Selecting Winners – Part 1

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Six Steps to Selecting a High Performance Employee
By Barry Shamis

What constitutes a good employee – a real “winner”? Many people think there’s one profile for a position or one set of criteria cast in stone: “This is a winner.” But that’s just not the case. Winners are unique to your organization.

The criteria which make up a winner should be determined case-by-case, based on what makes sense and what works within your organization. For instance, if you have an outside sales force calling directly on customers, a winning sales rep is going to have a set of skills and abilities completely different from an inbound or telemarketing sales rep. So, what is a winner? A winner is a person who is successful in your organization.

Step 1: Developing a Profile

Developing a success profile is like painting a picture of the successful person. If you want to hire a winner, you must first have a clear picture of what success means for your particular position.

To begin, work backwards from the end result. In the selection process, the end result you’re trying to achieve is to label a person a success: you hire him, he’s on-board, he’s contributing, and he’s successful.

Two things must occur for you to label an individual a success. First, he has to be doing the right things. If he’s not handling the tasks and demands of the job, you will never label him a success.

Second, he must do those things the right way. For example, you may know a person who gets the results you’re after, but does it in a way that may alienate your customer. We’ve probably all known a customer service representative who answers the customer’s question, but in a way that really turns the customer off.

Following this logic, the process for developing a success profile breaks down into two steps. The first step is to determine the what: what must the person do for you to label him a success? To develop your list of expectations, ask yourself: what must this person deliver to the organization in terms of results, outcomes, accomplishments and deliverables in order to be labeled a success?

Once you’ve determined what those outcomes are, the second step involves taking each desired outcome and determining the qualities or characteristics needed to accomplish those tasks and meet your expectations. For example, it may not only be important for a sales rep to have good sales skills. She may also need to be self-directed, organized and an excellent time manager.

It’s critical to put your success profile in writing. The old adage, “I’ll know it when I see it” just doesn’t work. A concise description on paper of your expectations, and the characteristics necessary to meet those expectations, will guide you toward hiring talent – not enthusiastic interview behavior.

In summary, to paint a profile of success, first determine what a person has to “do” to be labeled a success. Then determine the knowledge, the skills and the abilities – or the qualities and characteristics – that he needs to meet those expectations. Once you make your determination, put it down in writing.

Step 2: Recruiting

The definition of recruiting is to develop a qualified applicant pool – to find the bodies you can consider for employment. This may be the toughest challenge facing your business today. There is just a lack of qualified people. Therefore, you have to double your recruiting efforts, and do it more intelligently. You just can’t run an ad in the newspaper or a trade journal and assume that people will come flocking to your door. You need to be a lot more creative to generate a decent candidate pool.

Start by thinking, “Where are the people that I would like to attract sitting today?” For instance, how many of the people that you would like to attract are reading the classified want ads of your local paper? What are they doing right now? The following page offers some suggestions for alternative recruiting tactics:

  • Work referrals. What always has been – and always will be – the best source of candidates is employee referrals. But you have to be proactive about getting employee referrals. Don’t wait for your people to walk in and suggest other people who might be good candidates. On their very first day on the job, ask them, “Do you know anyone else whom you think would be successful here?” If you’re proactive about soliciting names from your employees, you’ll do much better.
  • Try on-line recruiting. Today there are lots of places where you can post positions on-line. The good news is that in many cases there’s no charge. Go to the career section of your favorite on-line service or web browser for ideas.
  • If you want to advertise in a publication, focused technical journals make more sense than newspapers. The best place to advertise is where your prospects are reading. For ideas, find out what your current employees read.
  • Consider working with a staffing service. In many cases, staffing services can provide a cost-effective alternative to recruiting candidates on your own.
  • Recruit 365 days a year. If you start to recruit when you have an open position, you’re recruiting reactively and you will almost always find yourself in a desperate mode. Be proactive about it. You think pipeline in terms of clients, so you need to think pipeline in terms of candidates for your jobs.

Step 3: Screening

Effective screening is a two-part process which will enhance the productivity of your interviewing time. A thorough screening process starts with a resume screen. Those candidates who make it through the resume screen should then complete a telephone screen before being invited in for an interview.

The resume screen

Screening resumes is a difficult part of the selection process because it forces you to make a decision about a candidate based on a piece of paper. So rather than trying to make a hiring decision based on a person’s resume, you should only determine whether it is worthwhile to invest more time in that candidate. Here are a few guidelines for effectively screening resumes:

Look for trends and patterns of accomplishments, as opposed to individual occurrences. For example, if there’s a single gap in a candidate’s employment, it may be nothing. Remember, it’s only one data point about that candidate. Look instead for a series of gaps in employment.

Look for results and behavior you think will be effective on your job. Look for patterns of accomplishments that are similar to those things they’re going to have to do on your job. Read the resume in correct chronological order. Most often, resumes are written starting with a candidate’s most recent job and go backwards. If you read a resume in correct chronological order, you’ll follow that person through her career and be better able to detect patterns and trends: Has she picked-up new technologies? Has she absorbed those very quickly? If not, is there a pattern of her sticking with a position?

Give the benefit of the doubt. At this stage, you really know very little about a candidate. If you’re undecided as to whether to include a candidate in your “yes” pile, give the applicant the benefit of the doubt. Use the phone screen to make your determination as to whether or not to bring the person in for an interview.

The telephone screen

Have you ever invited someone in for an interview, and in the first two minutes said to yourself, “Boy, this person is totally wrong. How did I get myself into this?” If so, think back: did you screen that candidate on the phone first? An effective telephone screen may be the most under-utilized tool in the selection process. A good rule of thumb is to never meet anyone face-to-face until you’ve first spoken with him on the phone. During this “mini-interview”, spend a few minutes delving into one aspect of his background. Alternately, ask a few targeted questions regarding a particularly critical requirement of the position and get as much data as you can.

During the telephone screen, try to answer the question, “Is this someone I want to invest my time in and bring in for a face-to-face interview?” In a nutshell, you want to gather as much information during screening, to determine whether it is worthwhile to invest more time in a person.

This is the first in a two part series.  To view Part 2, please click here.

Barry Shamis is the Managing Partner of Selecting Winners, a Port Angeles, Washington based consulting firm that teaches companies how to hire people. Hiring top-performing employees is the most important thing that we can do as business managers to ensure our success.  And Barry has a tremendous amount of insight into exactly how to go about doing that.  Some of his clients over the years have included AT&T, SAP, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Cadence Design, NetApp, SmithKline Beecham, the St. Paul Companies, ABB, Dow Jones and Company, Ministry Health, and many others.  He has been intimately involved in teaching some of the best companies how to go into the market and select winners for their businesses.  You can learn more at

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