Take the 85 per cent rule into consideration when hiring

I am a strong advocate of the 85 per cent rule: If the candidate possesses about 85 per cent of the qualifications necessary, and demonstrates the capacity to learn and grow, make an offer.

Finding a perfect candidate in today’s tight marketplace is a tough task, let alone a perfect candidate who is ready to interview, in your price range and available at the exact time you need him. The opportunity cost of holding out for that candidate is sometimes too great. However, the cost of hiring someone incompetent is also too great. If there is doubt the candidate meets the 85 per cent standard, or doubts about skills in critical areas, ask more questions to make an informed decision.

Effective interview questions to avoid a snow job

Every industry is home to some fast talkers — the people who know enough to be dangerous and can fool most recruiters and hiring managers in a one-hour interview.

To weed out candidates who really know their stuff, ask specific questions about projects they’ve worked on. Present candidates with a situation similar to one that could be presented to them on the job and ask them specifically how they would respond. Get details about the steps they would take, the tools and resources they would use and the rationale for this approach. The answers will provide insight into the candidate’s ability to think through problems, approach to problem-solving, knowledge of available resources and true technical capabilities.

This approach is different than pure technical testing. Many of the best employees will not remember every technical rule or code learned in school or on the job, but they will know exactly what questions to ask, where to find answers and how to implement them.

Assessing written communication skills

Copywriters, journalists and public relations representatives are not the only people who need strong writing skills. For many positions, written communications skills are critical to success. Most professional positions require a fair amount of written communication.

When written communication skills are important, ask candidates for writing samples. For instance, a sales representative position requires verbal and written sales skills. The sales cycle may include communication in person, by telephone, e-mail and formal proposals. While a candidate’s verbal sales skills are apparent in an interview, his ability to write is not. Give the candidate a small case study and have him come to the interview prepared with a sample letter or proposal in response to the case. Otherwise, you could end up having an employee whose manager is burdened with editing every piece of communication that goes out.

Using behavioural interviewing to assess management skills

Being technically competent and being able to lead a team are two very different things. Many projects collapse because the technical leads are rewarded with promotions to manager. When hiring a group manager of a technical team, management skills should take precedence over technical skills.

A strong manager knows how to assemble the appropriate technical talent to get the job done on time, within budget and with the fewest headaches. Technical knowledge is critically important, but the ability to listen, give clear direction, remain objective, and motivate, appreciate, delegate and integrate a team of people is the true talent needed by managers. There are many behavioral and situational questions you can ask in an interview to draw out the true leaders. Be sure to study up on appropriate behavioral interviewing questions and ask many of them during management candidate interviews.

Ability to work in a team: Listen carefully to responses

Most work environments are project-based and team-centred. Sometimes teams work closely together on a daily basis, while at other times everyone functions independently to deliver their pieces of an integrated project. Either way, a candidate’s ability to work well in a team is essential to most positions.

Having worked in team environments doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate is a strong team player. When interviewing for project members, it is critical to ask situational questions that require the candidate to think like a team player. If a person always answers a project related question with “I” did this and “I” did that — rather than “we” did this or “we” did that — it could be a sign of a problem. The best recruiters can extract the following from an individual: the types of project teams he has worked on, the role on the team, the contribution within that role, and the ability to integrate with, share with and help other team members.

Carl Kutsmode is the founder of the Tiburon Group, an e-recruiting consulting firm based in Chicago. He can be reached at (773) 907-8330 or [email protected]

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