Recruit right: A guide to finding the best fit

A guide to finding the best fit

Best friendships are often forged on the flimsiest of reasons: liking the same hockey team, a love of shopping, or just a common outlook on life. It seems many new employees these days are hired the same way, on “feel” rather than hard qualifications. Indeed, according to Waterstone Human Capital Ltd.'s 2005 Canadian Corporate Culture Study, nearly 75% of Canadian managers hire for fit first, and only 22% make their decisions based on the skills prospects have. Recruiters, apparently, subscribe to Albert Einstein's belief that “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Hiring based solely on whether someone will fit in with your corporate culture, though, can be perilous for the inexperienced. For one thing, qualifications are important, too. It's true that some skills–such as technical knowledge–can be taught on the job; but softer competencies like motivation and executive disposition are much harder to pass along. For another, everybody looks good on paper and will, of course, be dynamic, personable and generally fabulous. That's why Michael Stern, president and CEO of Toronto executive search firm Michael Stern Associates Inc., is a big believer in using as many evaluation methods as possible. “You know you've hired a very good candidate about a year later,” says Stern. “Everything other than that is an attempt to close the uncertainty until then. One interview will close it somewhat, several will close it more, and we do references, psych assessments, police checks, identity checks, driver's records abstracts.”

Of course, in this day and age of privacy, consent has to be secured to do this kind of checking. Even a middle manager can run $100,000 to hire when you factor in salary, search fees and time spent. So every mistake adds up, says Jocelyn Bérard, managing director of DDI Canada, a human-resources consultancy in Toronto. She works by the maxim: hire slowly, fire fast. Sure, it's competitive out there, especially for the top talent, but Bérard says recruitment should be treated like any other investment, so a complete assessment–including experience and past challenges, knowledge, competencies and behaviours, and traits and values–is paramount.

Yes, Bérard says a company has to figure out whether a candidate fits into its culture–assuming it has figured out what that is. (According to the Waterstone survey, 62% of companies don't measure culture at all.) But it also has to consider the job itself and the working environment. Psychometric questionnaires can reveal a person's core values–such as power, leadership and team play–but behavioural interviews, especially when done by a variety of people, can root out inconsistencies.

The key to interviewing, says Stern, is to get prospects off message. In many cases, a candidate has either been coached or has done enough interviews to know exactly what to say. So it's important to get beyond well-rehearsed answers. One way to do that is to keep asking, “What do you mean by that?” until the interviewee has to really think about her answer. Another trick Stern uses is to ask off-balance questions, such as: When is it OK to lie? How far would you go to close a deal? What does independence mean to you? The answers will give you far more insight into character and values, and, ultimately, whether a person will be the right fit.

The most common pitfall of hiring for culture fit, says Bérard, is selecting a carbon copy of yourself. Every management book and theory says a variety of skill sets and styles is needed to make a company work. But that's tough to achieve in practice, says Marty Parker, managing director at Waterstone in Toronto. To get around the problem, get several people involved in the hiring process so that there are more opinions and perspectives–and more of an opportunity to balance one person's bias. As Parker notes: “Business is a team sport, generally.”

5 ways to hire smart

Hire slow, fire fast: Take the time to properly assess each candidate before signing anyone.

Dig deep: Ask probing questions to get prospects off message.

Check 'em out: Use every available technique from interviews to questionnaires to profile prospects.

Check 'em in: The more opinions you get about someone, the better you'll know them.

Hire for value, not cost: Don't penny-pinch a “perfect” candidate.