These days, the recruitment role in HR has morphed into Talent Acquisition.  Interesting.  Why do you think we are now focusing on talent?  Is that all there is to it?  Are we just looking for someone who can do a good job?  What if that’s a misnomer?  Are we really looking for simply talent – or is there more, is talent only part of the picture?  If I asked you to look at this painting what would you miss?  The subject of a painting is enhanced by its context.  What surrounds it is used by the artist to bring the painting to life and tell a story.  Finding great staff is a little like finding a great painting – and it’s an art in itself!


Working in the recruitment environment gives a unique window into the world of work and particularly the considerable amount of thought and decision making involved in choosing the right person for the job, the right fit.  Interview questions are agonised over to ensure the right information is extracted from the applicant.  The problem is that interviews are limited in the kind of insight about an individual that might determine whether they are a right fit or not.


I remember a guy telling me once he secured an interview for a job he knew he couldn’t do but wanted to have a go at.  He knew that on the interview panel was the outgoing employee.  In a break between interviews, and before his, my acquaintance managed extract as much information about the role as he could from the bloke who was leaving.  Sufficient information in fact to be able to answer the interview questions adequately and secure the job!  He only lasted 6 weeks.


It is not uncommon for employees to resign or be sacked within the 3 month probationary period.  Staff turnover is a substantial cost to every business, estimated to be at least a person’s annual salary, and with the average being 2.5 times annual salary it is costly making mistakes and getting the wrong people.  Some recent research by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) found Australia came last in a list of 11 developed countries when it came to staff leaving within 1 year, at 23%.  So nearly 1 in 4 new employee’s leaves their job before their first 12 months is up! This is really unfortunate for all parties.  In the survey, it found the country with the lowest turnover is the Netherlands with a turnover rate at only 4% of new hires leaving within 12 months.


So, the need for making the right decision the first time could never be more pressing.  These statistics show that in Australia we are doing something incredibly wrong.  If you have had a similar experience of a new hire leaving within an unacceptably short period of time and you have not reconsidered your hiring methodology, I’d strongly suggest you do.  But how?  Traditionally, recruitment interviewing follows the behavioural approach.  The problem is that is not too difficult to fudge your answers if you prepare strongly.  What other tack can you take?


Know your Company’s Personality

While you must take care not to define your company branding in terms that might violate the equal employment laws (for example, calling your workforce “young and energetic”), there are ways to think about the work environment that can help you pick employees who will be a good fit.

  • Is the atmosphere at the office formal or relaxed — for example, is everyone on a first name basis?
  • What is the dress code?
  • Are projects completed collaboratively or do most people work by themselves?
  • Is there an undercurrent of competition, such as for sales, customers or who gets selected for certain projects?
  • Do people tend to work “9 to 5” or at odd hours?
  • What’s the unstated work ethic?


The answers to these and similar questions will create a company profile that should guide the employee selection process.  Being able to effectively characterise a company’s personality to prospective employees can help identify candidates that will mesh well with your workforce — and those who should probably continue their job search.  Not only should you consider the culture fit, you also need to look at the motivation fit.  Is the candidate motivated by the money or working for your company?  Have they done their research about your company so that they understand who they would be working for, not just what they would be working at?


Identify the Soft Skill Job Attributes

When thinking about the position you need to fill, don’t forget to determine the subjective skills a successful employee will have.  There may be a dozen candidates who meet the job’s technical criteria, and only by considering the job’s soft skills can interviewers decide between otherwise equally qualified candidates.  Use the position’s subjective needs to frame effective interview questions.

Factors to consider include:

  • Amount of interaction with customers or clients
  • Frequency of discord and conflict from customers or clients (such as in a customer service position)
  • Amount of collaboration with co-workers, subordinates or superiors
  • Whether individual achievements are recognised and rewarded
  • Length of deadlines and number of projects to be handled at one time

Do you have a list of soft skills for the role?  How can you determine if the applicant possesses some or all of these?  You might try case studies or role plays to test the interviewees’ ability to handle a common scenario in your workplace.  If you have the time perhaps they could go out on the road with a salesperson or accompany a manager on a client visit.  Have you considered taking them out for a coffee and conduct the interview more informally?  Sometimes stories will come to the surface that might not arise in a more formal interview setting.  Finding great staff is an art and involves taking time, setting up the right environment and framing the right questions to ensure a complete understanding of the applicant is determined.  The extra time and care you can invest in getting the ‘whole picture’ of this individual the better.  It will save much more time and money than having to rehire and retrain a replacement.


Written by Meredith Telfer, Careers Specialist 

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