Hiring Right!

There is no doubt that business today is different from 20 years ago. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the broad area of employee relations, from hiring to firing and all points in between.

The increasingly complex network of requirements placed upon the employer and employee has created a situation in which even the most well-intentioned business person can face costly lawsuits or other legal problems from simple lack of knowledge. This article concentrates on selected aspects of the hiring process. Because legislation varies from province to province, the article is general in nature. Specific cases and requirements should be dealt with only after obtaining advice from qualified experts.

Recruitment and Selection

Hire right the first time. A mismatched employee will cost you thousands of dollars. Think about the wasted personnel agency fees or, if you do it yourself, the hundreds of advertising dollars and the minimum of 3 days of management time it took to complete the paper work, screening, interviewing, and reference checking. Add the 3 to 5 days of training time your staff put in, the wasted time putting the person on payroll, the poor work quality, the mistakes, the absenteeism and the inevitable dismissal.

Also consider the fact that employees win 70% of wrongful dismissal cases. Canadian Courts are sending a message that the employer-employee relationship is not to be taken lightly. When you sit down to choose the best candidate, be clear about the job/person fit. Do not expect that you will never have to guide and train this employee but satisfy yourself that she/he has the basic potential or "key ingredients" that are compatible with you.


The first step is to be prepared. While we all have busy schedules, be aware that research shows the likelihood of hiring the best candidate from an applicant pool using an unstructured interview process is as successful as a random the corner and recruit the first person walking by who appeals to you your chance of a correct match is about the same.

Another compelling point is that unstructured interviews leave you susceptible to many different personal biases and, as a result, increase the chance of a human rights complaint being lodged against you.

Start by understanding clearly what you are looking for. Overcome the urge to react when an employee says she/he is leaving. Ask questions like: Do I need to replace this position or can the tasks be reassigned or contracted out? Assuming you need someone, do you need a part-time intermediate, a permanent junior or a full-time temporary? Is the perfect person in your own firm waiting for a promotion? What about other departments? Also prepare and/or review the job description,has the company changed so much that a different combination of skills would be better? Summarize your thoughts with a Hiring Criteria list. A sample of a typical list is provided below:

Hiring Criteria List

  • Type and Level of Experience: The more experience you ask for, the less training time needed but the more salary required. Think about your time vis à vis the higher cost "trade-off".
  • Type and Level of Experience: Consider the benefit of grads from job-specific education programs. They come "job ready" with a guaranteed fixed minimum of knowledge, skills, and ability.
  • Computer Skills: Be specific about software programs and level of typist necessary. What are your needs? For jobs requiring heavy usage of computers, request 50-60+ wpm. For occasional letters and using the computer as an analytical tool, speed is less important than knowledge of the software.
  • Other Skills: Does the position call for specific "sets of skills" that you should look for (i.e. courses or accumulated experience in supervisory, project management, customer service)?
  • Physical Requirements: Any light lifting? Prolonged time in front of a computer screen?
  • Language Requirements: What level is required to competently do the job? Consider the position only, not your preferences. According to recent legal rulings, if the position requires clear, succinct English, particularly for dealing with clients, then it can be considered a bona fide occupational requirement for the job.
  • Personality and Demeanour: Tolerance for stress, team player, patient, flexible?
  • Availability: Is shift work necessary? Is start date important?
  • Work Ethic: Hard working, good attendance, professional?
  • Retention: The expectation is no longer "cradle to grave". Stars will stay a year or two without a promotion, good workers maybe 2 or 3 years

Interview Preparation

Structure your interview. Aside from the above reasons, this ensures you are prepared in advance and keeps the hiring criteria fresh in your mind. Being organized for the interview also adds an element of professionalism and leaves a good image of yourself and your company in the candidate's mind.


Prepare questions specifically in relation to your Hiring Criteria list. Write a criterion on the left side of a piece of paper and a "behaviour-description" or "performance-based" question relating to it on the right side. Leave room in the margin for the candidate's response. "Behaviour-description" questions ask the candidate to describe actual behaviours and events in previous jobs to prove her/his ability. With "performance-based" questioning, the applicant explains scenarios that will be typical of the job you are hiring her/him for. For example, if you need the candidate to handle difficult clients on the phone, have her/him actually resolve a typical problem in the interview, or better still, work through a role-play. If the job involves skills which can be tested, set up a short series of practical tests such as typing a business letter or conducting a sales call.

Use very few traditional questions such as "what are your strengths and weaknesses" or "tell me about your hobbies" and recognize them for what they are worth. They will tell you something about the candidate. But will they really help you decide how well he/she handles pressure or what his/her organization or problem-solving abilities are? Use the majority of time to ask questions about the areas you really want information on.

Tips For Screening Resumes

  • Is it easily read and well-presented with bullets, white spaces and under two pages? Beware of long narrative accounts of a personal life story with no obvious thought to format.
  • Scrutinize it for the mandatory minimum experience, education, and skill requirements. Don't try to use the resume as a crystal ball into the candidate's personality type. The face to face interview is better for finding out about personality.
  • Look for periods of unemployment, gaps in work and education history, overly frequent changes in careers. Changes in employers may also be a concern, but keep in mind it is now more common for aspiring, up and coming employees to change positions every 2 – 3 years.

Conduct Telephone Interviews

A few relevant questions over the phone will save you countless hours of unnecessary interviews to candidates who don't have the experience, don't want to commute to your location, or have too high salary expectations. Questions to include are: a brief background check, computer skills, the commute issue, salary and start date.

Tips and Traps of Interviewing

The location should be presentable and free from interruption. Begin by explaining how long the interview will take, that you will explain the job in detail and that he/she will have an opportunity to answer questions. With these concerns out of the way, the candidate will concentrate better. DO NOT begin with a long soliloquy about yourself and your company. Get the candidate talking. Ease the tension by asking for a brief history of work and school. Then ask your pre-prepared, job-specific questions. Listen to the responses. Probe for answers until you are satisfied you can make a good evaluation in that particular area (i.e. organizational skills). Only after you finish the questions should you review the job, talk about your company, corporate culture and expectations you have from your staff. Don't oversell the position. Point out negatives as well as positives. False expectations built up during the interview process are a top contributor to later disgruntlement in today's workforce. End by giving your best estimate of when you will make a decision. Be sure to get back to people when you promise; your professional reputation depends on it.

Second Interviews and Reference Checking

There is no fixed number of interviews. Generally, the more people who meet and approve of the candidate, the better the job/person fit tends to be.

Do reference checks on your best candidates. It is a hard, investigative process but avoid the temptation to skip it. Speak to immediate supervisors only, people who know the person's work, character references are not much good because they do not know the person's work. Ask questions about the areas that are still bothering you. Do not contact the current employer of the applicant unless you have the express permission of that applicant and the applicant understands the possible ramifications of such a contact.

Avoiding Discrimination in the Selection Process

To avoid discrimination, keep focused on the job requirements. Think about what the job requires as opposed to what your preferences are or what you have always had. If a specific height, weight or age cannot be proven to be a bona fide occupational requirement, do not make your selection based on it. A bona fide occupational requirement is one which is necessary to the economic, safe or effective performance of the job.

Be aware that your interviewing notes can be subpoenaed. Do not write down any fact about a person that is irrelevant to the position. Even if an applicant volunteers the information, such as whether she is married or how many children she has, it is still illegal to use it for the purpose of selection and should not appear on any paper related to the selection.

This article is by Rebecca Richards, a director of The Fifth Option Outsourcing Inc. The Fifth Option is a human resource management firm located in Vancouver, B.C. that outsources practical, hands-on human resources services to small and medium-sized businesses from various industries.