Hiring Tips

Maximizing Your Hiring Process to Secure Top Talent

By Erin Wolfram and Melissa Johnson

Leaders within an organization often experience immediate panic when they have a sudden need to hire a new employee. This often comes unexpectedly at the worst time, and can lead to an ineffective search and hasty hiring decisions. Preparation is key in reducing stress; so the more you can do before needing to fill a position, the better. The following tips provide ideas on how to take a more active and focused approach to the recruitment and hiring process.

Build your network

Building your network is an important first step in finding and securing top talent. This will help you develop relationships with industry professionals who may someday be a good fit for your organization or may know someone who is. 

1. Join professional associations

Joining and being an active participant in industry-specific professional organizations, especially those at the local and regional levels, are great ways to not only grow your network, but also to build solid relationships with people so you can get to know them on a personal level. When you attend meetings, participate in committees, or serve on a board of directors with someone, you gain valuable insight into their knowledge, skills and abilities, which may become very valuable if they ever apply for a position within your organization. Additionally, if someone has had quality experiences with you in a professional capacity, they may be more interested in applying for a position within your organization because they already know and respect you.

2. Utilize LinkedIn

Having a solid LinkedIn profile, securing connections, actively engaging with others’ content, and sharing or posting your own content also helps build your network, increase your visibility, and establish expertise. This not only can help you attract top talent, but it can also expand your reach when you have an opening. You can share the position description with all of your connections, as well as send customized messages to specific individuals who either might be interested in applying for the position or know a great candidate they can recommend.

3. Develop interns

If you don’t already regularly hire interns, you should consider starting an internship program. This is one of the best ways to develop a strong pool of potential candidates for future positions. By hosting interns, you get to experience firsthand what each person is like as an employee. In addition, interns are able to gain a solid understanding of the organization, its culture, and people; if they have a good experience (make sure they do!), they will want to come back as a full-time employee. Any time you have a job opening, you can e-mail your list of past interns to see if they are interested in applying or know someone who might be.

Conduct an effective search

Your network will be an invaluable resource as you begin your search. The first step in the hiring process is to develop a well-written job description that provides a clear and accurate picture of the position and its requirements. Promote your job opening with not only your external network, but also with any current employees who may be interested in advancing within your organization. 

1. Write a quality position description

When developing a position description, make sure the content attracts the type of candidates you are seeking. It is important to write a clear and concise job description with realistic requirements that accurately define the role, essential tasks, and specific goals for the position. In terms of required and preferred qualifications, prioritize the knowledge, skills and abilities that are most important to you and your team, and keep in mind that quality, hands-on experience can often be just as valuable as education. In addition, try to think beyond the required and preferred qualifications and include information about the work environment and culture. This will help you and potential candidates better evaluate organizational fit, which is extremely important in selecting the top candidate. 

Provide clear instructions on how candidates should apply; it is beneficial to request a résumé, as well as a cover letter addressing their interest in the position. Also, include a contact person’s name, e-mail address and phone number; and encourage individuals to reach out to that person if they have any questions. This also provides a contact to which candidates can address their cover letter.

One final recommendation on writing position descriptions is to always include a salary range. Certain factors do influence salary needs, and while money should not be the most important element when applying for a job, you do not want to waste your time or a candidate’s time if your salary requirements do not align.

2. Advertise your position

Start promoting your position, both internally and externally. Begin by sharing your opening with your team and encouraging them to apply, if applicable. Then ask them to share the job posting with anyone in their network who might be a good fit. Next, advertise your opening on job boards related to your industry, such as the STMA Career Center and affiliate chapters’ websites. Additionally, post the job announcement on LinkedIn and share it in your LinkedIn news feed, as well as on any other social media platforms. Do not forget to e-mail the job posting to people in your network, and encourage them to share it with others. This is the time to really utilize your contacts. Referrals often result in the best candidates.

Develop an efficient evaluation process

When hiring for an open position, it is important to develop a consistent and unbiased evaluation process to adequately assess candidates and their fit with the position and organization. 

1. Develop a rubric

Once you have written the job description, start thinking about how you will evaluate whether candidates meet the qualifications throughout the process. It is often helpful to develop a corresponding rubric that can be used to assess candidates’ application materials and evaluate them during an interview. Not only will this help your search committee maintain consistency and focus as they evaluate candidates, but it will also help make the process more organized and efficient.

Sample application/interview rubric: 

2. Evaluate candidates’ application materials

Once you receive applications, it is time to start using the evaluation rubric to review candidates and select those you want to interview. Look to see if the candidates outline how they meet your required and preferred qualifications, but also make sure they address why they are interested in the specific position at your organization. Those candidates who take the time to tailor their materials and demonstrate why they want the specific job should rise to the top of your “keep” pile. Yes, you want someone who has the skills to successfully do the job, but you also want someone who wants to work for your organization and who will fit in well. 

3. Develop interview questions

The key to a successful interview process is to select questions that effectively evaluate a candidate’s ability to perform the essential tasks of the job, as well as assess their overall fit within the organization. Ask these same interview questions consistently across all candidates to avoid any unintentional biases. 

If you have a large pool of seemingly strong candidates, it may be helpful to conduct brief screening interviews over the phone or video chat to narrow the candidates to three to five to invite to an on-site interview. Screening interviews often involve approximately five questions that help you assess key qualifications and find out why each person is interested in the position. 

Here are a few questions to consider:

• Tell me about yourself.
• Why are you interested in this position at this organization?
• What are your greatest strengths related to this position?
• What do you think your biggest challenge will be in transitioning to this position?
• Tell me about a time you have successfully overcome a challenge or obstacle at work.
• What questions do you have for me?

You may repeat these questions during an in-person interview, especially if additional people are present. When developing other questions for on-site interviews, ask questions that will help you evaluate whether or not the candidates have the skills and strengths you believe are necessary to fill this role, and give them the opportunity to share specific examples that prove their qualifications. One of the best ways to do this is to ask behavioral interview questions, which allow candidates to share specific experiences from their past that likely will predict their future performance within your organization.

Sample behavioral interview questions:

• Tell me about a time you went out of your way to assist a visitor, player, client, customer, etc.
• Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a colleague or supervisor.
• Give me an example that demonstrates your problem-solving ability.
• Give me an example of an innovative solution you implemented.
• Tell me about the most difficult situation you have faced as a supervisor.

4. Seek questions from candidates

The last question you should always ask candidates is “What questions do you have for me?” As mentioned earlier, candidates are evaluating you as much as you are evaluating them, so give them the opportunity to ask questions to learn more about you, the position, and the organization. Pay close attention to the types of questions they ask (or don’t ask). If the candidate has a lot of thoughtful questions, this likely means they are very interested in the position and are invested in learning as much as possible to make a well-informed decision if an offer is made. This is a good sign! 

5. Assess candidates’ answers to interview questions

Again, using a rubric will help you and the members of your search committee efficiently and objectively evaluate a candidate’s interview performance. As you interview candidates, listen for specific examples that demonstrate they have the skills, strengths, and knowledge you are seeking. If they provide vague answers, you may want to prompt them to answer more fully, which hopefully will encourage them to provide more details in future responses. In addition to assessing a candidate’s ability to do the job, it is also important to analyze their compatibility with the culture of the organization and department. If possible, try to engage in conversation with candidates. This not only will help them produce more authentic answers but should also help you gauge their personality and whether they will fit in and be a valuable member of your team. A more conversational approach also lets them get to know you better, which is equally important.

6. Conduct on-site visits

You do not want there to be any surprises for either party, so as you continue to narrow your candidate pool, invite your final two or three candidates to conduct a more in-depth site visit. Provide them with a tour, introduce them to potential colleagues, and allow them to ask more questions. This will likely be more informal than the actual interview and will help you both get to know each other better.

7. Check references

Typically, one of the final stages of the evaluation process is conducting reference checks. Request three to five references from each candidate you interview. Talking to people who know or who have worked with a candidate is a valuable way to obtain more information about an applicant, their past job performance, and personal qualities. Similar to the interview process, it is important to develop a list of structured questions to ask each reference.

Sample reference check questions:

• What is your relationship with the candidate?
• Please describe (candidate’s name) position with your organization and their main roles and responsibilities. 
• What were (candidate’s name) greatest strengths and challenges in this role and as an employee, in general?
• What was (candidate’s name) biggest accomplishment while working with your organization?
• Would you rehire (candidate’s name) if given the opportunity?
• Is there anything else you think is important for us to know about (candidate’s name) that we have not discussed?

Make an offer

Finally, once you have selected a candidate and extended a job offer, invite them back for another site visit before they make their final decision. Use this time to thoroughly review the salary and benefits package, introduce them to more potential colleagues, walk them through organizational policies, and answer any final questions to ensure they have the information they need to make a well-informed decision.  

Selecting the right person to fill a role within your organization is a big decision and can be very costly if you do not make a quality hire. This can result in a quick turnover and starting this process all over again much earlier than you would like. Therefore, the more time you spend building your network, executing an effective search, and developing an efficient evaluation process before extending a job offer, the more likely you will be able to make a confident decision that is best for the organization, as well as for the person you ultimately decide to hire.

Erin Wolfram has more than 15 years of experience in career services, and owns and operates Career Advantage Golf (http://careeradvantagegolf.com), specializing in career services for those in the turf management field. She has a podcast called A Year of Career: 52 Practical Answers to Your Questions, where she provides quick career and job search advice. Wolfram has a Bachelor of Science in Secondary English Education, Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, Master of Science in Educational Technology, and is a certified professional etiquette consultant. She can be reached at erin@careeradvantageresumes.com.

Melissa Johnson has more than 20 years of experience working with individuals from a variety of careers and industries. She specializes in one-on-one career coaching, resume and cover letter development, and job search assistance. Johnson has a passion for providing individualized support and guidance for each of her clients to ensure they are able to achieve their career goals. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Education in Counseling Psychology.