< Tools & Tips
Hiring the Best People for Your Agency
The November 2002 legislation by which Congress established the Department of Homeland Security also included provisions that give
all Federal agencies more flexibility with respect to hiring. The
new flexibilities allow government agencies to implement recruiting
practices more akin to those used in the private sector.
One of the most important provisions related to hiring essentially
replaced the "Rule of Three," which for years had limited managers to
selecting from the top three candidates identified by their Human
Resources office. Under the new rules, managers have the option of
interviewing all of the candidates that meet the standard of
"best-qualified" for a given position. This should greatly increase the
chances that managers will be able to identify a candidate who is a good
fit for the needs of their office.
While the new hiring rules are widely viewed as a good thing, greater
authority for hiring officials also means greater responsibility.
In order to be able to achieve the results Congress intended when
crafting the new rules, it is vital that all managers who are involved
in the hiring process become familiar with the full range of recruitment
options and develop the skills necessary to make the best possible
hiring decisions. (The fact that few managers have received proper training
for recruitment and hiring may actually explain why the
new rules have
been used so little thus far.)
This article is intended to get managers
pointed in the right direction in their effort to sharpen their hiring
Hiring Best Practices
The following suggestions are intended to help you in making the best hiring
decisions within the limitations of your agency's hiring policies.
Step 1: Things to do Before Advertising the Position
- Decide to take ownership of the hiring process. HR manages the
process, but you as the future supervisor of the employee have the greatest
stake in getting the right person on board.
- Learn your agency's rules regarding the recruiting process to
make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities as a hiring
- Sit down with the HR person
responsible for recruiting for your work unit to make sure he/she
understands what type of people you hope to hire. Agree on a
strategy for recruiting the best candidates possible.
- Rewrite the
job vacancy announcement to make sure it provides a clear and detailed
explanation of the job. The vacancy announcement should give the real flavor of what
the position involves, and should describe the good and the bad elements of the job. Faced with a clear picture of the job, a number of
potential candidates may recognize
that they would not be a good fit and choose not to apply. (Note: This is a good thing. If an applicant doesn't think
that they will be a good fit, you can be pretty sure that they won't be.) Effective job
descriptions also enable you to avoid wasting precious time describing
the position during the interview.
Step 2: Advertising the Position and the Pre-Interview Process
- Advertise the position widely, proactively targeting applicant pools
that might be a good
source of candidates for the specific job (e.g. colleges for entry level
- Prepare a list of questions to ask all candidates.
Include several different kinds of questions during the interview to
determine not just the
candidate’s qualifications, but also their interpersonal skills,
manageability, attitudes, values,
etc. You should be especially alert for candidates who seem to be
combative, cynical, judgmental, blaming or manipulative (to name just
a few characteristics that can be poison in the workplace).
- Analyze each interview candidate’s résumé critically before the
interview, and prepare a few open-ended questions about some of the
accomplishments described on the résumé to determine if there is real
substance to back up their claims.
Step 3: The Interview and Decision-Making Process
- Do not hesitate to interview as many as 20 candidates to fill one
key position. Remember: your hiring decision
could have implications for the chemistry and effectiveness of your work unit for the next 20-30 years.
- Trust your instincts. For example, do you have a nagging
suspicion that a very strong candidate was
not being completely
forthcoming in describing why he left his last job? If so, there
may well be a serious problem with that candidate.
- Don't be overly impressed by experience. An individual can spend many
years doing a given kind of work without accomplishing anything significant.
A track record of accomplishment and growth is a much better indicator of future
- Assign each candidate a numerical score right after the interview, based
on their responses to your previously prepared questions. This will provide you with a simple mechanism
to compare all
candidates after you finish with the interviews.
- Carefully check the references of your top candidates (you may often be
surprised by what you learn).
- If you
interview all of the qualified candidates and none of them are up to your high
standards, it is better to re-advertise the position than accept a
candidate with whom you are not completely satisfied.
Step 4: The Probationary Period
Using the strategies described above will greatly enhance your ability to
hire the right people. No process can predict performance with 100 percent
accuracy, however, so when things do not work out it is crucial that you use the
probationary period to weed out new hires who do not make your work unit
stronger. In Good to
Great for the Social Sectors, Jim Collins argues that public managers
should use the probationary period to keep only the top performers.
It is not easy to fire employees in government once they have made it past the
probationary period, argues Collins, so managers should use the probationary
period as a tool to ensure that only the best new employees stay "on the bus."
Hiring the best people is a lot of work. It is well worth the
time invested, however, as your decisions about who to hire--and whether to keep
them--are among the most
important decisions you will ever make for your work unit.
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