Category Archives: Hiring

Hiring Practices, Inside-Out and Upside-Down

A recent article from the Harvard Business Review asks the question, “What if a Company Maximized Jobs over Profits?” Most companies hire the bare minimum of employees to get the maximum possible profit, but a recent trend of “job entrepreneurs” seeks the opposite–to employ as many people as they can, and earn enough profit to make this possible. They start with a group of people they want to employ, and then design a business model that leverages their particular talents. For example, one “job entrepreneur” sought to employ people along the autism spectrum, and designed a web maintenance and software testing company that allowed his employees’ attention to detail and repetitive focus to be assets to their job performance.

I was struck by this “reverse” way of thinking about hiring. Besides being an impressively self-sustaining business model that takes the place of charity, it’s also a sort of exponential extension of my advice to employers on hiring: you have to look closely at the job you need done and determine exactly what skills an employee needs to be able to do it. Take a step back and look at your business; what does it really take to get the widgets out the door or the shelves stocked or the food served or the machines put together? Maybe there’s an underserved or underemployed group of people who would be perfect for the job, but have been overlooked because you haven’t understood the essentials of your business.

When I lived in Boise, Idaho, I knew a house-painting company who employed only ex-convicts. With good screening, the owner found employees who were willing to work for lower (but still living) wages for a chance to put their lives back together and build stable job histories. With the money saved, he was able to bid jobs at lower prices, get more business, and employ more people. It was profitable, sustainable, socially responsible, and a new perspective on hiring from which many businesses could benefit.

An Ounce of Prevention: Smart Hiring Practices

“HOW DO WE NOT GET SUED BY EMPLOYEES!?” is the perennial question employers ask me. Bigger companies have HR departments, but too often I’ve seen small businesses overlook this crucial aspect of management, and then find themselves in over their heads when things go wrong. When even an unsuccessful lawsuit can cost $50,000-$100,000 to litigate, and employee turnover wastes time and money, having a good HR consultant is something that small businesses can’t afford NOT to have. Like preventative medicine, keeping your business healthy in the beginning can avoid costly trips to the emergency room (i.e. court room) later. One of the easiest, and earliest, ways to avoid being sued by employees is a smart hiring practice.

Most wrongful termination claims come from former employees who never should have been hired in the first place. Additionally, most failure-to-hire claims could have been avoided with an informed interview process. The three stages of smart employee selection are the Pre-Interview, Interaction with the Applicant, and the Final Selection Process.


Before you begin the hiring process, make sure you know exactly what you are looking for. What are the essential function of the job, and the required qualifications of potential employees? Make the job description detailed and explicit. This is a good time to review what measures might be taken to accommodate disabilities, and ensure that such measures are ADA-compliant. Develop a consistent interview plan, involving selection criteria and relevant information to elicit. A consistent matrix for scoring applicants can be very useful. Make all screening and reference requirements known.

Interaction with the Applicant

Now that you know on what basis you will hire an employee, make sure that you apply your interview plan to all applicants equally. Even seasoned interviewers can be swayed by charming smiles and small-talk prodigies. The guy you’d like to drink a beer with is not necessarily the best guy for the job. Applying your plan with rigor and consistency will help you see through charisma, and also protect you from unsuccessful applicants claiming that they didn’t get the same chance to talk about their skills as others did.

It’s also very important that everyone involved in the hiring process knows the difference between acceptable and inadvisable questions. Questions about protected status (race, age, gender, disability, national origin) can be anywhere from insensitive to downright illegal in an interview. Even stray thoughtless comments can have disastrous effects. In one of my cases, a young woman interviewing an older woman mentioned that she liked the youthful culture of the office, and how many of the employees would go out to bars together. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for a failure-to-hire claim.

Effective interview questions elicit the applicants qualifications and competencies. Questions like “Tell me about your experience with Excel” or “Give me an example of a time when you helped a difficult customer” give applicants a chance to talk about their experience in a way that reveals their behavioral tendencies and attitudes. Take good notes during each interview and keep track of them; extensive documentation is the best defense against a failure-to-hire claim.

The Final Selection Process

Once you have gathered all your interview data, apply your selection criteria without bias. As with every other part of the interview process, DOCUMENT YOUR REASONING for your final hiring decision.

Who you hire is the most basic step in building your company and its work environment. Smart hiring practices will create better hiring decisions and a reduced risk of legal liability, creating a harmonious and efficient workplace that’s better for everyone. An ounce of good hiring practice is worth a pound of defense lawyers.

The Boss’s Guide to the Boss from Hell

I recently came across an article from the Wall Street Journal, “How to Spot the Boss from Hell,” about the pitfalls of prospective employees not screening their potential bosses carefully enough. It’s easy to forget, as employers, that a job interview goes both ways; while you’re trying to evaluate an applicant’s qualifications and work ethic, he or she is also evaluating you and your company. How many quality employees might be turned off by an arrogant interviewer or witnessing a belittling encounter between manager and staff? It would be useful for bosses to read this article from the inside out, and think about how they come across to potential employees.

The article discusses a woman who interviewed at a tech start-up. The boss was a friend of a friend, so she ignored the red-flags: lofty promises, self-aggrandizement, and profane language. Soon she found herself with a “Boss from Hell,” one of the leading causes of worker discontent. Although she was an asset to the company, she left after several months.

First, do you know how your managers come across when they interview?  Are they turning away quality employees with their behavior? Many employees get promoted to managerial positions without going through any HR training regarding communication or managing people, and they model themselves after their similarly untrained bosses. Even if they have an agreeable public image, what are they like away from such scrutiny? The article also mentions a woman interviewing for a paralegal job who noticed that although the boss was charming, the secretary never made eye contact with him and seemed cowed. Knowing how your interviewers come across and making sure they trained in people skills is essential if you want to attract good employees.

Second, what is their online presence? Employers run Internet searches on applicants, and applicants run Internet searches on employers. You should know as much as prospective employees do about the managers who work for you and about your own online presence. Is the first link in the Google search your manager’s arrest for public indecency? Is his Twitter account filled with racist jokes? Will an advanced search on LinkedIn turn up former employees who will give good references, or flee in terror from his name?

Third, if the boss is someone whose personality chases people away or has a terrible online presence, do something about it!  Does this manager need some training or coaching on people skills? It may be worth an investment if this is someone who is valuable to your organization. If you’ve tried the training/coaching approach and they still chase off good employees, ask yourself if you really need someone like that in your company. Is she or he THAT valuable?  What do they bring in terms of revenue, customer relationships, reputation, research dollars, being the son of the president… If you can’t figure out their value, then they may need to go.  If they do have value, consider the options: you could restructure so this person becomes more of an individual contributor and have someone else manage people, or up the intensity of the HR training. There are some good offsite intensive programs, for example, that are a bit like weekend summer camp for adults learning not to be jerks.

This article reminded me of how important it is for bosses to put time and attention into how they treat their employees, even before they become employees. You could be missing out on the greatest resource your company has due to poor interview skills. Think about your interview style, get some training, and avoid being a “Boss from Hell.”

The Right “Man” For the Job

Thanks to George Lenard, an employment lawyer with Harris Dowell Fisher & Harris, L.C. in Chesterfield, Missouri and Owner-Editor of George’s Employment Blawg,, I had the opportunity to co-present at the OnRec/Kennedy Recruiting Conference in Chicago yesterday.  Title was “Employment Discrimination – Tough Questions Recruiters May Not Be Prepared To Answer”.  George and I had a lot of fun, using mock interviews that led to depositions – the source of those tough questions – to illustrate problem areas we’ve seen time and time again when defending discriminatory failure to hire lawsuits.  (Aside:  Thanks to my friends and family for contributing to the role-playing:  Stan Davis, Dylan Brooks, Claire Hardin, Cecil & Margie Edgar, Jeff & Sammie Messick  and Michael Goss!  You’re wonderful!)

I was reminded after spending time at the conference, rubbing shoulders with hundreds of in-house and outside recruiters and hiring managers, listening to program topics and surveying the vast array of software available to help with recruiting and hiring how incredibly difficult it is to make good hiring decisions and how much people are searching for objectivity.  It certainly doesn’t seem that moving out of the analog days of paper resumes painstakingly reviewed by humans into the era of technology would make the decisions any easier. Without a doubt, some tasks are aided by technology, for example, on-line applications that can be sorted and searched and the vastly greater audience that can be reached than the print ad days. However, the vast amount of data available can just be overwhelming especially with the increasing involvement of LinkedIn and other social networking sites.

Analog or tech savvy, best practices for avoiding a discriminatory failure to hire claim ALSO lead to better hiring decisions. It boils down to figuring out:

  • what the job is, what skills/qualifications it takes to do it and which of those you’re willing to train for and which you expect the individual to have coming in;
  • where are the qualified people and how best to reach them;
  • what’s the selection criteria – substance and process – the logistics of sorting through applications and ranking them;
  • who out of a bunch of excellent choices or the best of a not great selection to offer the job to.

We all know this.  So why – time and again – do we start out down this road and then run out and offer the job to the one our gut tells us is the right “man” for the job (probably because it’s the applicant we’d most like to go out for coffee with)?  For more information: “Using Smart Hiring Practices to Reduce Employer Liability”.