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How to avoid a hiring disaster

Accountancy Magazine

Teresa Thorrington-Allen, Director at Hays Senior Finance, talks about how to avoid a hiring disaster:

The increased number of job seekers on the market should make hiring easier, but in truth it can often make it far more complicated. Employers are realising that a higher level of applications doesn't necessarily equate to more available talent and it can be frustrating trying to whittle down CVs and suitable applicants. If you have struggled with hires in the past, or thought you had found the right person only to be disappointed in practice, there are ways to improve your chances of finding the perfect candidate.

Attracting talent

Attracting the right talent is obviously the first and most crucial step in making a new hire; using a reputable recruitment agency will ensure that you tap into skilled professionals who are not necessarily on the market or looking to move.

What employers often forget is that it isn't just about who you want to work for the business, it is also about who wants to work for you. Utilising the right media to advertise your hire, engaging with suitable candidates and ensuring that there is a constant dialogue with your recruitment consultant will ensure that the right people are applying for the role. Understanding how to utilise online media, including social networking sites, can also play a valuable role in attracting potential hires and telling them about your current opportunities. In order to help add value and sell an organisation effectively, detailed remuneration and benefits information must be provided. Corporate social responsibility, charitable support and environmental initiatives should also be showcased.

The job specification

Some skills are harder to source than ever, particularly in the current climate when some of the strongest professionals are unwilling to leave the security of their current role. Considering the importance of finding someone who is culturally and technically aligned to the business, strong attention must be paid to the job specification and the competencies required within it. It is advisable to understand the key competencies and experience you require and make these non-negotiable areas. Try to be as clear as possible when communicating your needs, avoid using language that might be understood internally but not externally and don't alienate people from different industry backgrounds who may have the relevant experience but might describe things differently.

It is also important to ensure that all key stakeholders agree on the job specification and the key objectives for the role. A mutual understanding of a candidate's role priorities and how their success will be judged is essential and alleviates issues arising in the future.

Finding the right candidate at interview

The most common reason, by far, for senior appointments failing in their roles is poor cultural fit. Different organisations have different values and expectations when it comes to producing results. For example, an effective approach to leadership in one organisation can be destructive and unproductive in another.

Interviews are a crucial part of understanding whether someone is a cultural fit to your business. At interview it is crucial to determine not just an applicant's technical knowledge and competence, but also their interpersonal and soft competencies; these are the skills that allow their technical knowledge to be used to the best of its ability. Underpinning all of this is a person's level of motivation. It is a given that motivation can be affected by external pressures and circumstances out of our control, but employing motivational analysis exercises at interview go a long way in indicating how much effort the applicant is willing to put in once hired.

Information gained from psychometric tools - such as personality, motivation and value questionnaires - can provide an invaluable interview aid for probing possible areas of strength and weakness or fit and non-fit to organisation cultural and role demands. These tools are most valuable when used as an additional information source that provides areas to probe at interview or during other stages of the selection of process. This is because in isolation such information only provides an indication of candidates' preferred work styles. It does not take into account the motivation of candidates to apply their skills in the work place nor their ability to cope effectively with elements of a role that they do not enjoy.

In order to determine information which isn't addressed on a CV, competency based interviewing questions (CBI) can prove to be a very useful method of learning more about the applicant and assessing whether they are the right person for the role. CBI provides an invaluable source of evidence in support of a jobseeker's case to ascertain whether or not they have the ability, skills and motivation to meet the competencies outlined in the job description and person specification. An example of a question asked of a qualified accountant might be: "Talk me through a time when you have had to work towards a challenging, ambitious objective." Or, "give me an example of a time in your previous role where you made a difference to the business through cost efficiencies."

It is however critical to remember that the competency based interviewing method can provoke stock answers, professionals – particularly senior professionals – are likely to have come across this type of questioning before and there is a danger that answers have been carefully rehearsed. The candidate might be telling you the right thing at interview but whether they are actually employing these theories in practice is a different matter. Ask the applicant to undertake exercises wherein they need to deal with real-life scenarios they might face in their day-to-day job. By doing this you will gain insight into a candidate's reaction to a task that might be typical of their job requirement; for example you might give the applicant some financial information during the interview and give them fifteen minutes to look through it before requesting that they present the information back to you. It is important to allow for nerves and lack of preparation in these exercises, but by doing them you will get a better impression of what they would be like in the role.

It is also helpful to ask a candidate what preparation they did for the interview. A good candidate will report on their method of preparation and will be able to demonstrate how they have gone above and beyond the requirements to impress you.

After the interview and beyond

If the candidate has been successful at interview, references are usually the last hurdle before making an offer. It is a good idea to do references by telephone; people will usually tell you a lot more over the phone and won't have time to think of anything to say other than the truth.

The Golden rules

  1. Attraction is key – increased jobseekers on the market won't necessarily mean that top talent is any easier to find. It is important to sell your organisation and make it appeal to jobseekers as an attractive place to work
  2. Competitive salary and benefits packages should be clearly stated. Increasingly, professionals view benefits such as flexible working as an important factor in their decision
  3. Do not alienate professionals by using language which is only understood internally, or is industry specific
  4. Use the competency based interviewing method to determine whether an applicant is a good cultural fit to the business and determine a wider scope of their competencies
  5. Assess a candidate's motivation to do their job. They might have the technical skills and the competencies but do they have the motivation to us them?
  6. Engage with candidates throughout the entire recruitment process and beyond