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04/02/2012

NAHAD Members Comment - How to Find the Right Candidate for the Job

In the latest employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing was among the top jobs-producing segments, with growth of 50,000 jobs in January and 31,000 in February – nearly all of which was in durable goods. Wholesale trade employment also saw a bump, up by 8,400 in February.

While uncertainty persists, and companies are still cautious, the hiring trend is likely to continue through 2012. Fast-growing demand in many sectors is driving the need to hire.

NAHAD member ANCO International, Inc., a manufacturer of machined parts based in San Bernardino, CA, reports that sales in 2012 are already up over the past year. The company has already hired five employees – one of them a rehire from layoffs in 2009 – and currently they are looking to add one more.

ANCO is being cautious about hiring, however, according to Marjorie Nielsen, ANCO's president. The concern being that if they hire too many and the economy turns around they'll have to cut again. At the same time, "You can’t be so concerned that you don’t step out there and miss an opportunity,” she says.

Finding Great Candidates
What is the best approach to filling the gaps? John Salveson, principal of Salveson Stetson Group, an executive search firm that works with companies on HR strategy, offered tips on finding new employees and best practices in finding the best fit for your organization.

“You have to be clear about what you’re looking for,” Salveson says. Know what skills you need to fill open positions. It seems obvious, he says, but many companies skip this step.

Next, don’t think throwing your opening on several jobs websites will bring you the right candidates. “There’s a real risk that people think there’s a lot of talent out there because of the downturn, and all they have to do is put an ad on LinkedIn, Monster and other online services, and there will be tons of good candidates,” Salveson says. “They will find tons of candidates but not necessarily tons of good candidates.”

Many of the people applying for openings are either very underqualified or very overqualified, says Diane Barry, vice president of operations for Motion Industries' Hose and Rubber Group. "We have sales managers and engineers applying for inside sales positions. We feel they could become bored and move on once a more challenging position comes their way."

And other companies and industries are fighting over the same pool of applicants, says Amy Parrish, director of marketing for PT Coupling Co. in Enid, OK, where an oil boom is attracting many of the young workers in the area. "They're drawn to the higher starting salary they can get on the oil fields," she says. "So while we offer a more stable, long-term option for employment, when you're that young and single, it's sometimes hard to think in the long-term."

One best practice often employed by larger companies is having someone in-house constantly looking for potential candidates and keeping a pool of those candidates in case a position opens up. Smaller companies can engage outside companies for a couple of months to do the same thing.

PT Coupling uses a temporary staffing service to help it as well. "It's hard work, very hard work, and using a temp service allows us to have a 90-day trial period to make sure the job is a fit for the person who says they want to do it," Parrish says.

Another approach: “Every leader should think of themselves as a recruiter when they are calling on customers, at conferences or events … they should always have an eye out for talent. If they see interesting people, even if they don’t have a slot for them, they should always engage them and build a pool of people that they might draw from” when there is an opening, Salveson says.

"Often I tap my employees to find new people," ANCO's Nielsen says. They may know the perfect candidate for the job, as was the case for a driver the company recently hired.

When you find the right person, pay attention to how you treat them through the hiring process. Things have changed since 2010, when many people were eager to get hired due to the down job market. Now candidates have more options. “That employee is evaluating you as much as you are evaluating them,” Salveson says.

The Culture Question
One of the biggest challenges is finding someone that will fit into your company’s culture. “It’d be hard to overstate how important culture is,” Salveson says. Salveson spent a lot of time talking with people who have lost jobs, and he says it was not usually because they were incompetent.

“It was because the culture had changed in the company, expectations had changed, and they couldn’t keep up,” he says. “Cultural fit is incredibly important as part of the assessment process with candidates.”

One way to determine cultural fit is to include several people in the interview to get different points of view. Listen to what candidates say and how they behave. Take them out to eat or meet elsewhere outside the office so that you have opportunities to see them in a different environment, Salveson says.

A good interview topic to uncover how a candidate might approach working for you: Ask about the best or worst places they have worked, or the best or worst bosses they have worked for. The answer should give you clues for whether they would be a good cultural fit.

The final and perhaps most important piece to the cultural puzzle is references. Talk to two people the candidate has worked for, two who were peers and two who worked for them. “Don’t call the HR department necessarily,” he says. “You’d be surprised what people tell you if you engage peers and bosses in conversation.”

Soft Skills
Also hard to quantify during an interview, soft skills can be just as important as the hard skills needed to do a job.

Salveson recommends defining the soft skills needed for the position you are filling. This will be different if, for example, you are looking to tap the leader of an established department with an average tenure of 20 years versus a person who will build a new initiative for a company from scratch.

The former may need good conflict resolution and employee engagement skills; the latter needs to be comfortable with ambiguity and fast on their feet. Discovering whether someone fits the bill requires creative questions that uncover past experiences and how someone might approach a problem or has approached challenges in the past.

Building an HR Strategy
All hiring decisions should be centered on the business’ growth plan, which should be linked to a human resources plan. “An HR plan is important because there is an enormous amount of risk in not having one and in missing opportunities,” Salveson says.

To take advantage of new and existing opportunities in the market, companies are taking a closer look at whether they are positioned properly – if they have the right skills in place to do so.

“The best human resources people to do those jobs have a very high degree of business acumen. … They work to know where the business is going and they support where it is going with HR programs.”


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