The Secret to Hiring Smart


o Preparation
o Testing
o Discrimination
o Setting the Stage
o The Interview
o Techniques
o Tips
o Truth in Hiring and Case Law
o Documentation
o You’re Hired

There is a saying: “Hire Smart, Manage Easy.” This means that if you invest time hiring, you will save time managing.

Think about it, how many performance issues have you had to deal with? They are time-consuming, exhausting and frustrating. So, when you are hiring a new employee you have a great opportunity. If you hire the best person for the job, your job as a manager is easier and you avoid the headaches associated with performance issues.

o Take time to prepare – this is essential to successful hiring and staffing
o Update job descriptions
o Identify competencies and behaviors needed for the applicant to be successful
o Ask the right questions to assess the applicant’s abilities and capabilities
o Setting expectations (lining up competencies, interviewing and welcoming new employees)
o Make good defendable, hiring decisions based on legal, objective and consistent processes (testing and documentation)
o Treat all applicants fairly (this reflects the company values and environment, feedback helps develop existing workforce for future opportunities)
o Most applicants can live with not getting the job if the process is fair, consistent and objective.
o Hiring is much easier than terminating — and less costly.

The success of any organization depends on its human resources; the contribution of its employees. Therefore, hiring leaders have a tremendous amount of responsibility.
When you are hiring, you want to select the most qualified applicant and keep diversity in mind when making your selection.

When we hire people who look and think alike, we get the same end result. But, when we hire people from different backgrounds and who have different experiences, we get more value. Think about how we can take advantage of our differences in the workplace to find best thinking and new thinking so that we as individuals, as a group and as a Company can be more successful. We all gain from this because it helps build better relationships, enhances customer service and helps provide more creative solutions to the problems that arise daily.


The hiring leader must be fully prepared to select a new employee. Preparation is time-consuming and hard work, but poor planning and a bad hire is costlier in the long-run.

So where do you start?

Job descriptions are an essential basis for establishing job responsibilities, performance management, compensation, etc. which help you to know what you are looking for.

Here are 9 questions to ask yourself when hiring a new employee:

1. Why does the job exist? Review the job description and update it, if necessary.
2. What are the major accountabilities/responsibilities involved in performing the duties of the position?
3. What are the Essential Job Functions – For example, if you are hiring a File Clerk: filing is an essential function while answering the phone is a secondary function.
4. What functions must the employee perform to accomplish the primary purpose of the job?
5. Would removing the essential functions fundamentally alter the position?
6. How much time does the employee spend performing the essential functions?
7. What are the physical demands/environmental considerations?
8. What are the minimum qualifications, experience, education, licenses, etc. In most cases, except when hiring a lawyer or a medical doctor, it will be difficult to require a college degree. The job opening notice or advertisement can say that a college degree is a minimum requirement or EQUIVALENT EXPERIENCE AND TRAINING because it is possible to acquire the necessary skills through training and job experience.
9. Are all the qualifications BFOQs? BFOQs are “bona fide occupational qualifications”. Employers must be able to demonstrate that a qualification is reasonably necessary to the normal operations of the business; a business necessity.


If you want to require a test, it must be job-related and must be consistent with business necessity. Tests cannot be used to discriminate.

Testing must be reliable and valid:
o If you were to measure a person’s head with a tape measure, it is reliable if you can measure it repeatedly and come up with the same measurement.
o However, it Is NOT valid to say the measurement of the head indicates a person’s intelligence.

To properly validate a test, consult with the Human Resources Department before administering any test.

You Have Applicants – What’s Next?

Check with your Human Resources Department because there is most likely a package that includes forms that must be completed, and guidelines and steps that must be followed

The Staffing Package normally includes a screening form, checklist, sample questions, and an interview rating form. These documents are essential for documentation in case there are questions about the selection process in the future. The following steps are typical in most cases:

1. List “Minimum Qualifications” on the screening form. It is important to list these BEFORE you review the applicants’ resumes to ensure that the qualifications were created for the job and not tailored to a specific applicant.
2. List all the applicants. This is the “long list”.
3. Compare the employment applications and resumes. If you are considering internal applicants, also review the employees’ personnel files, previous performance appraisals, and input from other managers, against minimum qualifications
4. Include objective job-related statements.
5. Indicate in the “Interview” column which applicants meet the minimum qualifications and will be interviewed. This is the “short list”. Typically, the short list includes 3-5 applicants. If the short list seems too long, screen the applicants further by adding some “desirable or preferred” qualifications in order to have a more manageable short list.
6. It is very important to notify those who are not selected for an interview BEFORE notifying those who will be interviewed. Hiring leaders should notify internal applicants and offer them feedback which can help employee development and also builds a positive culture and trust.


Discrimination in hiring is a no-no. There are several laws that prevent discrimination in the workplace; shown below are a few that are noteworthy:

• The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex
• The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 – Protects people from discrimination based on age (40 or over)
• The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Prohibits discrimination because of a disability. If a person’s disability can be reasonably accommodated, the company is required to provide accommodation and cannot rule out an applicant simply because of his or her disability. Once again, it is important to consult with Human Resources when these issues arise.
• The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 – This law preserves jobs for those who are legally entitled to them—American citizens and aliens who are authorized to work in the United States.

Setting the Stage

When I interview people, I follow the same process with every applicant:
1. Introduce the panel members including their name and job title.
2. Explain that it is ok to ask to repeat the question, if necessary, or go back to a question if he or she would like to do so.
3. What the applicant may expect: Explain behavior-based interview questions, no right or wrong answer, just trying to get to know a little more about their skills, experience and abilities.
4. Tell the applicants that everyone will be asked the same questions, the panel will be taking notes, explain the approximate length of the interview, they will be given an opportunity to ask questions or add any additional information at the end of the interview.
5. Thank the applicant for participating.
6. Tell the applicant when a decision will be made.
7. Sometimes, I would prepare a list of the questions to provide to each applicant (of course, they have to return it before they leave the room) so that they can physically see the questions while we are asking them because some people are visual and only hearing the question could lead to him or her missing a key element we are looking for.

Remember, the interview is intended to find out what the person can do and how well he or she measures up not to confuse or intimidate him or her. The Object of the interview is to predict whether the applicant will be successful on the job. When developing questions, include others who know the job; don’t do it alone. Questions should elicit the most crucial information about the applicant’s skills and abilities–Avoid trick questions!

It is best to utilize a panel to conduct interviews because one panel member may hear something that someone else missed. Also it is helpful to be able to discuss, as a group, the applicant’s answers before scoring the interview. It is always helpful to have a Human Resources representative present or a union steward when a union position is being filled, but it is important to check with Human Resources to determine the proper procedure before conducting the interviews.

Sometimes as leaders we get busy and don’t take the time to do things that are “nice” because they aren’t required, but a personal touch pays dividends. For example, when someone is selected to be interviewed, the hiring leader can email the person (in the case of an internal applicant) or call them to invite them to the interview. The hiring leader should suggest that internal applicants let their current leader know that they have an interview as a courtesy but it is not always required. Again, check with Human Resources.


Lawful and Unlawful Interview Questions

Make sure you ask the same questions of all applicants and don’t ask things you shouldn’t ask!

Here are some examples:
The job requires that the employee can lift boxes that weigh up to 75 pounds. Which of these questions is lawful?
A. Do you have any back problems that would prevent you from performing this job function?
B. Are you able to perform this job function?
C. Either one is lawful.
The answer is B.

One of the most important qualifications for this job is that the employees must speak Spanish fluently to deal with our Spanish-speaking customers.
A. Is English a second language for you at home?
B. Do you meet this qualification?
C. Can you speak Spanish fluently?
D. Any of these is lawful.
E. Only B. and C. are lawful.
The answer is E. You may need to test the applicants to ensure that they can speak fluent Spanish and convey the information relevant to your industry/company.

Everyone in the department must work an occasional weekend to maintain adequate phone coverage for our clients.
A. Does your religion prevent you from working Sundays or holidays?
B. Will that be a problem for you?
C. Are you able to work weekends?
B. or C. are acceptable, but listen carefully to the answer. If the applicant offers information regarding their religion and how it impacts their ability to meet this requirement, document it. It is not necessary to tell them not to discuss it. The important thing is that you cannot specifically ask about their religious beliefs. Stick to what is required for the job.

These are just a few examples, but sometimes it is best to simply state the job requirement and then ask the applicant if he or she can meet the requirement. Usually, it is best to get these kinds of questions out of the way up-front at the beginning of the interview.

Interview Techniques

Behavioral-based interviewing focuses on the past behavior of an applicant to show how they will most likely behave in the future. The interviewer asks questions to get the applicant to discuss specific examples from the applicant’s past life and work experience – ability and capability.
1) Start with an identified competency or skill required for job performance.
2) Think of a situation in which this competency or skill (or lack of it) would play a key role in performance (i.e., adjusting to unexpected demands and other contingencies).
3) Develop a question concerning past behavior of the applicant that involves this situation.

For example, if you are trying to find out how flexible and adaptable the applicant, is you could ask:
“Tell us about a time when you were faced with an unexpected change in direction or circumstances. What did you do?”

What you are looking for is an example of how they’ve “been there and done that” and whether they were resourceful and ultimately how they successfully completed the task.

Another competency you may be looking for is negotiating skills. You may ask:

“Describe a time when you disagreed with someone from another department. What did you do?”

Listen carefully and determine if he or she asked questions to learn about the other person’s opinion. Find out what he or she did to help the other person better understand their point of view. Finally, determine if they discovered common ground and came to a mutually beneficial resolution.

Follow-Up or Probing Questions

To get more information or clarity around a specific work situation, identify some probing questions to follow the behavioral-based questions. For example:

o How did you try to resolve the issue?
o What was the outcome?
o How have you used the information in other situations?
o How did you respond to that person?
o What did you learn?
o Tell us more.

Repeat the question: Ask the question again if the applicant did not answer. DO NOT repeat the question again as a way to coach more out of the applicant.

Ask for clarification: What do you mean by _____? How did you come up with savings?

Give neutral responses: “Uh huh” rather than responses that may appear you are giving the person a clue that they are on the right (or wrong) track.

Silence: remain silent for 5-10 seconds to elicit more of a response; give them time to think. This is very important. Sometimes; however, people ramble thinking that they might accidentally stumble upon the “right” answer which is just as bad as not having an answer.

Multiple part questions: If the questions have more than one part, ask only one part at a time.

Clarify inconsistencies: I’m sorry; I’m a bit confused. I thought you said you did “xyz”. Could you clarify for me?

Expanding: Seek new information to build on previous statement. Tell me more about that.

Summarize key statements: Let me see if I understand what you said (This serves as a check to make sure you understood what was said.)

Avoid asking closed questions: “Yes or No” or multiple choice questions: “A or B”.

Use positive body language: Eye contact, smile, nod head

Be cautious; however, with follow-up questions. DO NOT coach the interviewee with the follow-up questions to elicit the response you are looking for, especially if there is even the slightest perception that this person may be the most likely person to get the job.


Meet with the Interview Panel to Prepare and Review:

• Review accountabilities, competencies, interview questions, so panel members have the same understanding and establish expectations before beginning the interviews.

Keep questions and probes clear and simple. Allow the applicant to thoroughly answer one question before moving on to the next one. It may be helpful to give them a copy of questions.

Sometimes an applicant may have problems answering if he/she has not previously been in a behavioral-based interviewing situation. Applicants may need time to reflect upon their experiences to explain how they handled the situation.

Note: It is important to say again that you must be consistent and use these techniques with all applicants so no one seems to have an advantage.

Every interview has two components:
• Evaluative: the interview panel is assessing the applicant.
• Informative: the interviewer provides information about the job and company; tells the applicant about the position.

Use ice breakers (i.e., take a few minutes to give us a summary of your previous experience) and functional/technical questions in addition to behavior-based questions.

The interview may be the applicant’s first impression of the Company and the applicants are potential customers and/or employees. So, treat everyone in a professional, fair and consistent manner.
The quality of the Company’s selection process reflects the Company’s values as well as whether or not the company is a desirable place to work.


Statements made during interviews and when making job offers may later be considered binding contracts. To avoid claims that you misled an applicant about the nature of the work, stick to what you know the work will consist of rather than what you think the applicant may want to hear. There is not only liability to the company but also personal liability for misleading statements made during interviews.


Stewart v. Jackson & Nash (2n Cir. 1992) In this case, a New York law firm recruited a lawyer who was beginning to make a name for herself in environmental law. She was told she’d head an environmental law department that the firm was starting, but instead she was assigned to general litigation work. Later, she was fired as part of a cutback. She sued, claiming she’d been damaged because the firm had thwarted her career objective of continuing to specialize in environmental law.

Lazar v. Superior Court – The Executives in this case portrayed the company as financially strong, the employee left a well-paying job, relocated his family and was later fired as part of a management reorganization. The employee sued stating that the company fraudulently induced him to give up his old job and move; misrepresented the company’s financial condition.


Documentation is very important especially when you are interviewing multiple applicants.
• Panel members should take notes during the interview to:
• Support the conclusion drawn concerning the competencies, skills and knowledge levels.
• To reduce the interviewer’s reliance on memory.
• To describe specific objective behavior, not make value judgments.
• Interview notes can be reviewed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) during audits or investigations. Be sure they are an objective accounting of interview responses.
• An absence of records can be considered an attempt to hide derogatory information concerning the hiring process.

When documenting the applicants’ answers, be careful not to let your preconceived biases interfere with your objective analysis of the applicant’s overall skills and abilities

Example of an objective comment:
• Cited specific examples in a clear and concise manner (specific objective observation of behavior)
• NOT: Applicant is a nice person. (value judgment)

Each panel member can complete a separate form and average them all or the interview panel can discuss and complete one form.

Discuss ratings—one panel member may have caught something that others did not


Be ready!
Welcome announcement of new employee.
Sponsorship Program – Not a formal program just good business sense (explain sponsor’s role and importance)
• The purpose of the Sponsor is to provide assistance to a new employee as they begin their career at the Company by:
• Welcoming the new employee into the social environment of the Company to help the employee feel included and comfortable (i.e., introductions, included in conversations such as at breaks or lunch, etc.)
• Being available to answer routine questions and advise as appropriate (i.e., who to contact, where to find something, procedures, etc.)
• The Sponsor role is voluntary and assignments are made by the applicable Leader.
• Assignment to the role is a privilege and may help to develop leadership qualities.
• The Sponsor role is not meant to be a substitute for the Leader’s responsibilities.

Follow-up to see how they are doing— Check out the book. “The One Minute Manager” for more helpful information.

Remember to check with your Human Resources Department for your company’s specific procedures before embarking on the hiring journey! Good luck!