Finding the right employee and retaining a successful team starts with a successful hiring process. How can you avoid common hiring problems and mistakes?

First steps

Effective hiring is the foundation for a thriving business. Turnover is expensive, so it’s essential to invest the proper amount of time needed to hire the right person. Many employee relations problems result from hiring the wrong person for the job, which can have a negative effect on both the morale and productivity of the entire team. Many times, employers are left wondering what went wrong when a new hire is not what they expected and lacked the necessary skills for the position.

Would it surprise you to learn that, in many cases, the decision to hire someone happens within the first five minutes of meeting him or her? Oftentimes, applicants are hired for their charm instead of their job-related knowledge, skills, and abilities. This kind of snap decision also happens when the applicant’s personality is similar to that of the interviewer.

There are even times (and they happen more frequently than you might assume) when the need for additional help is so dire that a practice will practically take the first candidate who can form a complete sentence. I refer to this as the “warm body” syndrome; that is, the thought of “a body” is better than having “no body.” It is exactly this type of hiring mistake that can lead to problems in the workplace.

The first step in making a successful hiring decision is to truly understand what is needed to perform the job. Refer to the position’s job description to ensure that you understand the position’s requirements. If no job description is available, discuss the open position with the staff member who knows the most about the position’s duties or with someone who holds a similar position at a colleague’s practice. After your discussion, create a written description.

Call for applications

Once you know what you need, it’s time to publicize the position. Applicants should be asked to submit an employment application with their résumé. The employment application will give you a snapshot of the applicant’s experience, previous earnings, and length of employment at previous jobs.

  • When reviewing employment applications, pay special attention to the following:
  • Omission of important items, such as experience.
  • Missing information or gaps in employment history.
  • Apparent inability to stick with a job for a reasonable time period.
  •  An 800 number listed as a personal phone number.
  • No contact information provided for previous employers.
  • Only friends and family listed as references.
  • “Victim-like” responses to questions on the employment application about why he or she left prior jobs, such as management complaints.
  • Questions about criminal convictions left blank.
  • Answers entered on the employment application that are inconsistent with the candidate’s résumé.
  • Failure to sign the application.

View such applications, as well as those that are incomplete, as potential “red flags.” It would be wise to pursue other applicants.

Pick up the phone

Once you have selected a pool of applicants, conduct a quick telephone interview before anyone is brought into the office. This step can help you to narrow the pool considerably and presents an opportunity to address any questions you have about the application or résumé, such as the applicant’s duties and responsibilities with a previous employer. The same questions should be asked of all applicants during the telephone interview; failure to do so can open the door to claims of discrimination.

Meet in-person

Preparation is key to avoiding mistakes during the interview. Before the candidate even arrives, prepare yourself for the interview by reviewing the job description. Develop interview questions in advance. Make sure that the room in which the interview will be conducted offers comfortable lighting and temperature.

Begin the interview by explaining the hiring procedure. This explanation will give the candidate a chance to become acclimated to his or her surroundings.

Once you begin the interview, ask pointed questions and let the applicant do most of the talking. As a rule of thumb, the applicant should talk 80 percent of the time. There are several ways to encourage applicants to talk:

  •  Avoid interrupting the candidate.
  • Paraphrase and reflect on the candidate’s comments, then ask follow-up questions.
  • Use silence. Silence is especially useful for the evasive candidate or one that is holding back information.
  • Communicate on the level of each applicant. Language and terminology used should match the job you are attempting to fill. For example, if you have an entry-level administrative position available, the interview questions should not be as technical as if you were interviewing for a dentist partner or associate position.

No matter how well you screen the candidates, be aware that you may be faced with someone who is completely unsuitable for the job. Some of these candidates may present specific challenges during the interview.

When the interview is complete, thank the applicant and ask whether he or she has any questions. Depending on your office policy, you should also indicate whether or when the applicant can expect a follow-up call or letter.

Check and recheck

After finding your dream employee, slow down and take the time to perform background and reference checks. Remember, you are bringing someone new into the inner sanctum of your practice.

One way to assess an applicant is to conduct reference checks. The upside of reference checks is that they give you a feel for how well the applicant performed at his or her previous jobs. However, due to increasing litigious concerns, many previous employers will provide only basic information, such as dates of employment, title, and rate of pay. As the information that you obtain may be limited, you should not base your final hiring decision solely on reference checks.

Most states require that a legitimate job offer be made prior to conducting a background check. However, not all states allow public access to statewide records information. Because of this variation, you should consult with a lawyer to determine what is required in your state before digging into an applicant’s background and personal life. During a background check, civil, criminal, and credit history information is researched. All job offers should be contingent on positive results of the background check. Please note that if the applicant has worked or lived in multiple states, background checks will take longer to complete. If this is the case, you should have the results from at least one state before the applicant is allowed to start working. The applicant should be made aware that background checks for the other states are pending and that he or she will be notified should any questions arise.

Effective hiring is much more important than many professionals realize. Those who recognize the importance of this process will minimize employee turnover, which can dramatically impact an office’s bottom line. A thorough review of candidates ensures that you’ll find the right person for the job.

Common Interviewer Mistakes

Don’t start by explaining all the job details, expectations, and qualifications. This makes it easy for smart applicants to tailor their answers to the job description.

Focus on the candidate. Copious note-taking on your part can cause applicants to lose focus and freeze up.

Don’t ask closed-ended questions. The majority of your questions should be open-ended so the applicant doesn’t simply respond with “yes” or “no” answers.

Nightmare Interview Candidates

The Professional Interviewer. This candidate knows all of the right answers to your interview questions. Pin this individual down to determine his or her true qualifications. Ask specific and probing questions about what he or she has done and request examples. Don’t be fooled by buzzwords.

The Motor Mouth. This candidate continually wanders off on different tangents and needs to be led back on track to avoid wasting time. Interrupt this person with key questions.

The Perfect Candidate. This candidate believes that he or she is perfect and makes that belief known by continually emphasizing how right he or she is for the position. These candidates, however, may not be open to learning new and innovative ways of working or even different ways to do the same task. The interviewer should ask the candidate about a situation in which he or she had to adapt to a new manager or procedure and how he or she reacted to that situation.

The Politician. This candidate never gives a straight answer and may evade an issue by bringing up another topic. Force these candidates to be specific by using clear and probing questions.

The Questioner. This candidate tries to turn the tables and conduct the interview by asking too many questions. Maintain control over the interview by redirecting the candidate back to the questions that need to be answered to assess if the candidate is a right fit for the position.

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(About the Author: Michele O’Donnell joined the team in January 2007 and currently leads MMC’s elite team of HR Consultants. Ms. O’Donnell has been involved in the Human Resources industry for more than 14 years, bringing vast training and management experience to the MMC leadership ranks. Her experience spans the broad scope of labor law, regulatory compliance and HR Best Practices, drawn from her rich experience as Director of HR for several firms throughout her career. She currently works to ensure that MMC’s consultants forge long lasting relationships with our clients, fostered in exceptional service and unsurpassed HR expertise. Ms. O’Donnell earned her baccalaureate degree in Business Administration from Auburn University before receiving her Masters degree in Human Resource Management from Troy State University.)