Avoid Reference Checking Mistakes

August 30th, 2013

If you’re asking your applicants for a list of references during the first or second stage of the selection process, you’re on the right track. In fact, just making this request can help you, no matter what you ultimately do with the resulting list of names. Even if you ignore them, this move allows candidates without reliable references to self-select and remove themselves from the pool, and it demonstrates that you take your hiring and screening process seriously. But one you’ve gathered these references and you have these names and numbers in hand, you may as well use them to your advantage. Keep these tips in mind.

1. Actually complete the checks. A surprising number of employers complete the hiring process without making a single call—either because they don’t trust references to speak honestly, they don’t have the time, or they find the process socially awkward. These reasons may be valid, but in all of these cases, employers are missing out on a little additional input that could mean the difference between a great hire and an expensive mistake.

2. Don’t ignore neutral responses. Of course very few references will say negative things about the candidate– This is bad karma, cruel, and unprofessional. So if there’s something off about a candidate, don’t expect to hear this news directly. Read between the lines. Bland, meaningless remarks are a red flag. So are references who try to avoid the call or hurry to end the conversation once you have them on the line.

3. Ask very specific, but open ended questions. Some of our favorites include the following: “If you had to choose, which task would you most prefer NOT to assign to this candidate?” “With which tasks do you trust her the most?” “How would you describe her response to coaching and criticism?”

4. Keep your questions fair. Ask the same questions of each reference, and keep both the number of questions and the number of checked references consistent between each candidate. Don’t contact five references for one candidate and only two for the next.

5. Keep the nature of the relationship in mind, and consider both seniority and intimacy. A senior company executive may have lots of clout, which is nice, but she may not have seen the candidate in action on a daily basis. A 25-year-old direct supervisor may not have much experience or management savvy, but he worked side by side with the candidate every day.

Most important, complete reference checks without allowing the results to overshadow the rest of the hiring process. Consider the context, and don’t allow a few off-the-cuff remarks to push you toward the wrong candidate or away from the right one. For additional guidance that can help you interpret the results of your reference checks, reach out to the NC staffing experts at PSU.

Keep Employees Committed and Engaged

August 23rd, 2013

There are two primary forms of employee disengagement, both of which can hurt general morale and undermine company productivity. (Actually there are several, but for now we’ll keep things simple.) These two forms involve 1.) day-to-day disengagement and 2.) long term or chronic disengagement, which usually foretells an employee’s exit from the company. Here are a few ways to recognize and fight back against both.

Day-to-Day Disengagement

This form, also known as the 2:00 doldrums, (or the 10:30 AM doldrums) appears one episode at a time. At one point or another, we’ve all felt this way. It happens when the quarterly spreadsheets or the new product launch which seemed so important a day before suddenly mean less than nothing to an employee. If he’s blinking through the meeting, staring out the window, or gazing at his notes with a blank expression, he may be miles away. If she’s at her desk writing comment after comment on internet blogs, she’d probably rather go home (or submit to water torture) than spend one more minute in this place.

Sometimes, even when the company is paying us good money for our time, our time is not being used to the company’s best advantage. So if you’re an employer, what can you do to fight back against this occasional– but natural– cost of working with human beings?

Start by recognizing when this tends to happen. During rainy days or quiet points in your seasonal business cycle? Immediately after a major project comes to an end? And when you know you’re vulnerable, take action. Call on checked-out employees in meetings and ask (respectfully) for their opinions. Change things up by rotating responsibilities. Bring employees out of their cubicles for team activities. And always, always show your thanks for their hard work, especially when you see them fighting distractions for the benefit of the company, and for you.

Chronic Disengagement

When chronic disengagement sets in, the problem lies with the company, not with the employee. Before you lose your most talented workers to your competitors, take action. Hand out anonymous satisfaction surveys and ask employees directly what resources they need to keep them excited about their work. Using the results of these surveys, develop new incentives, new forms of fun and friendly competition, and new forms of performance-based reward.

And as you do this, don’t let up for a minute on the genuine thanks and attention that your hardworking employees deserve. Notice every extra effort and reward every sign of the kinds of behavior (such as risk taking or initiative) that support the culture you’d like to build. Whatever you do, do it quickly and decisively, since systemic chronic disengagement usually doesn’t disappear on its own.

For more help with the resolution of both of these issues, arrange a consultation with the NC staffing and management experts at PSU.

Why Didn’t You Hire Me? What to Say to Rejected Candidates

August 16th, 2013

Rejecting a candidate—especially a great candidate—is an unpleasant task, there’s no doubt. No responsible manager (or well-adjusted person) enjoys delivering this kind of disappointing news. But no matter how awkward the process may be, rejections are an unavoidable aspect of professional life, and they’re usually not personal; they’re just a result of simple math. One position plus 20 applicants will always result in 19 rejections. So what can you do to make the process a little easier on both sides of the table? How can close the door on applicants without burning bridges and without putting your company’s reputation at risk? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. During the first stage of the process, don’t sweat this too much. But at the same time, don’t set yourself up for unnecessary trouble. After you publish a post on a national job board, you may receive hundreds of resumes in a single day. You don’t have to respond to all of them if you don’t have the time or resources to do so. But if you plan to ignore all but the best applicants, state this in the post. Say something like “Due to a high volume of expected responses, we’ll only be contacting applicants who we decide to interview.”

2. After the interview stage, rejections become more serious. Keep in mind: every candidate who takes the time to interview with you deserves a response. This is a perfectly reasonable expectation, and if you let the line go silent on a candidate you’ve interviewed, he or she has every right to harbor negative feelings about the company. In this process, as in every other aspect of the business world, negative feelings are bad karma. What goes around comes around.

3. It’s okay to contact rejected candidates by mail or email rather than by phone. In your message, be brief, consistent, and vague. Say that you’ve “decided to pursue other candidates.”  This explanation can be sent to all of your rejectees and can prevent accusations of hiring bias.

4. If candidates decide to call or write and argue the point, refer them to HR and have your HR managers repeat the same message and then respectfully but firmly end the conversation.

5. These last two guidelines apply to external candidates only—Internal applicants deserve a more detailed explanation as to why they were overlooked. Take this opportunity to provide them with pointers and specific coaching tips, and let them know if they lacked the leadership experience, software certifications, or training necessary to step ahead of the final contender. Again, if you treat these candidates with respect and consideration, they’ll be more likely to stay with your company. If not, they’ll move quickly past their disappointment and start looking for opportunities with your competitors.

For more information on how to make the rejection process as diplomatic and low risk as possible, arrange a consultation with the NC staffing experts at PSU.

How HR Departments Contribute to Sustainable Growth

August 9th, 2013

Years ago, an average company measured “growth” using only one metric, and that metric usually focused on profits for shareholders. But this limited, short-term definition doesn’t work as well in today’s consumer driven marketplace. At this point, an increasing number of companies are taking a broader view of growth, and are factoring longevity and sustainability into this equation. There’s actually a term for this broader metric– it’s called the TBL, or Total Bottom Line. The TBL measures the impact of a company’s actions not just on its own immediate profits, but also on the larger economy, the environment, vendors and suppliers, employees, and society as a whole.

So what role do HR managers play in bolstering a company’s TBL? How can an HR department shift its goals and actions to focus on long term sustainability? 

1. Working to build an engaged, committed workforce. This begins with fair pay, competitive benefits including health insurance, and regular increases that keep pace with company profits and reflect seniority and employee contributions. HR professionals should work together with accounting to make sure pay scales are accurate, fair, and flexible.

2. Building workforce diversity. Maintaining a diverse workforce isn’t just about fair hiring practices, and it doesn’t just provide returns for employees and society. A workforce composed of diverse backgrounds, genders, ages, and other factors is typically more productive, resilient and cohesive than a monoculture.

3. Focusing on humane and ethical practices among vendors and suppliers. HR plays an important role in screening providers to ensure that their practices and raw materials are obtained using sustainable methods. The company bears responsibility for all of its contracts and the actions of its providers, no matter how indirect these connections may be.

4. Strengthening community relationships. A company’s reputation and position within the local community can mean the difference between a strong and weak financial future. Companies that engage in community charitable events, clean ups, local projects, festivals, parks, and sports teams are returning only a fraction of what they extract. The use of every local resource, from roads to clean water to employee populations can and should be acknowledged in a company’s tangible contributions to the community.

Is your HR department fully focused on the company’s long term TBL? For more information about this metric of success, arrange a consultation with the NC staffing and business management experts at PSU.

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