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To Hire Well, First Define What You Need

by Jan 14, 2014, 5:52 am ET

A friend of my neighbor manages a call center. He has had, as he puts it, the worst luck in finding people who both do a good job and stay. I asked how he sources his talent, and he showed me his boilerplate posting:

Wanted – experienced call center employees.

There was some other generic ad text, but that was about it. You can believe that no two people have the same definition of what this means. His lack of clarity about the behaviors, skills, and experience he needs in his roles encourages his swinging employment door.

As a workplace consultant and executive coach, I see the reason recruiting is so difficult is that most organizations don’t have and religiously use a process to clearly, fully, and accurately define the role’s qualifications; this includes behaviors in addition to skills and experience.

This is particularly important in today’s service age where most employees are face to face or phone to phone with customers; few are still working behind machines. This personal contact, which is the source of the emotional connection needed to advance customers from satisfied to loyal (as reported by Dr. John Fleming in his book Human Sigma), requires that we be able to identify both abilities and interests that drive success in the job. We know that if we don’t think the way the job thinks, or have little or no interest in doing it, we just won’t show up successfully.

Though we may be good at identifying the skills and experience we need employees to have on their first day, we are still slow to define the core thinking, talents, strengths, and interests needed to be successful in the role. Does the role require the employee to be analytical, driven, competitive, creative, empathetic, or perceptive? Does the environment require big-idea thinking, procedural compliance, great teamwork, or individual work? All of these become part of the behavioral components of the performance qualifications profile. Couple these behaviors with the required skills and experience, and we can clearly define what is needed to be successful in each of our roles.

Once clear on the optimal behaviors, skills, and experience, the organization now has the ability to more efficiently source their talent. In addition to a clearer job posting, this performance profile can help the organization focus in on where to find talent that fits this unique profile. For example, if the role of salesperson has the behavioral requirements of creative, disciplined, competitive, and tenacious, placing an ad in the program of a local 5k road race, triathlon, or marathon event may source good-fit talent. Many of those who attend these events have this behavioral profile. Sure, there are skill and experience criteria to assess, but finding the behavioral fit can sometimes be the most challenging. Having an accurate performance profile creates sourcing opportunities previously not considered.

In addition to improving the sourcing opportunities, this additional clarity creates a more powerful and explicit job posting. To include the specific behaviors, skills, and experience now defines the core attributes that will be reviewed in the interview process. It also gets away from the vague job titles.

So back to my neighbor’s friend who advertises for experienced call center employees. We know that all who apply have their own definitions of what “experienced” and “call center employee” mean. So to eliminate the confusion, clearly define all the required qualifications with language such as:

To be successful in this role, you must be interested in connecting with all types of people and actively solving challenges. You must be creative, methodical, results-focused yet amiable, supportive, and compassionate. You must have three years’ experience in a 500+ member call center and be proficient in ______________software.

You can add more details but see how this creates a clearer and more focused qualifications that can be observed and assess at every stage of the sourcing and hiring process.

Clarity of expectations is king in hiring the best employees, as is the discipline to build a performance profile that defines the success qualifications. Most organizations cut corners on the preparation; this is the one place to spend quality time. Define the skills, experience, and behaviors. You can’t recruit and hire well if you are not clear about what you really need.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Scott Erker

    Your comments ring true to me Jay. How can you expect to find the ‘right person’ if you aren’t specific about what you are seeking?! My experience is that you have to be explicit in five areas to give yourself the best chance for being successful. Define, with specificity, the requirements of the job or role – 1) the experience needed, 2) the knowledge needed, 3) the behaviors (competencies) needed, 4) the personality (culture fit) needed, and 5) the motivational elements required. Now you have a benchmark with which to compare candidates. No candidate will be perfect. But if you get good at this, you will know how to deal with candidate gaps – as well as obtain data to rapidly support how you will train or manage new hires to give them the best possible chance for success. Thanks for putting a spotlight on this important topic.

  • Sahra Santosha

    Clarity and specificity are key to making sure you find the right person. I pulled together a list of resources detailing best practices around writing a job spec, interviewing, hiring… http://blog.mightyspring.com/post/73321690310/mighty-springs-guide-to-making-the-right-hire Hope people find it useful!

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Well said, Jay and Scott.
    @ Sahra: Thank you very much.

    -kh