If you’ve ever lost a valuable employee, or struggled with more work than your team can handle, you know how stressful hiring new talent can be. Given how much time you’re likely going to spend working with a new hire, it can feel like you’ve been told to pick a new member of your family. It’s important to create and follow a thorough evaluation process, so you can make the best possible decision with the options in front of you.

In this article, we’ve outlined the hiring process. Read on to learn how to identify the best candidates for the role and avoid common recruiting pitfalls.

Before you get started

Reality check

One of the most important steps you can take at the very beginning of the recruiting process is establishing realistic expectations. While “be realistic” may seem like obvious advice, it can be easy to get carried away when you’re thinking about your dream applicant—a high-performing superhero who checks every box, comes in early, and brings in donuts every Friday. In fact, this tendency towards perfectionism in hiring is so common that some 77% of recruiters have initially perceived the person they ended up hiring to not be the right fit when they first encountered them.

To avoid this, you need to make a mental shift towards seeking out competence rather than excellence. When you think about the kind of new hire that you want, you should accept that there will be a significant onboarding and on-the-job learning process before your hire can fully grow into the role. Take the time to talk to your team members about what level of learning is reasonable to expect from a new hire, and which skills are non-negotiable. Then, put it all down in writing to use as a reference point throughout the rest of the process.

Consider hiring internally

Before you go through the effort of posting a bunch of job ads, you should take a moment to consider the talent that’s already under your roof. Research shows that employers have, on average, six times as much success hiring internally than from other sources. Think about it: what better candidate can you ask for than someone who is already a part of your organizational culture, and already familiar with your business?

The major caveat to internal hiring lies in making sure that you’re not stepping on any toes, or perceived to be “stealing” employees from under another manager or team. This requires a high level of transparency and communication with all parties throughout the entire internal recruitment process, and a culture that encourages lateral role changes. Ideally, everyone involved should agree that the employee will be a better fit in their new position than in their former role.

If hiring internally isn’t practical for you, you could create an employee referral program. This allows you to solicit hiring recommendations from within your organization by offering incentives to employees who recommend a successful hire. You can use these programs to source pre-qualified candidates from people who already know what the role will require and have a vested interest in making a quality recommendation. Employee referrals have some significant advantages over more traditional methods, with 82% of employers rating referrals as the recruitment method with the highest ROI. Another survey found that referred candidates are 55% faster to hire than employees sourced through online job boards. At the very least, it’s worth including this method alongside a standard public job posting, if not before.

Screening applications

What to do with unqualified applicants

Once you have a sizable pool of applications, you need to decide which ones to evaluate further, and which ones to decline. Your first step should be to toss out the blatantly underqualified applicants. An unfortunate consequence of the one-click job application, these are candidates who have a wildly different skillset from what’s listed, or are applying from out of your area. You shouldn’t have to think hard about these decisions—if you do find yourself agonizing over cutting a particular candidate, then you should probably hang on to their resume for the time being.

During this process, keep your eyes open for applicants who might fit well into a different vacant role within your team or company, if not the one that they actually applied for. For example, someone may apply for a sales rep position, when their education and experience are a more natural fit for customer support. If they don’t quite make the cut for the sales opening, it could be worthwhile to reach out and recommend they apply to the support team.

Ranking and sorting your candidates

Once you’ve tossed out the unqualified candidates, you’re left with your main applicant pool. Depending on the size of this group, you may be ready to proceed straight to interviews, especially if you only have a few applications that you feel good about. However, more often than not, if you’ve left your job post up for any length of time, you’ll find yourself approaching an unwieldy number of candidates. Without a way to organize this pile, the hiring process can easily turn into a full-time job of its own.

One way to avoid significant stress is by sorting your applications into “first-choice” and “second-choice” groups based on their qualifications and how well they fit the job description. You can even go further by ranking all the candidates within your first-choice group. That way, you have an organized system for prioritizing your interviews, only spending time on the “second-choice” group if you exhaust all your other options.

Interviewing candidates

Structured vs unstructured interviews

Unless you’re the world’s most trusting person, you’ll probably want to meet with your potential future co-workers before hiring them. A job interview is an opportunity to learn as much additional information as possible about your applicants’ aptitude and temperament within a relatively short window of time. The question is, how do you make the best use of that time?

One simple way to approach your interview strategy is to think in terms of “structured” vs “unstructured” interviews. In a structured interview, you’ve formulated your questions beforehand. You ask the same questions, in the same order, to every candidate you interview. The goal here is to establish a consistent interview framework, which makes it much easier to directly compare candidates in key areas, without any variability stemming from your end. An unstructured interview is more like a conversation. While still focused around important topics, it allows you the flexibility to adapt to the natural flow of the discussion, and dive into more detail on a topic if you feel it’s relevant to the role.

When it comes down to choosing between the two methods, structured interviews have a considerable edge, at least on paper. They provide you with protection from employment litigation, with analysis showing 100% of structured interview methods successfully defended in court, compared to 41% of unstructured interviews. There’s also research indicating that structured interviews result in better hiring outcomes, with some studies showing twice the effectiveness at predicting job performance than other methods of interviewing.

That being said, unstructured interviews have the advantage of providing more in-depth discussions with your candidates, with the ability to ask relevant follow-ups that can illuminate their abilities or attitude in ways that a pre-determined list of questions just can’t. Giving unstructured interviews also presents a much more personable view of your organization to your applicants, which can be especially important for people-oriented roles, such as sales or HR. Ultimately, you should pick the option that works best for your unique team and situation.

Making your decision

Final checks

As you continue to work through the interviewing process, you may reach a point where you either have more qualified candidates than open positions (all things considered, a nice problem to have), or you have significant time pressure to have the role filled soon. You need to make a decision. Even when you think you have a favorite candidate, it’s important to make sure you’ve crossed all your T’s before you commit to bringing them on.

Taking the time to check an applicant’s references can add an extra layer of confidence to your pick, knowing you’ve done all your due diligence. However, you should note that there are some important legal considerations for both what kinds of information you can ask about when checking references, and what kind of information they’re allowed to disclose.

In broad strokes, you’re prohibited from soliciting any information that could lead to hiring discrimination, while former employers have to be careful to avoid comments that could be interpreted as defamatory. This can include asking questions that might indirectly reveal a candidate’s age (for instance, “what year did they graduate college?”). Make certain that you’ve familiarized yourself with your state and national laws before you start making phone calls.

Despite these precautions, there’s plenty of useful information to be gleaned from checking references. Crucially, you can reach out to a candidate’s former employers to confirm the truthfulness of their resume, or ask if they would consider re-hiring them. Even simple questions like these have the potential to either raise or settle significant doubts about a candidate. Given that as many as 75% of recruiters say that applicants are likely to lie about or exaggerate prior job experience, reference checking shouldn’t be an overlooked step in your process. When it comes to pulling the trigger on hiring a new employee, peace of mind is priceless.

One of the most impactful decisions you can make as an employer is choosing who to hire. As with any human-centric process, it has the potential to get very messy, especially if you haven’t done your homework. While there’s no foolproof method out there for finding perfect employees, you can always improve your odds by making the effort to educate yourself on what’s worked for other people in your same position. We hope this overview of the recruitment process has given you some insight into how you’ll build your team.

Good luck, and happy hiring!

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