Five Steps To Hiring Good People

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Five Steps To Hiring Good People
from The Dynamic Manager’s Guide To Practical Management

“You can’t spend too much time or effort on good hiring.
The alternative is managing the wrong person for the job, which is far more difficult.”

Hiring decisions are tough because there’s so much riding on them—and it’s so hard to correct mistakes. A manager can make big decisions about new equipment or product lines or even pricing and then adjust them if they’re off track. But when you hire someone who doesn’t fit the organization, it’s painful to correct your mistakes. So, like the carpenter who learns to measure twice and cut once, you want to make a sound decision in the first place. There are five basic steps to hiring the right person for the job.

1.Define the job
2.Screen applicants
3.Interview candidates
4.Test skills
5.Check references

Define the job

The first step is an internal one. Basically, it boils down to deciding exactly what you want this person to do. What are their responsibilities? That will determine what kinds of skills and experience they need. Will they be interacting with customers? Then they’ll need communication skills. Are they going to be building steel structures? It might be useful if they can weld. It sounds obvious, but taking a few minutes to make a list of the things you want your new employee to do will make the whole process easier.

It’s tempting to jump ahead and start making a list of qualifi-cations, but unless you have a complete and accurate picture of the specific responsibilities of the job, how can you do that? Take your time and define the tasks to be done first. Then figure out what personal attributes, education or training, and skills the ideal candidate needs to perform those tasks.

You may discover that some skills are essential while others would be simply a bonus. A computer technician may need an intimate knowledge of networking hardware, for example. But one who also speaks Spanish might enable you to open up new markets.

Some skills are better learned on the job, too, particularly if your company has its own way of doing things. Your hair styling salon may be noted for meticulous time-consuming razor cuts, for example, so one of the qualities you’ll want in a new employee is an ability to learn to use the specialized instruments used in that process.

Of course, certain jobs require professional licensing or certification, so don’t forget to specify them. You may be willing to train a likely candidate, but decide if that’s viable before you start hiring.
Screen applicants

The second step in the hiring process, finding candidates to fill a position, isn’t easy at all. There are plenty of ways to find people looking for work, but many of them have serious drawbacks. Newspaper help-wanted ads pull applicants who don’t know which end of a screwdriver to hold. Trade schools turn out hundreds of eager beavers but their standards may not be as high as yours. Many small businesses rely on word-of-mouth and referrals from current employees, friends, and relatives. The problems that arise with that method come from the personal relationships involved. Did you ever hire your wife’s brother? Enough said.

There is no easy solution, but any or all of these methods will bring you some applicants. If you have each one fill out an application and answer a few questions based on the job definition your wrote up (I told you it would come in handy) you can winnow them down pretty quickly. Your goal is just to find a few who meet the minimum standards.


When you have two or three candidates you’re seriously considering, sit each one down for an interview. As you do, keep these guidelines in mind: 

  • Put the candidate at ease at the beginning by asking them questions about their background.
  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage the candidate to talk.
  • Let the candidate do the talking. You’re there to listen and evaluate them…not the other way around. It’s a great temptation to slip into selling your company to the candidate. Just remember that they should be doing the selling at this point.
  • Before ending the interview, ask the candidate if they have any questions about the job or the company. Keep your answers short and to the point. You’re interested in what their questions reveal about them, not about selling them on taking the job.
  • Ask the same questions in the same order at every inter-view. This gives you a basis for comparison between candidates.
  • Take light notes during the interview, then write down your impression of the candidate immediately after they leave. Do it NOW while your impressions are fresh.

Remember that the goal of the interview is to form an opinion about the person’s drive, their communication skills, their personal ethics, and how they’ll get along with the other guys and gals in your company. Their knowledge of your products or services, their mechanical or technical ability, and their experience will influence the ultimate hiring decision, but these can be better determined in other ways at other times than during the job interview. At this stage, you want to know if they are the kind of person you can count on.


Every job has a set of skills that needs to be mastered. There are technical and mechanical skills, of course (you’ll certainly check out an applicant’s skills with a production machine before you turn him loose on a million-dollar piece of equipment). But there are others, too, that you might not think about testing—like driving a delivery vehicle. Since you are responsible for an employee’s driving while on company business, shouldn’t you hire the person with the best driving record?

Other skills are more academic. Can the candidate add and subtract, for example? Even in this day of calculators and computers, just about everyone who works behind a counter should be able to do simple math in their head or on paper. And then, of course, some jobs require advanced or specialized skills like reading a manual or using a computer. In many ways, these are the easiest skills to test since the candidate usually either has the skill or doesn’t.

You can’t simply ask the candidate if they know how. A good test allows them to demonstrate their skill in some way like taking you for a test drive in your delivery van or working a few simple math problems. Testing isn’t hard, but it’s an easy step to skip over lightly. Resist that temptation—you’ll be glad you did.


I’m always surprised when a manager says they’ve hired someone without checking references. The usual excuse is that the manager assumes the references given by the candidate would only have good things to say, so why bother? These tend to be managers who find out the hard way just how important a background check can be. This is one of those procedures where it’s easier to do it right than to undo the damage caused by doing it wrong.

To check backgrounds the right way right, you need to consult three sources:

  1. References given
  2. People not supplied by the candidate
  3. Schools and other organizations the candidate provides.

References can be one of the more difficult things to check. Many companies give defensive answers, confirming only the dates of employment of an individual. Even if that’s all you can get from them, it’s still valuable information to compare with the dates provided by the candidate on their resume or application. But usually you can learn more by being a little more persistent. Ask the reference for other references. This is one way to check for people not listed by the candidate on the resume.

When you’re talking to references and other sources, you’ll want to use many of the same techniques you would use during an interview:  Ask open-ended questions. Don’t telegraph the desired response. Try to keep them talking. Your goal is to gather as much information as you can, so let them do 99% of the talking. It’s a good idea to start the conversation with some easy questions. Things like, what job did the candidate have? How many people did he or she work with? How long has the reference known the candidate? These are pretty straight fact-gathering questions that most people wouldn’t hesitate to answer.

But you really want to know more than the facts. You want to know about their attitudes and attributes. So ask something like, “If you had to use one word to describe the candidate, what would it be?” You want to hear about the candidate in action, so ask a neutral open-ended question like, “Tell me about their performance.” You want to know about their people skills, so ask, “What can you tell me about how they got along with the people they worked with.” It’s important to find out the candidate’s attitude toward work and their employer. One way is to ask about particular behaviors like, “Did they follow instructions?” or “How often did they take initiative?”

And don’t overlook the education check. This item is the one most often stretched on a resume or application. It’s also not a difficult one to check with a quick phone call to the school district office. Why bother? Because a candidate who lies on their application may lie bout more important things later—like where half of yesterday’s cash receipts ended up.

Sleep On It

There’s one more thing before you offer that superstar the job—sleep on it. Pausing to reflect is the best way to negate the halo effect, which is where you mentally exaggerate the attributes and qualifications of your final choice. Since you want to choose the right person on their realistic merits, give yourself a little time for a reality check. If you still believe that this is the right person for the job when you wake up in the morning—go ahead and hire them. Just don’t be rushed. Hold out for the right person.

You can’t spend too much time or effort on good hiring. The alternative is managing the wrong person for the job, which is far more difficult. A good hire rewards you every day you work with them, so focus on the positive steps we’ve outlined to help you reach that decision. And remember, no matter what recruiting, interviewing, and investigative techniques you’ve used to evaluate your candidates, nothing takes the place of your own judgment, experience and knowledge of the job.

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