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Hiring the Right Person: An Overview

Hiring the Right Person: An Overview

This is the first article in MRSC’s series on the hiring process: Hiring the Right Person.

For most managers, the most important decisions you make are hiring decisions. Unfortunately many managers make a common mistake in their approach to hiring that results in making a poor choice.

Hiring for a vacant position is a rare opportunity to make positive change in an organization by adding great new employee. Getting the right individual in the right job is a critical building block for any thriving organization.

On the other hand, hiring the wrong person results in significant and sometimes incalculable costs to an organization. At best, the wrong hire results in short-term trauma, termination of the employee, and the expense of re-doing a hiring process. More commonly, the employee stays in the job and causes consistent headaches for the manager, repeated workload for Human Resources, and steady annoyance to co-workers and customers. At worst, the wrong hire can cause a city devastating losses in morale, competent staff, and even litigation.

Vacancies often occur with little notice and at a bad time. There rarely is a good time to divert attention and energy to an unexpected, time-consuming hiring process. Understandably a manager wants to refill the position as soon as possible. The rush to get someone in the job can lead a harried manager to focus the hiring process too narrowly and settle for an available candidate that has the technical skills to perform the job but lacks other key skills.

In my experience, technical skill is just one of three critical components an ideal candidate needs. The three skill areas are:

  1. Technical Skills: the body of specialized knowledge and professional experience required to perform the concrete job tasks;
  2. People Skills: the ability to effectively work with and communicate with other employees and customers;
  3. Critical Thinking Skills: the ability to perform reasoned thinking that is clear, open-minded, and informed by evidence.

One common mistake hiring managers make is to focus too much on #1 and too little on #2 and #3. But an effective employee must exercise all three elements to be successful at their job; technical skills alone do not suffice. We’ve all worked with individuals who could competently complete the list of required work tasks but who couldn’t get along with others or couldn’t effectively solve problems.

And not only are technical skills only 1/3 of the puzzle— they are often the most easily acquired or improved skill. Of course, someone who completely lacks technical skills isn’t an appropriate candidate. But someone with great people skills and critical thinking skills who is a little rusty in their technical skills can often quickly come up to speed with a little training or time. A great technician who lacks interpersonal skills is unlikely to suddenly learn them in the new job.

Managers who hire primarily for technical skills often find themselves telling HR: “the employee is great at their “job” but they just can’t seem to get along with co-workers or customers.” These managers have created their own problem by too narrowly defining what the “job” is in the first place. If you remember that the “job” includes consistent, successful performance of all three skill areas and design your recruitment and selection process accordingly, you have greatly increased your likelihood of finding an excellent employee who becomes a key player in your highly performing organization.

Stay tuned for future posts in our Hiring the Right Person series where we will explore the basic components of a recruitment and selection process, including a few ideas about how to make your processes more successful and more creative. Are there specific questions you’d like answered or topics you’d like to see covered about the hiring process? Let us know in the comments below.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Marci Wright

Marci Wright writes for MRSC as a guest author.

Marci Wright retired in 2014 after over 16 years as the City of Shoreline’s first Human Resources Director. Previously, she worked for Thurston County as Director of Employee and Administrative Services (1987 - 1997) and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney (1980 - 1987). Currently volunteering for MRSC she continues to be interested in the full range of human resource issues, especially training, facilitation and problem resolution.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.