Bonus Content

How to Hire the Right Person

How to Hire the Right Person

By William Lynott

On the surface, it appears to be a routine process: There is a job to be filled, so applicants are interviewed and the most promising is selected. But in reality, interviewing job candidates is far from a routine task—and one of the toughest issues to resolve is measuring an applicant’s relevant skills.

One of the toughest issues to resolve with new hires is measuring the applicant’s relevant skills. How can one tell if a prospective employee has the level of experience and dedication that required for the job? Fortunately, there are simple techniques that can help. Here, several experts offer their best advice:

    • Talk less, listen more.
      “Most interviewers talk too much,” said Emory Mulling, chairperson of The Mulling Companies, Atlanta.“The interviewer’s role is to get information from the candidate. Too often, interviewers spend too much time talking about the job and themselves and not enough time asking relevant questions of the candidate.”


    • Examine résumés and applications carefully.
      “Look for ‘short-timer-itis’—the person who seems to switch jobs every 12 months,” said Therese Hoehne, director of HR, Aurora University, Aurora, Ill. “If the applicant is new to the job market and has already had two or three jobs, this may or may not be a warning sign. However, if the applicant has 10 year’s experience and 10 jobs, you will want to discuss the reasons. This could indicate a ‘job-hopper’ at best and a serious problem employee at worst.”


    • Keep the interview on track.
      “If I had a friend conducting an interview, I would advise him to ask only those job-related questions that he needs to ask to make a lawful hiring decision,” said Labor Attorney John Romeo, Philadelphia. “I would advise him to pay close attention to the direction the conversation takes during the interview. An interview can easily turn into a conversation about family, religion, or national origin,” he said. “If the interviewer sees the conversation going in this direction, he should make a strong effort to stop and switch gears — get the conversation onto a proper and legal topic.”


    • Prepare a written list of questions.
      First and foremost, do not ask different questions of males and females. To do so is to risk violation of discrimination laws. “I usually create a list of questions to ask all candidates before the interview process starts,” said Hoehne. “I then put those questions on a sheet of paper with space between them to take notes.”James Walsh, author of Rightful Termination: Defensive Strategies for Hiring and Firing in the Lawsuit-Happy 90s, also advises starting with what hiring experts call structured questions. “Ask them of every candidate and base your comparisons on their answers.” He suggests using a simple worksheet to do this, checking off each applicant’s strengths against the qualifications you require.


    • Listen carefully to the answers.
      “Even after asking the right questions, some interviewers make the wrong choice because they didn’t listen carefully to the answers,” said Mulling. “Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can overcome potential conflicts and make someone fit in just because you like the way they look or because their technical skills or past experience are a perfect match for the job.”


  • Be aware of incompatibility.
    “Ask questions about the candidate’s preferred management style to determine if he or she will fit with your own,” said Mulling. “For example, a candidate who likes to work independently won’t fit with a boss who’s a picky micro-manager.Keep in mind that the right person is one who will fit in comfortably with the existing culture in an operation.


Places Not to Go

    • Don’t get tripped up by illegal questions.
      In the early 1990s, courts outlawed the use of questions the answers to which could be used to discriminate against applicants in the hiring process. Now, an interviewer who asks them may face a discrimination lawsuit. “The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 make hiring a potential nightmare,” said Walsh.It’s in an interviewer’s best interest to know what questions may lead to litigation. Interviewers must not ask any questions concerning so-called protected classes, including race, sex, age, national origin, religion, or disabilities. In general, the law also prohibits questions about workers’ compensation or health history.

      “I suggest that interviewers think of it this way,” said Romeo. “Don’t ask a question if you cannot lawfully base a hiring decision on the answer. You cannot discriminate based on information you do not have. So, if you don’t need to know, don’t ask.”


    • Asthey say in a courtroom, “Don’t lead the witness.”
      Mulling cautions interviewers not to give away too many details of what they are looking for in a candidate. “If you do that,” he said, “the candidate will mold his or her answers to what the interviewer wants to hear. That can result in the candidate being hired, qualified or not.”


    • Don’t focus exclusively on hard skills.
      “Some interviewers take a résumé point by point and discuss only the candidate’s relevant experience or hard skills,” said Mulling. “Technical skills and experience are not always the best indicators of success on the job. The candidate must also be a good fit for the boss and the work environment. Two candidates can be equally qualified in experience, but vastly different in terms of personality and work-style preferences.”Many technical skills can be taught to the right applicant,” added Mulling, “but you can’t teach a person how to be friendly or adaptable.”


    • Avoid any statement that implies a promise of permanent employment.
      “The employer’s vulnerability in a wrongful discharge suit begins in the early stages of the relationship,” said Walsh. “The courts sometimes find a contractual relationship in seemingly harmless statements about job security or advancement opportunities. Even an oral promise of a wage review after a specified length of time should be avoided; the courts may find a contract of employment for that length of time in any such promise.”An effective way to avoid this kind of problem is to provide all employees and new hires with a company handbook describing your company policies. A signed agreement from new hires will help to avoid legal problems with a disgruntled employee. Be sure to have an attorney with human relations experience review any written material provided to employees.


  • Make sure that any pre-employment tests measure only relevant skills.
    A 1971 Supreme Court decision, Griggs v. Duke Power, provided a major precedent in pre-employment testing. In that case, an applicant for a janitorial job was required to take an intelligence test and show a high school diploma.When the company did not hire him, the applicant sued and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that a high school diploma was irrelevant to the janitorial position in question. The court also ruled that pre-employment testing must measure only skills directly related to performance on the job being sought.

    While pre-employment tests are still widely used, most have been carefully designed to comply with that 1971 Supreme Court decision.

    Never take pre-employment interviewing lightly. “Interviewing is perhaps the most critical part of the employment process,” Dickson said. “It’s a responsibility that you will want to prepare for carefully. The information you obtain from the candidates will become the most important factor in your final decision.”

Lynott is a veteran freelance writer who specializes in business management and personal and business finance. Reach him at or


Tagged with

Comment on the story

Your email address will not be published.