UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Don't make the mistake of undervaluing the importance of the hiring process


Hire Up

“Hiring great people is one of the most important things you do as a leader,” says James W. Dean, Jr., dean of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and professor of Organizational Behavior. Dean also notes, “It is nearly impossible to spend too much time on the hiring process.”

Despite the importance of this task, the hiring process can get short-changed by managers grappling with more pressing daily tasks. Sometimes this is because the absence of a person in the role is felt so keenly that managers rush to fill the open position with anyone who looks as if they might work out. Other times it is because hiring managers, especially during lean economic times, are simply stretched too thin to do the quality of work necessary for great hiring. More dangerously, sometimes hiring managers believe that this work is beneath them, and more efficiently handled by human resource staff.

But the stakes of good hiring in general are high, and are higher still at more senior levels of the organization. That is because strong performers often outperform weak performers many times over and typically require much less oversight and intervention. Effective hiring is magnified when strong performers hire other strong performers. Poor hiring can do just the opposite if weak performers are threatened by applicants stronger than themselves or fail to attract strong hires to their open positions. This is how organizations get stronger (or weaker) over time.

What can you do to increase the chances of making very strong hires?

  • Be very clear on the skills that are required for the position. This sounds obvious, but is not taken seriously in many organizations because some managers believe that they have an intuitive ability to spot the right person for the job. Ask questions, such as:
    • What really matters for success in this position?
    • What soft and hard skills the ideal candidate must have and those that would be nice for a candidate to bring to the organization?
    • What do others in the organization need from this position?
  • Design the selection process to assess whether the person really has the skills you need at the level you need them. Most of the time in interviews, especially initial interviews, should be focused on this. Use a combination of the following techniques:
    • Questions that assess whether an applicant has specific knowledge —“Tell me how CRM systems work?”
    • Behavioral questions such as, "Tell me about a time when you addressed a situation like this?”
  • Managers should recognize that the best person for the job may look different or come from a different background from the previous incumbent. If you undervalue a group of people (women, an ethnic group, etc.) for any reason, you are at a competitive disadvantage when hiring. Stay focused on your list of skills necessary for the job.
  • Take reference checking seriously. Dean suggests professional search firms find creative ways to get a balanced picture of the person being considered. For example, they will sometimes ask, “If you were supervising this individual, which skills would you ask them to work on as part of their development plan?” This is a great question because you simply can’t say they have nothing whatsoever to work on.