Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Good Hiring Starts with a Good Job Profile

Kevin Wheeler

Most of the time, managers have trouble clearly explaining what kind of person they need to fill a position. They submit a requisition to the recruiter that contains generic skills and competencies that apply either to almost all good candidates or only to those with highly specific and narrow skills.
The typical phone call goes something like this:

"I want to open up a req for a process engineer," says the hiring manager.

"Okay," the recruiter replies. "Can you tell me a little more precisely about what the person will be doing or what project they will be assigned to?"

"They'll be working on the new Factor X process," the manager says, "writing the specifications for the equipment, helping the team design the basic process flow and so forth."

"What are some of the specific skills or experiences that they should have had?"

"Oh, I don't know," says the manager. "They probably should have been part of a start up project like this somewhere. They should have at least three years experience and a degree in chemical or biotech engineering."

And so forth...

Unfortunately, this is not very helpful. While the manager may sincerely believe that she knows just what she wants, it's frequently the case that she really doesn't know. This is especially true if the position is a new one. But even when dealing with a replacement, managers rarely take the time or exert the effort to reassess the skills and experience of the previous person and decide if this is what will be best for the future.

As a recruiter, you have to have a process for getting the information you need from the manager. You also need to develop a reputation for taking time upfront to define the competencies and skills of the employees that are going to make this manager successful. When you work with a hiring manager and lead her through a step-by-step process, you will actually be helping the manager create the interview guide for assessing candidates and for improving the chance of hiring the right person for the position.

Here are a handful of suggestions about how to help your hiring manager analyze each position and more carefully define the skills, experience, and competencies they really need. None of these are easy to execute, and all require you to gain the trust and time of the hiring managers. You will have to invest time and energy into this process and take the risk of being rejected or brushed off. It will be to your credit and future success to push back and not give up.

1. Spend the time it takes to know your company's technology, products and services.

As simple and basic as this seems, very few recruiters know enough about their organization, its business goals and needs, and what kinds of people will help them achieve those goals. Learn everything you can about your organization and the departments or areas you recruit for. Firms that have a stable base of recruiters who have taken the time to become well versed in the language and technology are much more effective.

But if you and the recruiting team are inexperienced at this organization, get the basics down by taking a tour, chatting with selected experts, maybe even "shadowing" one of your hiring managers for a day or two. Really good recruiting teams train themselves by offering brown bag lunches and inviting key employees to talk about what they do. Focus on the business needs more than on recruiting techniques.

2. Interview current incumbents.

Take the time to find individuals in your organization that have the same or a similar position to the one you are recruiting for (or will be recruiting for). Try to pick those employees who are rated highly and who the manager would try hard to keep. Ask them about their background, skills, education, and interests, and how they got hired. Do this with enough people and you will have a pretty good profile of what kinds of skills lead to good performance and where these people can be found.

Really good agency recruiters have been putting together profiles like this for years. A free lunch can be a great way to get an inside track on a hard-to-find candidate. If there are no incumbents, network. Find similar people in another company and offer them a lunch or dinner in return for suffering through your questions. This activity alone can be all you need to become much more effective. Investing a few hours in investigation and detective work can pay off in being able to find the right people a lot faster.

Once you have the information from an incumbent, take this back to the hiring manager and see if she agrees. By taking time to engage in a discussion about what you see, what the incumbents think, and what the hiring manager believes. You can get much closer to developing a profile that reflects the real skills, competences, experiences and attitudes that matter.

3. Develop a good interview to get the information you need from the hiring manager.

Gather a few recruiters together and develop a template of questions that will guide you in an interview with a hiring manager when a position is opened. Take the hiring manager to lunch, or set up a 30-minute meeting, and use that time to conduct your interview. Make sure it has questions about why a particular skill or trait or educational level is needed. Ask the manager to point out some really good performers currently working for her and then go interview those people to find out what their profile is like.

If you find that the profile you develop is way off base from the hiring manager's perception, be sure to sit down and go through the discrepancies step by step. Work out why the manager's perception is so far off from want you found, and try to get the manager to accept — even on a trial basis — a new set of criteria. This is one of the most common issues recruiters face. To be successful you have to be able to negotiate and sell to the hiring manager.

4. Educate the management team about the market and the limited availability of skilled people.

While this can be looked upon as an excuse, a well-structured presentation focused on facts can also be taken in a positive way. It can show that you are on top of things, understand the market, and have a strategy in place to deal with the issues — provided you can have their cooperation. CFOs make the market situation clear to the CEO and the rest of the management and also have suggestions for dealing with whatever market situation exists. You have to do the same.

The biggest mistake I see is that the education is perceived as whining, because many recruiters offer no suggestions on how to deal with it. The best people are always hard to find; many are leery of leaving one employer for another one that may be no better. Make sure you explain to managers that their ability to convince the candidate will depend on how clearly they can explain the job and the exact duties the person will be expected to perform.

5. Do not accept a shallow and useless job description.

By accepting the shallow set of requirements we often get from the hiring managers, we reinforce that it's okay. We have to reasonably push back using some of the techniques I have described. If you accept these poorly thought-out criteria, you will waste time and be accused of not being able to find the right people. This will only work against you in the end. Recruiting is a partnership between you and the hiring manager and it is, perhaps unfortunately but truly, your responsibility to change it.

The ability to analyze a position and then match candidates against the requirements accurately and quickly is one area where you can add value and be perceived as an asset to the hiring manager.


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