Hiring and retaining great employees

Hiring is potentially the single most important business process any organization deals with on a regular basis. The strength of the individuals that define a workforce determines the success of any business. So it makes sense to regularly evaluate your hiring strategy to make sure it’s effective when it comes to consistently hiring top talent.

Once you’re done conducting interviews, choosing who to hire shouldn’t be a gamble. A bad hire costs time and money in training and onboarding and can be avoided through better hiring practices. If distilled to its essence, the two pieces of the hiring process that rise to the top are the job description and interview questions. If an organization only has time to focus in these areas, it will pay dividends.

The Job Description

The foundation of all hiring starts with the job description. How well a job description defines the job will determine the quality of the pool of applicants that respond to a posting. An unclear or inaccurate job description puts you at an immediate disadvantage by likely drawing a pool of unqualified applicants, and a surefire way to make a bad hire is to combine a pool of unqualified applicants and a desperate need to fill the position.

To strengthen the job description, the hiring manager should meet with colleagues familiar with the job and those who are currently doing the job and consider revamping the description with a goal of clearly defining and communicating the job’s functions. A clearly written description is more likely to attract applicants who can already perform the job functions or could do so with some training.

During the meeting, examine the job description line by line. Every time a qualification or credential is listed, replace it with how that qualification will be used to do the job. For example, a job description might say “This person will need high-level proficiency with Excel and Word.” Since “high-level” is subjective, replace it with what the person will need to accomplish using Excel and Word. A more specific description might say “This person will need to use Excel to create spreadsheets and use formulas and pivot tables to track monthly and yearly spending, identify discrepancies and project budgets.”

A newspaper job posting from Ernest Shackleton's 1914 South Pole Expedition. Although not a realistic example for today, since, among other things, it doesn't meet important equality standards (ie. Men Wanted), it likely only drew those who were up for the challenge. Clear job description = qualified applicant pool.
A newspaper job posting from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 South Pole Expedition. Although not a realistic example for today, since, among other things, it doesn’t meet important equality standards (ie. Men Wanted), it likely only drew those who were up for the challenge. Clear job description = qualified applicant pool.

Also include in the description some of the projects the person will do and the timeline they will have. If an organization is hiring a front desk receptionist, include details like: “This person will answer 30-50 calls per day and be responsible for correctly routing them to one of our 50 employees.”

It’s important for the team to define the goals of any role to be filled. If the hiring team knows what the person in the job needs to accomplish, it can more easily identify the person who can do the work. In the job description, it’s important to be specific about those goals.

As an example, let’s say an organization is looking for a new Warehouse Technician. Some of the goals may include: “Responsible for reorganizing the warehouse inventory,” “Responsible for researching the best software to use for creating a digital tracking system,” “Responsible for overhauling the fulfillment process to most efficiently handle 20-30 orders per day,” and so on. With such precise details this job will ideally only appeal to people who enjoy analytical thinking and who have the initiative and motivation to take on process improvement.

Continue combing through the job description until it clearly defines the role, the responsibilities and the goals. With this great job description posted, you should be able to attract qualified candidates.

The Interview Process

The most important point of discovery in the hiring process is the interview stage. It could consist of multiple interviews (one-on-one with the hiring manager, a panel, a phone interview, a Skype interview) and can be structured to fit the needs of the organization. Interview questions should be created specifically for each job, rather than a set of questions applied to every opening. And each question should relate back to the job. If it’s a sales position, the questions should seek to understand how the applicants prospect, how they build rapport, how they carry out client relations and how they are motivated.


Before interviewing any of your potential candidates, schedule a time as a team (including the hiring manager, panelists and others doing the same job) to first look at what knowledge, skills and abilities are needed to successfully do the job you’ve outlined in your job description. From there, formulate the list of 10-12 job-related questions that will be asked of every candidate who is interviewed. During this meeting it’s a good idea to reiterate the questions that should not be asked during an interview. It’s important to be aware that there are questions that are considered discriminatory, even when it’s not the intention of the question. Questions that are off-limits include anything regarding race, color, religion or sexual orientation. The best rule of thumb is to create questions that directly relate back to doing the job. All questions should seek to understand if the candidate is qualified to perform the job’s duties.
Lou Adler’s book “Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams” stresses the idea that the best predictor of how someone will perform on the job is to learn how they’ve done their work in the past. And unearthing someone’s work style is dependent on how the interview questions are written. Before a candidate even begins answering interview questions, let them know that questions should be answered as stories from their work history rather than generalizations or hypotheticals. This is the key to understanding how the candidates have handled real-world situations in the past, and it will be the best predictor of how they will tackle things in the future.
The panel could be composed of potential colleagues and people that interact heavily with the role. It’s best to keep the panel to four or fewer to avoid making candidates feel even more nervous than they already are. You want the panel interview to be a friendly space so candidates feel at ease and like they can be conversational in their answers.
Let’s use the area of technology to talk about how to structure questions since computer skills and aptitude for learning new software are essential to many jobs. What are the current questions most organizations use to understand someone’s ability to use these programs? Maybe they are: “Do you have experience using Word or Excel?” or “Are you capable of learning new computer systems?” These questions won’t get the hiring manager very far in understanding a candidate’s working knowledge. Instead, try asking something like “Tell me about a time when you had to learn a new computer program from the ground up?” Then follow with questions like:

• “What was the program?”
• “How long did it take you to learn?”
• “How was it taught to you?”
• “What are some of the highest functions you can perform in that program?”

How a candidate answers those questions will help the interviewers understand their skill level, their aptitude, their learning style and more.

If a candidate can provide additional examples of learning a new program or learning more complex programs than Excel, they will begin to separate themselves from other candidates who can’t provide such examples. A follow-up question could include “Are there any other programs outside of Microsoft Suite that you had to learn from the ground up?”

With regards to technical, math, reading and computer skills, there are third-party companies such as Prove It! that will administer skills testing in any area and return results to the hiring manager. These results can be another helpful data point gathered during the interview process and can be used to pinpoint potential areas for training if a candidate is hired.

In Conclusion

Hiring should be a fun and exploratory process with the goal of finding the best, most qualified person to do the job. Anyone involved in the hiring process may want to invest some time exploring techniques and developing skills. If your company has an in-house recruiter or human resources department, explore the process with them and learn from their strategy. If you don’t have access to those kinds of resources, there are lots of books on the topic. A couple of titles that will help any organization elevate their hiring practice are:

getting behind the resumehire with your head_ “Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams” by Lou Adler

• “Getting Behind the Resume – Interviewing Today’s Candidates” by Jim Kennedy


Revamping job descriptions and writing better, more specific interview questions takes time, but that time investment pales in comparison to the time spent dealing with a bad hire. Have fun with the process and know that you are investing in the one of your most important business processes in order to create high-performing teams for your organization. Good luck!

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply