Hiring the wrong person can be very costly. Not only are you deprived of an excellent employee, there’s the frustration of dealing with a bad one, possibly the cost of recruiting and retraining a replacement and the cost and stress of a wrongful termination suit.

Hiring is critical. Do it wisely:

Initial Screening

Applicants may not be what they seem: They may have hired someone to write their cover letter and résumé, and even if they did their own work, they may have lied or exaggerated, which is all too common. So create your pool of applicants by soliciting referrals from colleagues and friends. They're unlikely to refer a clunker.

Have applicants include a work sample: a report, business plan, software they developed, video of a lesson they taught, whatever is most relevant to the target job.

Have applicants take a brief online assessment: a simulation(s) of a key task required on that job. To help ensure that applicants do their own work, the job announcement should say that interviewed candidates will be asked to do a similar simulation in-person.

Some employers now use outside firms to develop such assessments. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about HireArt. A LinkedIn Influencer article touted OptimizeHire. A Forbes article touted HireVue, which creates programming contests to screen applicants for tech jobs.


Interviews are notoriously invalid. For example, a Psychological Bulletin summary of 85 years of personnel selection research across 500 fields finds that job interviews predict job performance poorly. These can improve interviews' validity:

Ask each applicant the same questions. That enables you to fairly compare them. To retain a measure of flexibility, at the end, ask questions specific to that applicant.

Most important, probe the achievements they state on the resume. Keep asking questions until you really understand how knowledgeable, intelligent, thoughtful, and resilient they were in that accomplishment they touted on their resume.

Also critical:  job simulations. They are less coachable and more valid than are stock interview questions such as, "Tell me about yourself?" For example, for a management position, have each candidate run a brief meeting leading a discussion, explaining a concept and motivating the team to do a tough project.

The following interview questions are built on ideas in Lew Adler’s LinkedIn article." They yield important information and because the correct answer isn't obvious, candidates are more likely to say what they really believe rather than what they think you want to hear:

Here are six tasks. How enthusiastic would you be about spending a chunk of each workweek on such tasks? Include three tasks that are key to the job and three that aren't. If the candidate is very enthusiastic about all six, it could mean the responses aren't honest.

Some people are happiest as part of a team, others mainly working on their own. What works better for you?

Are you motivated mainly by money, difficult tasks, working on a team, an inspirational boss or doing good for the world? (Does the candidate's motivators match what you can offer?)

What did you like best and least about your previous bosses?

A boss can be a close monitor or laissez-faire. With which type do you work better?

(For managerial candidates:) Of course, factors beyond your control can make a project late and over budget. What fraction of your projects have been either or both?

For most professional-level positions, consider prioritizing intelligence and drive over skills and experience. For example, a Harvard Business Review article stated, "IQ remains the best predictor of managerial success." So you might want to give interviewed candidates a reasoning test, for example, the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test and a measure of initiative such as the Situational Judgment Test of Initiative. Warning: The government's increased promulgation of "Disparate Impact" lawsuits means you should be prepared to demonstrate the job-relatedness and business necessity of using any selection criterion that would adversely impact applicants of a race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This explains.

After the Interview

Give little weight to references the candidate provides–Even bad candidates can usually come up with good references, for example, getting their romantic partner to pretend s/he's the candidate's boss.. Speak with other people at the candidate's previous employer(s.) Describe the position and say you'd really appreciate the person’s opinion on whether the candidate would be excellent on that important job. That increases your chances of getting a candid response. Even if the person says that policy is to not give references, the tone may be instructive. A bubbly, "We can't give out references but Mary worked here and left voluntarily," says one thing. The same words said monotonically and hesitantly says the opposite.

If possible, offer the winning candidate a trial employment. Even using all the above strategies, it's no slam dunk that the candidate will work out. And once the person is given a "permanent" position, terminating him or her can be very difficult. A week's or even a day's trial can be valuable insurance.

Making the Choice

The method above should help you choose a great employee.

When in doubt, you might want to select a candidate with a "flaw," such as age, weight or looks, that could possibly limit their success in the marketplace but that has little or no impact on job performance. Such employees are more likely to stay with you.

Whom to hire may be your most important work decision. Take the time to do it wisely.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia.

You are reading

How To Do Life

"Malone Alone"

A reclusive person's story.

A Voice of Moderation in the Time of Trump

The Eminents interview with Robert Samuelson, a “messy moderate."

Better Informational Interviewing

An update to an ever less effective tool for choosing a career.