Top 3 Tips for Choosing the Best Candidate for the Job

You hold in your hands a list of qualified candidates, all applying for an open position in your company. You’ve done the research (check out our past article, “10 Tips to Improve Your Company’s Recruiting and Hiring”), you’ve put in the work, and all that remains is to make a formal offer.

How do you choose the final candidate? How do you know which candidate will be the best hire when all the finalists have made it through experience screening and interviews?

There isn’t an equation for this decision. We are talking about human resources here – people, who come with a unique set of complexities no test has ever really been able to pin down. What you want to know is the future… which person will fit in best at this company, most help us succeed, most share our vision, be most invested. And while we cannot help you see into the future, we can help you make the best choice possible with the knowledge you have.

These tips have been practiced and acclaimed by some of the country’s top CEOs, and we believe they can help you too.

#1 Know the Person Behind the Candidate

At this point in the hiring process, you likely could have given some sort of numerical score to each candidate. Categories such as education, relevant experience, basic interview skills, quality references, and professional appearance can all be given a grade.

But do you know which of your candidates can resolve interpersonal conflicts with coworkers? Do you know who would be honest in a situation where honesty could cost them?  Do you know which of them would pass up an opportunity for self-promotion to benefit the company as a whole?

Essentially, what do your candidates value most and how do those values line up with those of your company?

No single set of characteristics will satisfy every employer, so identifying your company’s value system and narrowing down what you’d most like to see in your employees will take careful consideration. Some businesses want a team of driven, competitive, willing-to-do-anything employees to ensure their business can thrive in ultra-competitive markets. Other businesses place extreme value on excellent customer service and creating a friendly environment for customers and employees.

Non-numerical data, though hard to uncover and even harder to clearly define, can make all the difference between a happy or unhappy hire. Methods for uncovering this type of candidate data are varied. Some employers swear by a particular personality test, some believe that with a frank and comfortable interview atmosphere, applicants will offer this information freely, and some dig deeply into references and social media sites. Others fondly refer to the “beer test,” in which employers either hypothetically or actually take the final candidates out socially to get a better feel for who they really are.

Ethan Rouen, writing for Fortune, states that you cannot overestimate the power of cultural fit. He cites a study conducted by Dokko, Wilk, and Rothbard, published in 2009 by Organization Science. Rouen writes, “They expected that poor fit would be detrimental in the success of new employees, but in fact, the results were a surprise to researchers: poor cultural fit completely eliminated all the good that came from experience.”

Rouen responds by recommending a variety of techniques to companies looking to emphasize cultural fit, ranging from collaborative interviewing, to job descriptions including explanations of a company’s culture, to in-company referrals. We’ve also heard of companies going undercover, asking drivers and waiters who have recently interacted with candidates how they were treated.

So while we can agree across industries that cultural fit is significant, we must leave room for each specific company to figure out its own unique methodology.

#2 Simulate a Real Work Experience

Some training is necessary for anyone endeavoring to fill a new position, but testing to see what your final candidates would do with a real-life situation if handed it today is a great way to decipher aptitude. Done correctly, this can also give potential employees an idea of what it would be like to work for your company. It’s a win-win.

Again, techniques for carrying out this kind of test are varied.

 

The New York Times published a series of articles in 2013 by Bryan Burkhart, in which he discusses the hiring process utilized at H.Bloom. High employee turnover led H.Bloom’s management to make substantial changes to their process; while the process is not set in stone and continues to adjust to the changing needs of the company, the work they have put in thus far is already reaping rewards.

The final two steps of H.Bloom’s hiring process are a case study and an on-the-job assessment day.

 

Case studies test a candidate’s practical knowledge and problem solving abilities. Explains Burkhart, “Candidates who make our short-list are given case studies that approximate the actual job. We provide an assignment, with all of the necessary background information, and then set up a time for the candidate to come back into the office and present the case to a handful of us who will make the hiring decision. This in-depth evaluation allows us to separate the great candidates from the merely good.”

 

This, paired with a day in the office meeting and working alongside current employees, gives the hiring team at H.Bloom a chance to envision each candidate actually working for their company.

Other companies, seeking the same assurance of quality employees, add into their contracts a mandatory period of probation for new workers. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all plan; implementation strategies must be tailored to suit individual companies.  

#3 Go with Your Gut (or Bring in the Professionals)

A well-thought-out hiring process is meant to cut out unqualified candidates, so if you get to the end of the hiring process and have multiple candidates remaining, there is some assurance accompanying whomever you choose. Get your team together, and make the best decision you can with the group of people you’ve trained to make these calls.

If you are still unsatisfied with your hiring process, consider calling in a professional recruiter. Years of experience seeing this process from start to finish in countless companies prepares them to wisely advise you on how to make decisions that will most benefit your company.

Résumé Killers – A Recruiter’s Perspective

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Whatever your desired career field, these are a few of the surest ways we have seen to propel your résumé no further than the company trash can.

Typos, Spelling and Grammar Errors

Obvious typos,spelling and grammar errors scream lack of effort, if not lack of intelligence. That sounds harsh, and even the best writers make occasional errors when they write, but your résumé needs to be free of them.

Employers don’t know you yet – all they have is the brief, typed page sitting it front of them; there isn’t opportunity to explain errors or ask for errors to be overlooked in the interest of your other notable strengths.

Rob Walker, “The Workologist” column writer for New York Times, tackled the topic of “sloppy résumés” in his response to a question about whether or not a candidate with an error-filled résumé should still be hired. His expounds, “Multiple résumé typos definitely seem like a deal breaker: It’s such an easy problem to fix that it suggests a deeper carelessness or lack of attention to detail.”

Take the time to proofread. Print out your document and have others proofread for you. The extra effort is worth it.

Inappropriate Appearance

We’re putting everything from distractingly-flamboyant design to poor formatting in this category.

When an employer has stacks of résumés of get through, applicants who cannot come up with formatting that facilitates an easy reading of their résumé will likely be passed over.

Richard H. Beatty, writing for the Wall Street Journal, explains, “You don’t want to make the staffing professional’s work even more difficult by presenting a poorly prepared résumé that’s sloppy, difficult to read, or otherwise complicates the matter. If you do, it probably will be immediately rejected. The recruiter is likely to move quickly to the next résumé without even a second’s thought. Having a well-designed, easy-to-read résumé is critical to making the cut. Anything short of this is sure to land your résumé in the ‘no interest’ pile in less than a New York minute.”

Some formatting errors are obvious, such as illegible or distracting fonts. Others can be harder to pinpoint, like failing to keep your text (including headings and bullet points) uniform, taking no notice of large amounts of whitespace (or no whitespace at all), or allowing key information (like name and contact information) to be camouflaged.

If these formatting errors aren’t obvious to you, make sure to print out your résumé and ask someone who does have an eye for basic design for input.

Dishonesty

This advice shouldn’t be secluded to the realm of résumé writing, but we are definitely including it here. Don’t lie on your résumé. Depending on the lie, it may or may not take a bit longer for this to get your résumé trashed, but the trashing is inevitable.

We’re not the only ones who think so. Tamara Star, a professional consultant and recruiter writing for The Huffington Post, warns, “Let me remind you: in today’s digital world, it’s impossible to hide ANYTHING. The truth always comes to light, so it’s far better to include a job gap, lack of degree, or short tenure than to attempt hiding it. The minute you’re caught hiding something, your credibility goes right out the window – regardless of explanation…”
The mistakes we’ve mentioned here are résumé killers; even the best candidate would have a difficult time finding a job if his or her résumé was not free from these bungles. Make sure your résumé isn’t being trashed before you’ve had a chance to show a company your value as a candidate.

What Recruiters Look for in Your Résumé

Résumé advice is confusing.

One “top ten tips” list will tell you that the key to hiring success via résumé is making your résumé stand out – so use fancier fonts and brighter paper; the list one site over will prescribe that you use nothing but Times New Roman font, standard margins, and plain white computer paper.

The confusion doesn’t end there. No party line seems to exist in the areas of formatting (“Chronological only!”, “Always use functional!”, “A combination is your best option!”), length (“One page MAX!”, “As many pages as you need to prove you’re the right candidate!”), or wording (“Include as many keywords as possible!”, “Avoid all buzzwords!”).

The problem is that no industry, no employer, is exactly the same. Across-the-board advice is difficult because “the board” is so diverse. Without looking at a specific résumé for a specific position, it’s difficult to make rules that will serve every applicant well.

That being said, we’ve seen a lot of résumés, and there are certain qualities that we, as recruiters, look for in every résumé that comes our way, regardless of industry. We look for relevance, readability, and potency.

Relevance

Quite simply, do not submit a generic résumé – tailor your résumé to the specific job for which you are applying. Your résumé needs to be relevant. This applies to both content and appearance.

First, let’s tackle content.

Nancy Collamer, writing for Forbes, states, “Your current career goals should always determine which parts of your story to highlight and which to minimize.”

Maybe you are changing fields, and your focus needs to be on transferable skills. Make sure these skills are easily accessible on your résumé, not hidden in the fine print. Achievements from your current position should be shown to be relatable to the skills you’ll need for the new position. Don’t use acronyms and jargon from your past work that are too specific and will mean little to new employers. Make your résumé relevant.

Or maybe you are moving up in a field in which you’ve worked for years, and the focus needs to be on specific successes you’ve had throughout your time in that industry. Instead of spending time and space going over detailed accounts of your earliest jobs years ago, use your limited real estate to illustrate the most important accomplishments from your time in your current field.

Appearance, though seemingly less important than content, can determine whether or not your résumé gets read at all. Instead of making sweeping statements about what fonts are or are not suitable, we advise that you think again about which stylistic qualities would be most suitable to the specific job for which you are applying.

Continues Collamer, “Make sure your design matches industry norms for your field — a graphic designer can comfortably display more creativity than an accountant.”

In certain fields, an added page or more of charts, graphs, or studies may be appropriate. Other fields want no more than a single, well-ordered page, which leads into our next point.

Readability

résumés are their own genre. Though their brevity can be frustrating, it will do you no good to fight against the limitations of the résumé by trying to turn them into essays. Depending on the size of the stack of résumés sitting in the employer’s desk or inbox, your résumé may or may not get much more than a skim.  Clear, concise remarks have the best chance of sticking with whomever is doing the hiring.

Readability is about more than merely helping your résumé survive the skimming process, it is an opportunity to put your communication abilities on display. Since little space necessitates fewer words, your résumé writing demands both thoughtful wording and organizational skills.

Potency

Finally, we arrive at the meat and potatoes of the résumé. When it comes time to state your academic and career-related accomplishments, make sure they come across as powerfully as possible.  To do this, you need to state them actively and accurately.

Résumés can feel like lies. It’s difficult to give a full and accurate portrayal of your experience with such limited space, leading you to feel like you are telling half-truths. Added to this is the résumé-typical lingo that seems either braggadocious or meaningless in its perpetual overuse. So when we tell you to be genuine, we know that you are fighting an uphill battle.

The simplest way to follow this advice is to be sure that your résumé is accurate, containing no errors of which you are aware or statements that are intended to deceive. Attempts to strengthen your résumé that include misleading or fraudulent claims are really doing just the opposite. Seasoned recruiters and employers are good at spotting these deceptions, and those that are passed over in a cursory résumé read-through will assuredly be brought to light in the subsequent background checking and reference calling.

Being genuine extends beyond merely leaving out deception. Your résumé will be most powerful when it gives the best, most fitting, genuine description of your work and educational accomplishments. Underselling is common and often inadvertent.

It is common, for example, to list achievements passively, describing your presence or participation rather than your active role. When possible, use the listing of achievements to highlight more of your strengths or show the depth of your engagement. If you worked hard to organize an event or training for your company, it would be weak and ingenuous to say that you “attended,” “were involved with,” or “helped with” the event. These statements suggest that you were merely along for the ride. If you were more than that, if you were key to the success of the event and the vision that brought it about, let your language reflect that.

Specifics can also strengthen a résumé. Rather than stating that you have “leadership skills” or “good communication,” include specific awards or projects that demonstrate the genuineness of these points. Again, your résumé is limited. Make the most of the space you have.

A relevant, readable, potent résumé will give you your best chance of success in a résumé-driven hiring process.

Best Interview Tips for Candidates

#1 Be On Time

“Punctuality is the politeness of kings.” Louis XVII of France

If it’s good enough for royalty, it’s good enough for your job interview. Being on time feels like advice so obvious, no one should have to give it anymore. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Punctuality shows respect for a company’s time and resources; you can tell a company all about your character, but being on time is a way to demonstrate it.

Interviewing on the phone? Be expecting the call; don’t be surprised by it. Be friendly, respectful, and as transparent as possible. Recruiters, whether for a company or an agency, have conducted enough interviews to know when you’re not being upfront with them.

#2 Do Your Homework

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” – Henry Ford

We’ve called some clueless candidates, and it’s a huge red flag. If you haven’t had enough interest in a company to find out who they are and the basics of how they operate, it’s difficult to prove that you are truly interested in the job they are offering.

Have the job description from the ad in front of you as you talk with the interviewer. Know what position it is for which you are being interviewed, and be ready to offer an informed response to the question, “Do you know anything about our company?” Something more than, “Yes, I’ve done my research,” and never, “No, I don’t know anything about your company.”

Know your audience when you are applying in person; you should look the part. Dress professionally, and if the dress code seems to vary between business and business casual, always opt for the more formal attire. Once again, you are communicating respect. Jeans and a t-shirt tells a company that you didn’t place any special value on this interview, but professional attire says you’re ready to get to work immediately.

#3 Be Prepared

“To be prepared is half the victory.” – Miguel de Cervantes

Depending on how familiar you are with current interview procedures and questions, you may or may not need to brush up with some practice questions. These can easily be found online, and while they may not be the questions you end up being asked, they will help you gain confidence in speaking clearly with interviewers.

Be ready to give results from your past roles. This should include specific examples and avoid vague, overreaching explanations. This portion of the interview is where you, the candidate, are selling yourself to the recruiter or company. Your resume got you in the door, and now is your chance to bring it home. Do this succinctly and sincerely, explaining why you want the opportunity and why you are the best choice for the company.

If you are applying for a position that is different from roles you’ve filled in the past, plan on explaining how your experience is transferrable to the new position. As professional recruiters, we have selected candidates who have a strong resume – perhaps including excellent leadership skills or management experience – to fill a role in an industry that is different from other positions they’ve held. These candidates have been able to explain and later demonstrate how their experience transfers to the new job.

If you have gaps in your resume, be ready to explain them. Even if you don’t have gaps, be ready to share why you moved from one company to another. Again, dishonesty can sink you. Most companies are now including background checks in their hiring process, so be ready to answer honestly.

Finally, be prepared to give professional references. “Professional” includes personnel from previous jobs who have held a position above you in the company and who had the opportunity to evaluate your work performance. Other co-workers or friends should not be your primary references.

#4 Ask Questions in the Interview

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” -Voltaire

Questions demonstrate that you are engaged in the conversation and truly interested in the position. The “I just need a job” attitude does nothing to differentiate you from other candidates. You get one chance to turn the tables and interview the company; let them know what is important to you personally or professionally that makes you want to know specifics about the opportunity or the company. Questions give the company insight into who you are and what you value.

Ten Tips to Improve Your Company’s Recruiting and Hiring

loan#1 Always be recruiting

Having a deep bench is more than just sports wisdom. It’s good business practice. Not only will regular recruiting yield quicker hires when an entry-level need arises, but keeping recruiting open allows you to always be on the lookout for quality upper-level talent.

Heather Parrot, writing for LinkedIn, explains, “Your mindset should switch from recruiting to fill an open position to thinking about who your company will want and should hire in the future. Talent pipelining isn’t a short-term strategy and takes time to develop and nurture, but in the long term the benefits are worth the investment.”

#2 Have multiple candidates to choose from when hiring

This follows logically after building your talent pipeline. Having multiple candidates will allow you to evaluate the needs of your company and hire the candidate who is the best fit. Hiring the first available body out of desperation is accepting the risk of time-consuming and expensive employee turnover.

#3 Get feedback from other hiring managers and team peers in the recruiting and interview

The benefit here is multifaceted; essentially, current team members appreciate the utilizing of their skills and experience, and future hires are helped by initiation into a company via a team of people. A larger portion of the company is invested in every new hire, and that makes the often-rocky process of new-employee assimilation run more smoothly and the whole company function more efficiently.

“The best teams and smartest leaders all tend to have some reflection of collaborative hiring,” writes William Vanderbloemen in Forbes. “By adding more voices and input to your interview process, you’ll get a higher level of involvement and a more thorough evaluation of potential candidates.”

#4 Use Topgrading interview techniques

Brad Smart developed the Topgrading technique to provide companies with a more comprehensive picture of potential candidates. Beginning with a well-defined job description, the interview process is characterized by an extensive examination of a candidate’s work history. Learning why a candidate has moved from one job to another for the past ten years provides greater insight into who the candidate is than a resume which provides only the highlights of a candidate’s history.

Topgrading was the topic of Michael Lorence’s dissertation for Georgia State University, and his deductions are noteworthy. Writes Lorence, “All case studies experienced a rather dramatic improvement in hiring success from their pre-to post-Topgrading environments…This improvement in hiring success came with a commensurate, precipitous drop in mis-hire rates.” Or, if you’d prefer a number, “The overall average reduction in mis-hire rate from pre-to post-Topgrading environment was 85.1%.”

#5 Utilize screening questions during the application process

Here’s an easy-to-implement time saver. Whether candidates are responding to an online job posting or through your applicant tracking system, make sure to include screening questions in the process to ensure candidates are qualified. For example, if you know you will not hire a candidate without at least five years of experience in sales, let “years of experience” be a determining factor in whether a resume makes it to your desk for evaluation.

#6 Know your target market when marketing open positions

A little research here can save you a lot of time. The goal is to increase the percentage of applicants who could be a good fit for the job. If your target market is unlikely to subscribe to a newspaper, it would be unwise to spend your job-advertising budget on newspaper ads. Know your target market, and find out what they are reading, where they are spending their time, and how you can most effectively convince them that your company is the right fit for them.

#7 Be strategic in your planning and process

Don’t just wing it. Besides being an enormous time waster, setting out to recruit with no plan can actually do harm to your company. Clear communication and follow-through –

even in the early stages of hiring – contribute to your company’s reputation.

Additionally, your hiring process requires regular evaluation, because what works for one company may not work as well for another.

Take Google, for example. The New York Times published an interview in 2013 with Google’s Laszlo Bock, a senior VP. In it, Laszlo surprisingly confesses, “One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation.” He continues, “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.”

#8 Remain open and flexible

Necessity is the mother of invention. Traditional techniques and business ideas may have been enough to get the company doors open, but it’s a business’s response to set-backs that determine its longevity. Closed doors require creativity – a forced flexibility that can ultimately make a company stronger.

Maybe it’s your list of absolute qualifications for potential candidates that could use a dose of flexibility (see #9); maybe the change needs to come in your employee compensation package, or in how you are marketing the job. Flexibility allows a company to adjust to and thrive amidst constant changes in technology and culture.

#9 Remember that unicorn candidates do not exist

A perfect employee would make our lives so much easier. Companies sometimes begin searching for the elusive unicorn candidate when exasperation over the lack of quality personnel takes over.

“Progressive employer seeks Harvard-trained neuroscientist and beauty pageant winner. Must be fluent in Mandarin and skilled at tribal basket weaving. Minimum of 10 years experience working for high-tech companies. Salary: mid-30’s.”

While obviously hyperbolic, the mock job description Nancy Collamer penned for Forbes stands as a warning. If frustration has set in, consider, instead, our final piece of advice.

#10 Use a professional recruiter for strategic planning, hard-to-fill positions, or when you have multiple roles open that you want filled quickly

No matter how well you plan, every company hits walls from time to time. When the pipeline isn’t flowing and the right candidates aren’t coming your way, when you have higher employee turnover than expected, when you need an updated business plan and don’t have time to fix the problem on your own, consider hiring a professional recruiter.  Whether you need help coming up with a new strategy or help finding qualified employees who are ready to close, we can help your business meet its goals.