April 26, 2011 | Leadership, Workplace Culture + Practices

I’m often asked by colleagues and other business professionals how we are able to recruit star candidates and hire to maintain a top workforce. The question that I believe is on their minds but often isn’t asked is, “What’s our secret sauce for hiring and retaining the best and brightest?”

As with many things, a good recruitment practice itself doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Why is this? As a hiring manager or HR professional, you can know all the latest and best practices in recruiting and interviewing, but if you don’t also apply these practices within the context of your own company, they won’t have much impact on your ability to improve your hiring practices.

Here are four concepts that are often overlooked in hiring practices.

1. Your company is a complete entity unto itself and any individual you add to it will either help sustain its culture or change it. To leverage this idea in your hiring practices, you must fully understand the business climate (i.e., the entity) you’re operating within. This isn’t about knowing the job description for the position you’re filling. Don’t get me wrong – this is important, and I wouldn’t advise trying to hire someone without having a job description. But this is about understanding the current company culture, what’s working within it and what’s not working any longer, and hiring based on this. Here’s an example:

Company ABC places a very high value on teamwork, so much so that they’ve become conflict avoidant. This has caused problems when individuals on a team don’t agree and won’t openly address the issue. The team becomes ineffectual as a result. You happen to be interviewing for a new position on that same team. So you might decide to hire someone who is both comfortable addressing conflict and good at conflict resolution. To the extent that this individual affects the conflict avoidance issue on the team, hiring this person will change the culture in a positive way.

During a recruitment process, ask yourself if there’s a particular quality, skill, or way of viewing the world that your company needs and that you could hire for. What can be realistically changed (i.e., avoid the sacred cows in your culture!)?

2. As human beings, each of us comes with lots and lots of data. In an interview process, you need to be good at paying attention and understanding what it all means. There are tons of best practices for conducting interviews and asking effective interview questions. This is good information to know if it helps you avoid the not-so-effective questions (i.e., questions that don’t really tell you anything). But once you’ve asked the best questions, you need to understand what makes a good answer and what kinds of answers should send up a warning flag.  Many times, something the candidate says will spark a follow-up question. In my experience, it’s usually the follow-up questions that provide the most insight into a candidate. Don’t just ask one question and stop there. Explore more, dig a little deeper.

3. Every company has a cliff. You need to know where the edges of the trail are and not fall off. By this I mean, what are we willing to do, give up or change to hire this person (i.e., the trail)? And, equally important, what are we not willing to do, give up or change no matter what (i.e., the cliff)? The ability to successfully navigate this path has a lot to do with being tolerant of taking risks. It’s a risk to hire someone if the job offer pushes the edges of the trail you’re on. Your hiring practices may end up upsetting your company structure or values somewhere down the line. And it’s also a risk to be clear about where the cliff is and not waver from the trail. You may end up having to start the recruitment process over if your top candidate rejects the offer. It may feel like you’re losing out on a top talent you can’t find elsewhere. Which brings me to my last point:

4. It’s not a perfect world and there is no perfect candidate. I hear of companies that spend hours and hours and days with job applicants before they make a hiring decision. In some instances, depending on the job you’re hiring for, this makes sense and is necessary. But many times this method is used as a way to alleviate our anxiety about making the wrong hiring decision. After all, how can we possibly know all we need to know about a person in a few 1- or 2-hour interviews? Maybe you can’t know everything, but you can know enough. At NRG Systems, I think we've figured out how to know enough to make hiring decisions. We have to be good at these other things too, so we are able to make a few short hours with a total stranger arrive at a positive outcome. And in the end, I’ve come to accept that we’ve likely rejected someone who would be a good fit for the job and our company.

No recruitment process is perfect. Just as no candidate is perfect. Thankfully, there are a lot of stars out there and a lot of ways to maintain a top workforce.