Alice Waagen is featured in Philadelphia Inquirer / Monster.com article: "Hire Authority"

By Dawn Klingensmith
June 29, 2011

Up-and-comers in organizations will eventually advance to managerial roles and be responsible for making their first hire. It’s a high-stakes endeavor. Hiring someone only to turn around and part ways with him or her a short time later costs a company upwards of $4,000 on average, according to research conducted by the Westmont, Ill.-based human resources outsourcing firm Employco.

That’s not counting the person’s salary but merely the time and resources devoted to the hiring process and new-employee provisions such as training and key cards, says Tina Chen, vice president of operations.

Letting someone go – and hiring an under performer to begin with – can also affect morale and shake customers’ confidence in an organization’s stability, Chen says.

A candidate can look good on paper and perform exceptionally well in an interview but turn out to be a disappointment if not a disaster when put on the payroll. The hiring manager not only must be on the lookout for signs a candidate is too good to be true, but also for qualifications besides experience that are necessary to do the job.

“When leaders are looking to fill a staff vacancy, I suggest they start by creating an organizational staffing or resource plan,” says Alice Waagen, president and founder of the Washington, D.C.-based management training firm Workforce Learning.

Think of it as a shopping list, not a wish list, created to fill specific needs for specific purposes, based on an actual inventory, not an ideal.

“Do an inventory of the work that needs to be accomplished, including the major goals and deliverables you need to achieve in the next six to 12 months,” Waagen says. Keep in mind the tools needed to accomplish this work, including the infrastructure and support tasks, so a new hire will have in place what he or she needs to succeed.

“Use your inventory as a guide to seeking the right person for the job,” Waagen says. “When you interview, you will be able to stay focused on the outcomes and deliverables you expect of the applicant and not be distracted by personality, background or other factors.”

The fundamental question an interview should answer is whether the candidate can do the work and fill the gaps in the inventory.

Employers should research market values before they start shopping around to fill a staffing need. “Check sources like salary.com to see what the realistic salary range is for the job description you’re posting,” Chen says. “You get what you pay for.”

A résumé is an artfully crafted sell sheet as opposed to a snapshot of a candidate’s career and accomplishments. Don’t put too much stock in it or in past experience in general, says Herb Greenberg, CEO of the management consulting firm Caliper, Princeton, N.J. A person can have 10 years of experience as a lion tamer and 10 fewer fingers to show for it, versus another candidate with two years of experience who is a natural lion whisperer.

Candidates rehearse answers to common questions about their experience and how they handled challenges in the past, Chen says, so present them with hypothetical situations instead. To see if candidates can think on their feet, ask “What would you do if…” as opposed to “Tell me about a time when…”

Chen also likes to ask, “If I were to hire you right now, what resources would you need from us to be successful?” And, “How long do you expect your ramp-up period is going to be?”

A person who can answer those questions has pictured himself or herself succeeding in the role.

Greenberg likes to find out what a person enjoyed most and least about previous jobs to make sure their passions align with the job requirements.

Aptitude and personality testing, drug testing, a background check and perhaps a credit history report are other ways to spot red flags. Look for patterns of behavior, not isolated incidents, Chen says. “It’s not so much the transgression itself that should raise a red flag but, rather, repetitive behavior.”

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