the interview, or nerves may get in the way, and a good candidate may be unfairly screened out.

“It’s been my role to create a relaxed environment for the (candidate). When they come in offer them a cup of coffee, offer to hang up their coat. It’s cold outside, and their nose is running, offer them a tissue. Make them feel that you want them there as a candidate,” Savoie said. “In the IT market, you have to do all you can to attract qualified candidates, and if the candidates are coming in feeling that you are doing them a favour, then that’s not a good way to start off an interview.”

Savoie said it is essential for the hiring manager to present a copy of the job description to an applicant at the beginning of an interview to ensure that both parties are looking for the same things.

“When they come in (the candidate) will want to know, or should want to know what the position entails. What their job responsibilities will be. If they don’t ask for a job description I would be worried, as a hiring manger, that this person may or may not understand what they are going to be doing once they’re hired,” said Savoie.

Helmlinger said there are three phases a hiring manger must consider when reviewing a potential candidate: multiple interviews, testing and reference checks.

“All three weigh on the decision. If there’s any inconsistencies the answer has to be either no, I will not hire this person, or I must dig deeper.”

Savoie agrees that soft skills must be assessed before a final hiring decision is made, but warns that managers should be careful if they are looking for the perfect applicant.

“If you’re hiring a perfect 10, then you’re opening yourself up for somebody that thinks they know all and is untrainable. If you hire an eight out of 10, that leaves a little room to move, and to retrain them and get them thinking to company processes and structure,” Savoie said.

Gauvreau said that in today’s marketplace, hiring managers should be very particular in finding the right candidate.

“There is a very good labour pool out there because of market conditions…not just in Canada but around the globe in terms of individuals who have some very good skills who have been in parts of organizations that have recently gone through downsizing, and as a result there’s a strong talent pool,” Gauvreau said.

Mel Mulligan, a self-employed senior human resource consultant in Ottawa, said a hiring manager should be looking for potential over perfection.

“Ideally you need to be hiring people who not only can do the job as we know it today, but have the flexibility or the potential to do something different tomorrow. I’d hire for under a 10, with the potential to be a 12,” Mulligan said.

He added that common courtesies such as not writing e-mails or answering the phone during an interview are necessary to holding the applicant’s interest in the company. It is never wise to make a hiring decision either during, or immediately following an initial interview, he said.

“The last thing you want to do these days is to hire (a candidate) based on your sole impression of an interview, and likewise, most candidates want to meet other people in the organization. This allows applicants to assess their fit not only to the job, but also to the organization.”

Helmlinger said that screening applicants closely is important because every hiring mistake resulting in an employee leaving the company can severely affect the bottom line.

“For every mishire of salaried workers, where they do not get paid overtime, the cost to replace that person is somewhere between two to four times their annual salary. If the person is an hourly worker, where [he or she is] eligible for overtime, it can be as high as 700 per cent of their hourly wage.”