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Hiring Smart; How to Avoid the Top Ten Mistakes

What’s your company’s most valuable asset? The obvious answer is your employees. Yet, while we all appreciate the value of talent, most of us spend more time selecting a new copier than we do hiring a new employee. Why? Well, to start with, hiring is a time-consuming, disruptive task. With chemical industry executives and management being stretched thin and asked to handle ever-increasing responsibilities, who has the time and energy to become an expert at hiring? (Even your HR department does not have enough time to devote to the process!)

But when hiring isn’t given the full attention it deserves, mistakes are made—mistakes that can create extraordinary losses of time, capital, human resources and customers and even your competitive advantage.

So, how do your stack the odds in your favor and make the right choices? By putting an organized process in place that assures you avoid the common hiring pitfalls, that’s how. Here are the top ten most frequent and costly hiring errors made in the chemical industry and some practical suggestions to help you avoid them.

1. Hiring not viewed strategically

Many companies regard their hiring process merely as the method of filling job openings. For many employers, HR takes the lead on identifying and interviewing suitable candidates. If senior decision makers are involved at all, it’s often a formality. Yet staffing is a strategic issue that can significantly affect your bottom line.

My advice: don’t be reactive. Instead, take responsibility for planning organizational needs, anticipate attrition, develop bench strength in critical areas, and strengthen your relationship with an executive search partner. I don’t want to make too blatant of a sales pitch here, but when partnering with an executive search partner, make sure you select one who specializes in the chemical industry and ideally has experience in your niche. An established niche recruiter will have a pipeline of hard-to-find talent, invaluable insight into the current hiring market, and can make a huge difference in your level of hiring success. 

2. Outdated or inadequate position profiles

How can you take aim if you don’t know what your target looks like? To help target qualified candidates, accurate job descriptions are essential. But they are only part of a complete profile, which should include the following:

  • Necessary experience, skills, and talents
  • Outline of desired personality traits
  • Description of the corporate culture—even qualified people won’t succeed if their values and the values of the organization aren’t in alignment.
  • Key selling points of the position (e.g., perks, career path, flexibility) and of the company (e.g., growth, market position, career opportunities)
  • Measurable job objectives and performance expectations

A detailed profile provides guidance to those who are reviewing the candidates, and it better ensures that each applicant is evaluated using the same criteria.

3. Too much reliance on traditional recruiting methods

The search for available talent is tough. There’s a lot of competition out there to find and hire the best. Print ads and job postings are no longer sufficient for uncovering the most desirable candidates. Challenge hiring managers to become more creative in their recruiting efforts. Techniques may include maintaining and nurturing a database of prospective candidates and former employees, creating in-house referral bonus programs, developing external recruiting networks, learning to conduct advanced Internet searches, and using professional search consultants.

Always be on the lookout for good employees. By increasing your pool of attractive candidates, there’s a better chance that you can find the perfect fit when planned or unplanned needs arise.

4. Candidates not properly prepped

Most applicants come into an interview with information from the want ad and perhaps the company Web page. Often, it’s policy not to provide applicants with information prior to the interview.

The fact is, it’s in your best interest to help promising candidates prepare for an interview. Provide information about products, services, technologies, competitors, and challenges, so you can discuss specific ways the candidate can help make the organization more profitable and successful. If you give them the appropriate tools to do well on the interview and they utilize them, chances are they will do the same on the job. And if the candidate doesn’t take advantage of the information, you’ve learned something equally important without wasting time in a lengthy but fruitless interview.

5. Too much concern over credentials

A strong resume should never be the primary hiring factor. Statistics show that as many as 30% of jobseekers exaggerate their accomplishments, and about ten percent “seriously misrepresent” their backgrounds.  Often resumes don’t cover every aspect of a candidates product or market experiences and some skills and abilities may not make it onto the resume as well.  So good candidates can be overlooked when too much weight is put on relying on what’s on the resume.

Hiring managers must learn to use resumes as the basis for developing probing questions that uncover the reality behind the credentials. Remember: past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. Start by evaluating a candidate’s true accomplishments to ensure the person is capable of doing the job. Then ask about behavioral traits to determine whether the candidate’s personality style is the right fit for your business. For example, to find out the kinds of behaviors candidates use to solve specific problems, ask the following types of questions:

  • “Can you give me an example of a time when…”
  • “In your last job, how did you…”
  • Ask questions that elicit emotional responses too.  How did that project make you feel and why?

Finally, don’t forget about thorough reference checks and background checks to validate your findings.


6. Unstructured interviews

Many hiring managers lack appropriate training to lead a structured interview—one centered on determining whether the candidate possesses the critical elements for success in the position. But a poor interview is better than no interview at all, right? In fact, the likelihood of hiring the best candidate after a round of bad interviews increases by less than 2%!

Interviewers must know what skills and behaviors they are looking for, and they must know how to find them in candidates. Asking the right questions is critical. Stick to specific and focused questions about the skills, experience, and traits being sought. Questions should be open-ended so candidates can provide examples of past accomplishments and behavior.

7. Inadequate reference checks

Ever notice how most resumes say “references available upon request?” Many companies don’t require such checks as a condition of employment. And yet past accomplishment is one of the truest indicators of future performance.

To get needed information when checking references, hiring managers should ask the following types of probing questions:

  • Situational questions, which focus on the candidate’s ability to perform well on the job
  • Relational questions, which reveal how a candidate handles interpersonal situations
  • Behavioral questions, which provide examples of behaviors that a candidate has demonstrated

Like the structured interview, reference checks should be carefully planned. The open-ended questions asked should confirm impressions and information the candidate provided during the interview.

8. Decision making process is either too short or too long

Both extremes yield poor results. Some companies make hasty decisions based on superficial information, or worse yet, gut instincts. Other companies run candidates through exhaustive interviewing and testing schedules, but when it’s time to hire, they hesitate too long and lose good people.

Either of these problems can be solved by establishing a defined decision-making process—one that includes a reasonable timeframe. If you reach the end of the timeframe with no suitable candidates in mind, let the applicants know they were not selected. A little honesty goes a long way. Stringing candidates along only to cut them lose in the end will only damage your reputation. A strong candidate should create a compelling urge to make a job offer within a reasonable amount of time.

9. Selections made without input from your team

In the words of a famous poet, no man is an island. In the workplace, potential new hires interact with a number of people in the organization. Neglecting to include critical team members in the hiring process can result in a bad hire and unnecessary disruption to workplace balance.

Depending on the position for which you are recruiting, each of the following groups may have a role in the selection process:

  • Co-workers and subordinates within the department
  • Co-workers and managers in associated departments
  • Members of executive management

The more your employees are involved, the greater the chance that the new hire will be a good fit.

10. Unclear expectations and weak orientations

You’ve welcomed aboard the successful candidate, but if the job isn’t what the person expected, chances are he or she won’t remain your employee for long. Make sure the new person has a thorough understanding of his or her responsibilities. And be sure to explain how performance is measured.

Good first impressions are critical, which is why employee orientations are so important. An employee who doesn’t feel like he or she is a part of the organization will probably leave. That’s why an effective orientation process is a gradual one. It aims to provide specific information at appropriate points on the job learning curve, including:

  • Basic facts (e.g., dress code, break times, timesheet instructions)
  • Introduction to the corporate culture
  • Big picture issues (e.g., company goals, company challenges)
  • Responsibilities and rewards
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Perseverance is the Key

If you recognize hiring mistakes you may currently be making, you’ve taken that important first step. It’s time now to work on correcting each mistake one at a time. It may take more than a little effort to fix the process, but ultimately, you’ll see the results in the form of a well-functioning, higher performing and more stable company. And in today’s competitive chemical industry, there’s no better investment you can make.



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