By Linda Siniard, SHRM-SCP

The hiring manager tossed the resume across the table at me. “I don’t want to hire anyone Chinese.” Aghast, I sputtered, “But what if it’s a Caucasian woman whose husband’s last name is Chinese?” He stared at me with dead eyes. “I don’t want to hire any women.”

Why is the hiring process often handled so poorly? And not just poorly, but sometimes so badly that it can create the very problem it’s meant to solve: filling an open slot in the company’s roster?

Having worked in many industries, I know it is impossible to design a process that works for all companies and organizations. And yet, there are certain best practices that hold true for most. I routinely apply the following steps for hiring of the best candidate possible:

Step #1: What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?
If there’s an opening, then that means you have to hire someone. Right? Not necessarily! Let’s slow this process down. The first step isn’t “hire someone,” but to take the time to define the position you’re trying to fill. You have to assess the need. For example, can the work be redistributed among existing employees with no loss of efficiency or productivity, or is this an opportunity to refine and clarify the role? If the answer is no, then the hiring process can commence.
Step #2: Update the job description
Sounds basic, right? But how many times has a manager asked you, “What job description?” Most managers resist writing job descriptions because, well, they’re hard to create from scratch. My work-around is to create draft job descriptions for them. Having something to edit other than a blank screen helps spur them into fruitful action.

The job description will be the foundation used to assess your candidates. It is the predecessor to the job posting. We skip this step at our peril, and a vague description will lead to vague candidates. Yes, the job description should contain the basic job summary, essential functions, skills, qualifications, and the like. And, yes, I review them to make sure they are non-discriminatory or miss opportunities for clarity. But most importantly, I make sure they actually exist.

Step #3: Job posting
A job posting is basically a sell sheet designed to capture the best pool of candidates. List information about your company with the reasons it’s awesome to work there at the top(remember, we’re selling here). You want to find people looking for one thing—your company. You want them to want to be there.

It’s a relatively recent but significant cultural change that many in hiring think college degree is necessary in order to hire someone for a decent job. But don’t let yourself disregard intelligent and otherwise qualified people just because they don’t check all the “right” boxes on paper. Can the candidate prove competency without first having earned a degree? If a college degree is not an actual requirement of the job, consider using more open language in your postings, such as, “4-year college degree in marketing, communications, or English, OR a combination of relevant education and experience”.

It is also important to fit the job with where you post it. When Craigslist first emerged, I listed all my job postings there… and while it is still a viable site for certain types of jobs (e.g. retail, clerical, entry-level, or generalist in any field), it’s not one-stop solution. Trade association websites are often a better fit for highly skilled or difficult to fill jobs. For example, if you are recruiting for a quality manager with Six Sigma certification you’re more likely to find qualified professionals through trade association job boards, such as the American Society for Quality (ASQ) website.

Step #4: Resumes
There is a long-standing bias that applicants with lots of academic and professional credentials translate to good candidates, but this is not necessarily the case. Our goal in HR is to get slammed by the number of resumes we receive — it provides us with more options. If this doesn’t happen, rewrite and repost the position. But remember that certain types of “needle in a haystack” positions, such as a CFO or sales engineer, take longer to hire. It’s also helpful to remember that studies show that up to 70% of resumes contain exaggerations or outright lies. My hope is that with a decent pool of resumes, approximately 20% of the resumes match the majority of the job description.

Where hiring managers sometimes get lost is in the belief that they need to hire someone with 100% of the qualifications, knowledge, skills, abilities, interests, and culture fit. A better and more realistic goal is to seek an 80% match. Each company is unique — it’s unlikely that, just because someone has worked for similar companies, or in the same industry, that he or she will be an exact match. When you’ve identified candidates who are an 80% match, now you can start to screen for those with the enthusiasm and potential to train up to that desired 100%.

At this point, hiring managers will often withdraw back into their work, overwhelmed by the thought of having to make such an important decision based upon something written on paper or posted online. This is a fatal error! (Especially these days.) Each and every day a manager sits on a resume decreases the pool of desirable candidates — because other companies are scooping them up. One way I often get around this is by ‘dosing’ the hiring manager with three resumes at a time… “How about these?” Then, another three, and another three.

Step #5: The Interview
Every hiring manager has a particular style. Are they freewheeling and random? Do they prefer sticking to a script? Do they like to create a sense of urgency in the interview or portray a more relaxed demeanor? Something to monitor is the manager who becomes so engaged in what she is saying that she is missing the clues from the candidates. (Did I say clues? I meant blaring alarm bells.) If your candidate says, “I really wanted to work for Apple or Tesla, but I haven’t gotten an interview with them yet,” you have permission to gently end the interview and get back to work. Trust me, if you hire the candidates that openly share their preference for employers other than you, you will be cycling through this hiring process again within six months.

The interview isn’t just about knowledge and skill sets — it’s also about body language, appropriate attire for the position, basic manners, and whether the candidate researched the company beforehand. A crucial requirement is communication skills that match the job. A candidate doesn’t who know the answer to an interview question will talk at length and finally ask, “What was the question again?” I’d rather hire the one who answers, “I don’t know. Let me think about that for a minute.”

Silence is good in an interview. It gives everyone a tiny break from what is a stressful, anxiety-provoking experience for all involved. When you give space, and the candidate is willing to express, humor, thoughtfulness, and even confusion, you will learn more about their level of confidence in taking on your company’s challenges.

Step #6: The Selection Process
Here’s what not to do. Do not allow the manager to shake the hand of the candidate and after she leaves say, “We need to hire her now!” If you’re lucky, you’ll have more than one candidate, and you get to select the one that is best for the job and your culture. A two-hour “love in” of an interview does not guarantee a great hire. We have to do our due diligence and check the candidate’s credentials, references, and background screening. It’s not infrequent that someone who is gifted at interviewing turns out to be, well, gifted at interviewing.

That said, one time I had a manager who wanted to hire a candidate right on the spot. When I resisted, he said: “Look, with this job I just need someone whose breath will fog a mirror.” He simply needed a body to catch pieces on the production line before they hit the ground. He was right. We hired on the spot, no regrets.

Step #7: Train your managers how to hire
While this should actually be Step #1, filling a new job opening will usually take precedence over learning how to do it well. Still, it is in your best interest to stop the world from spinning long enough to include hiring training into your training agenda. The better your managers become at hiring, the lower the turnover you’ll have to deal with.

In an ideal world, it would be great if following these steps resulted in the perfect hire 100% of the time. But alas, the “human” in “human resources” is a variable over which we have no control. We can do everything right and, in the end, it can come down to a coin toss. All we in HR can do is know enough to stack the odds of winning in our favor.


Hiring doesn’t have to be a coin toss. Successful Hiring: A Step-by-Step Guide helps you “find the keepers.”


Linda is a Senior Human Resources consultant at HR Options. She has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources in a wide variety of industries (publishing and media, technology, performing arts, hotels, oil and gas, manufacturing, wineries, financial services, and law firms) with private, public, union, non-union, multi-state, and multi-national organizations. She has a B.A. in Organizational Leadership, an M.A. in Transpersonal Psychology, a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification, and is currently balancing work with the pursuit of her Ph.D.

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