Staff selection is a risky business. It's about predicting the future. The cost of "mistakes" is huge and haunting. Poor staff selection erodes profitability. And it increases pressure on other staff. Managing employee performance starts with staff selection.

An Unconventional Approach

You'll find that these tips don't follow many of the conventional wisdom. But they result from my experience. Conventional selection demands a "good application" and "good interview performance". Sadly, not too many jobs require those skills. This approach will remove most of the costly mystique that shrouds so much selection. I want staff selection to be much less of a gamble for you.

1. Know What You're Trying To Achieve

The purpose of staff selection is to achieve job goals. It is not to choose a person. The person you choose is the resource you use to achieve the job goals. You are the buyer. Candidates are sellers. Behave as you would if you were buying hardware or software. Let's face it. If you were buying a new company car, would you ask every car dealer in the state to write to you?

2. Prepare An Output Centred Job Analysis

A job analysis contains a clear statement of

  • the goals of the job: what the job exists to achieve
  • the experience and qualifications essential to achieve the job goals
  • the knowledge required to achieve the job goals
  • specific requirements and/or limitations that would prevent successful achievement of job goals.

3. Use The Job Ad As A Screen

The prime purpose of the job ad is to attract only "ideal" candidates and deter everyone else. Base your ad on your job analysis. It's quite OK to say, "only apply if..." or "don't apply unless..." Put your name and phone number in the ad. Ask candidates to phone you. It'll save you time and money. You want your ad to attract only suitable candidates. Applications from unsuitable candidates simply waste your time.

4. Never, Ever Ask For Written Applications

I believe that written applications cause more selection "mistakes" than anything else. Think about it. You place a job ad. You ask complete strangers to write to you. On the basis of what they - or their professional resume writer - write about themselves, you rank the strangers in order of suitability. But you don't have the faintest idea of whether they can do what they say they can or even if they're being truthful. Does that make sense?

5. Prepared A Telephone Script

Write a list of questions you'll ask everyone who calls you. Base your questions on your job analysis. Decide what constitutes "acceptable" answers. Decide how you'll tell any candidate who fails to provide "acceptable answers" that they're unsuccessful.

6. Conduct Telephone Screening Interviews

Speak to every candidate who calls. Use the same list of questions with each one. If necessary, write down their answers. If ten years working as a driller on an oil rig off East Timor is essential, don't accept nine years. Tell unsuccessful candidates there and then that they're unsuccessful. They prefer to know rather than wait for weeks then be told they've failed. Explain the broad salary or wages and conditions to those applicants you want to continue with. If they're acceptable to them, ascertain their contact details and tell them that you'll contact them again within a specific time period. Honour that commitment.

7. Design And Conduct Competency Tests

Please understand this. There's only one failsafe way of discovering whether applicants can actually do what they say they can do. Get them to do it. No matter what people tell you or how much faith you have in your own prescience, you cannot tell what someone can do merely by talking with them. You must test their competence based on actual performance no matter what the job role.

8. Focus The Face To Face Interview

The face to face interview is a privilege. It should be extended only to applicants who've demonstrated proven competence: people whom you believe can do the job based on your testing. The main purpose of the interview is for you to decide whether the applicant is likely to fit the culture, to clarify any minor issues you're concerned about, to answer candidates' questions and for candidates to decide whether they still wish to proceed.

9. Advise Unsuccessful Candidates

Advise unsuccessful candidates as soon as possible. You create a bad image for your business if you fail to advise unsuccessful applicants as soon as possible after making your decision.

10. Suspect The Reference

Beware of written references and reference checks unless you're personally acquainted with the reference writer or the nominated referee. No candidate is going to present a "poor" written reference or nominate a referee who'll speak ill of them. If they did, it would raise serious issues about their professional judgement. Conducting competency tests is far more reliable.

A Final Comment

Remember, the whole selection process is about whether a candidate will be a successful achiever with your business in the future. Keep the past in that perspective.