Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover: How to Screen in Rock Stars and Avoid Bad Hires

Now that we’ve covered a few topics in our series on hiring and recruiting, let’s refresh our memories on what we’ve discussed so far.

From the first post in this series, we learned that a successful recruitment strategy has four main components: sourcing, screening, on-boarding and retention. To begin recruiting, business owners first need to benchmark applicants by using an ideal candidate profile. Once that profile is complete, employers can use it to craft a behavioral job description, a job announcement, and then create a sourcing strategy that attracts the right talent.

The next step in recruitment is screening.

Whereas the objective with sourcing is to fill the applicant pipeline, screening helps business owners narrow the field of applicants to decide which candidate is the best fit for their business and the position sought. A traditional screening plan includes the job application, resume review and an interview. But going about screening this way is a bit like judging a book by its cover: the presentation looks pretty, but it doesn’t give you enough information about the contents. In fact, despite stellar interviews and submission materials, some business owners are shocked to later discover someone they hired is still ill-fit for the position.

To avoid being surprised by your next hire, you need a screening plan that measures technical skills, intelligence and cultural fit like the one outlined in the steps below.

Step 1: Review Candidate’s Resume, Cover Letter and Job Application

While submission materials are prepared to highlight a candidate’s best qualities, they are not unimportant. Through these materials, business owners can check references, learn about previous experience and gather reference information. This is also an opportunity to check attention to detail. True rock stars will follow submission instructions and give feedback if requested.

For job applicants at InPrime Legal, we include very specific submission instructions.  Our job announcement, for example, provides the following:

Email hr@inprimelegal.com your resume, cover letter, and references. In the subject line, please write your last name with a comma, followed by your first name, a hyphen and then the position title.

We intentionally placed this instruction in the middle of the announcement, between the introduction and the brief overview. If our HR Director receives an email submission with no subject line (and, it happens) or a non-compliant subject line, we automatically remove the applicant from consideration. This may seem harsh; but, attention-to-detail is a critical core aptitude for our attorneys, paralegals and administrative staff. One of our core values, in fact, is “A fierce attention to consistency and detail.” And we simply can’t afford to waste the multitude of hours it takes to review the submission materials, schedule and conduct interviews, and confer on hiring decisions, especially if we immediately know the applicant lacks a critical and core aptitude for the position.

With your ideal candidate profile in hand, what core aptitudes or key skills can you easily test for to screen out bad hires? How can you incorporate this quick test into the application process itself, so the test becomes self-executing (rather than relying on a person to remember to conduct it)? Review the sample job announcement we provided previously for ideas on how to accomplish this.

Regarding the resume, cover letter and job application, we recommend you create an evaluation form. For example, if good grammar, spelling and sentence structure are key skills (e.g. because you are hiring a content writer), then the form might ask: “Did applicant’s cover letter include any grammar mistakes, misspellings or poor writing?” If the answer is yes, then this might automatically disqualify the candidate to move forward in the recruitment process.

The sample screening plan at the end of this post includes a job application checklist and evaluation form.

Step 2: Candidate Phone Interview

After culling through submission material, use phone interviews to weed out candidates who are not a good fit. Phone interviews allow you to fill in missing information in a candidate’s background, gauge an applicant’s interest in the position, check salary requirements and further determine whether a candidate has the right qualifications for the job.

Key tip. Use a phone interview script. A script ensures you ask the same questions of all applicants and avoid asking any illegal questions. If an applicant, for example, later claims you asked a question that violated Federal anti-discrimination laws, the script will become evidence of the questions you asked and the answers you received. It will help you prove no illegal questions were asked. The sample screening plan at the end of this post includes a phone interview script.

Step 3. Homework

After a phone interview, we encourage employers to ask remaining candidates to complete job-related homework. Hiring statistics show tests, exercises and simulations where the applicant must demonstrate (and simply not tell you about) job skills are the strongest indicators of the likelihood of success for a position.

Homework assignments give hiring managers the ability to see how a candidate would go about completing larger work projects. But, business owners must be careful not to abuse candidates here. Remember that rock stars are interviewing you just like you are interviewing them. Make sure the homework is short, relevant and that your expectations are well defined. If the work is something that you might later use in your business, then Federal and state labor laws may require you to pay for that work.

For InPrime Legal, we ask candidates to complete between one and three homework assignments, depending on the position sought. Paralegals, for example, will provide a writing sample of their “best work,” giving us an idea of how they report up to supervisors and to a team. We make clear redactions are acceptable and expected. We also ask paralegals to create an initial draft of an employment agreement, based on a previous factual and redacted client scenario. We provide them with our paralegal procedure for drafting contracts, a completed consultative checklist, base employment forms and all other documents needed to finish the exercise. This allows us to see how the candidate follows procedures and handles the type of assignments she will perform if hired. We don’t make the assignment time-consuming. Although it’s fairly straightforward, we included a few triggers we know rock star paralegals would immediately spot and know how to handle.

The sample screening plan at the end of this post includes a copy of our homework.

Step 4. Pre-Hire Assessments

Companies like YouScience, EmployTest  and HireVue offer technology-assisted assessments designed to measure a candidate’s aptitude, fit, communication style and performance potential. They are tremendously insightful and provide objective data that can stand up to legal challenges. But they are not free. So, limit these assessments to the candidates that impressed you with their responses to the homework.  We recommend saving these assessments for your finalists.

Step 5. References Check

Although objective data is great, checking references allows you to obtain independent information about a candidate’s previous on-the-job performance. This is an important step in the screening process that you do not want to skip.

Like the phone interviews, use a reference interview script.  A script ensures you avoid asking any illegal questions or creating liability for discrimination or defamation.  The sample screening plan at the end of this post includes a reference interview form.

Step 6. In-Person Observations

Now that you made sure that a candidate has the aptitude, skills, and qualifications for the position, there is no better way to check for interpersonal skills than through in-person observations like the interview. But, save the in-person interview for the finalists. This will save you time and allow you to focus on the candidates with the greatest likelihood for success.

Your observation of a candidate’s people skills begins the minute she walks through the door. We ask our receptionist to evaluate every candidate on verbal communication skills, professionalism, and his overall first impression, simply based on his initial greeting of the candidates. A candidate is more likely to reveal her true nature to a receptionist than to the people conducting the interview. So, this is valuable intel and it also communicates to the receptionist that his role in the process is valued too. A rock star will be well liked by receptionists, interviewers and other staff members.

The sample screening plan at the end of this post includes a Receptionist Candidate Evaluation Form.

Step 7. Decision Time

At this point, you should have all the information you need to hire your next rock star and continue to scale your business.

Do you love a good infographic? Yes. So do we, and the one included in the sample screening plan outlines the steps we use to screen job applicants successfully. Download it for free along with a sample screening plan, which includes all the forms referenced above. And if you need help with your screening plan or to avoid any legal “fun-busters,” contact us at (770) 285-7785 for a no-obligation consultation.