Employing the right person – what to do!

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If you have ever had the experience of appointing the wrong person for a job, you will also be familiar with the costs and frustrations that this can cause for the person, as well as clients and other employees. Fortunately, much research has been done in this field and there are a few guidelines that can be followed in order to limit the risk of making the wrong choice.

Specifying the Requirements for Success

Accurate job specifications capture both the work to be completed and the requirements for job success. Essentially, the following areas need to be described in a job specification:

  • What needs to be done: The different activities that are to be performed.
  • What minimum education is required: E.g. Grade 12.
  • What minimum skills and experience people need: e.g. working with customers, computer skills.
  • What personal characteristics are needed: e.g. enjoys working with people, works well under pressure.
  • Remuneration and working environment: Salary, benefits and working conditions.

While this can take some time, it is time well spent as the success of all the subsequent steps taken in the recruitment process depends on how accurately the specification is compiled. An often overlooked aspect is the personal characteristics that will be needed for the job. For example, when selecting candidates for a sales position, one would focus on someone who enjoys persuading and negotiating.

Advertising and Screening

After specifying the minimum requirements for the position, one needs to then advertise the job in the best possible way. This can be through word of mouth or advertising, which needs to be attractive as well as realistic in describing the job to be performed. In the case of word of mouth, lessons learnt from hard experience are that considering close friends or family is less often a successful route to follow.

A mistake often made here is also that of not seeing enough applicants for the position. Ideally one would see at least 3 applicants per position. Again, while this may take more time, research indicates that this more often results in selecting the best candidate for the position.

The Interview

Once candidates have been short-listed, one needs to prepare the interview questions. Although interviews are not one of the most objective ways of gathering information, research indicates that we can improve their effectiveness through preparing a list of questions beforehand and then asking all the applicants more or less the SAME question, and giving each candidate a score according to the person requirements specified.

When preparing the questions it is also advisable to start with easier questions about experience in order to allow some rapport to develop. Research also indicates that interviews are much more effective when they are conducted as PANEL interviews with more than one person interviewing, thus limiting the influence of individual bias. Again, this is more of a time investment but is likely to yield far superior results as it increases the level of objectivity.


In addition to the above, many companies make use of psychometric assessments in order to make their selection process more objective. There are many tests available that can measure abilities required in a role such as verbal reasoning, numerical abilities, and the potential to learn new information, as well as personality and motivational characteristics that could be required for success in the role. While this could increase the recruitment costs, research shows that using these assessments in conjunction with interviews significantly increases the probability of appointing the best candidate for the position. These assessments can also often highlight factors which could be further explored during the interview.

Reference checking

It is advisable to obtain at least 3 recent references. When conducting the reference check, a useful approach is to ask the referee to rate the person on each requirement on a numerical scale. One should also ensure that one establishes what the referee considers the person’s strengths AND development areas.

Getting it right

Appointing the right person is never easy, and there are no guarantees. However, the following tips can limit the risk of the wrong appointment:

  1. Compile a clear job specification
  2. Interview at least 3 applicants per position
  3. Compile a standard questionnaire and score applicants consistently against the required areas
  4. Conduct panel interviews
  5. Use assessments to obtain more information
  6. Conduct multiple reference checks