Your most important business decision

Recruiting and selecting staff members isn’t rocket science,
but thorough planning is needed to make the right decision.

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Trevor was the right age with the right qualifications. As he closed my office door I breathed a sigh of relief. Wading through applications and interviews had been a grind. But it was almost over, with Trevor head and shoulders above the others. I took another glance at his school certificate and college diploma. I didn’t know the school on the west coast, but the college was a respected institution.

Should I check the validity of his certificates? With such a nice guy, was it necessary? Yes, let’s be sure – so I dialled the college number given on his CV. The phone rang and rang – no answer. Funny, they should be there. Telkom enquiries gave me the listed number for the college – one digit on Trevor’s CV was wrong. I got straight through, but they had no record of him.I called the number for his old school. It was a private home in the same area, and they never heard of the school.

You’ve guessed it. A few more calls proved Trevor to be a professional con artist. I had been well and truly fooled into very nearly appointing a crook in an important position. For the next appointment I really did my homework. We didn’t get it right every time, but we did find and appoint some outstanding people. Here’s how: The job advert If you followed the advice in my previous column, you would have received many applications for the job you advertised.

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In addition to a standard application form, some recruitment professionals insist on a hand-written cover letter. Today it’s a bit old-fashioned, plus I’ve often found people with poor writing skills who make outstanding farm managers. If written communication skills are important, then go ahead and ask for the letter, otherwise drop it. Also, please don’t put a line at the bottom of the advert which says: “If you don’t hear from us then you haven’t got the job”. Decent companies don’t do this. They always acknowledge receipt with a postcard or e-mail.

Assessing the applications
Step 1: Discard the misfits. Reduce the list to a maximum of 10 candidates. Look for the following: Failure to follow directions on how to apply; lots of typos and grammatical errors; application form incomplete; unexplained gaps in employment history; way over- or under-qualified; use of weird tactics and gimmicks.

Step 2: Background check. Contact some previous employers and confirm start and completion dates. Ask prepared probing questions. Don’t say “What’s he like?”, rather ask questions which require a yes or no answer, like “Does John have any history of excessive alcohol abuse?” Don’t do what I foolishly did, and leave the qualifications check to the end – do it now.

Step 3: Telephone screening. Call the applicant and ask a number of carefully prepared questions tailored to the job. First up – what salary do they expect? There’s no point spending time on people out of your range. If you need inspiration, and are particularly helpful.

Two interviews
First stage a personal interview. It’s usually much more economical to move to a central interviewing site than to bring each candidate to the farm. Schedule the interviews with enough time apart to give the candidate time to exit the building before the next person arrives. Now’s also the time for some psychometric testing. It’s especially recommended for senior appointments, but it’s a field for the specialist. Correctly selected tests provide insight into the make-up of candidates that will always add value to your final selection.

Also remember that while the appointment of a mismatched person to a job is a problem for the company, it’s often a personal disaster for the person concerned. It’s always best to have a minimum of two people on the interview panel, with one being the person to whom the candidate will report. My experience is also that a woman on the team often brings special insight that escape male minds.

Final interview: This is where you interview your shortlisted candidates on site. Get them to bring their families to stay overnight. Their spouses and relationships often shed light on the candidate’s deeper traits. You’ve passed the stage of assessing fit-for-job specifications such as age, apparent health (candidates should still go through a medical examination), family situation, qualifications, skills and experience.

You’re now looking for the softer, but no less important factors, like cultural fit, stability, attitude, personal bias, teamwork, leadership skills and personality. Introduce the candidate to the people they’ll be working with. Afterwards, talk to the staff they met for their opinions. You’re now ready to make your most important business decision – the selection of your team members.