If you’re going to grow your company or achieve excellent levels of performance in your business unit, it’s going to be a lot easier if you hire top performers to begin with, rather than if you have to be constantly pushing and pulling average performers to new levels.

Reevaluate the Job Before Hiring

Before you even post the first job listing for a vacant position, you should do the following:

  • Reevaluate the mix of responsibilities assigned to the position.
  • Consider whether the current people are assigned to the most appropriate positions.
  • Prioritize the “must-have” qualifications for the job; the important qualifications; and the helpful, but less important, qualifications.

Promote the Job Opening Aggressively

Yes, you can use the obvious places, such as posting the job on your website and on the different job listing services on the Internet, and you can consider hiring an employment agency, but here are some other alternatives to consider:

  • Encourage current employees to mention the opening to friends. Consider offering a referral bonus, which many other companies do.
  • Put up a sign on your building—we’ve attracted many warehouse workers this way.
  • You can also access resume databases. You can find these at the job listing sites on the Internet and at college career services among other places.
  • Use professional sites, like LinkedIn, to try to zero in on candidates that might be a great fit, even though they might not be currently actively looking for a new position.

Do whatever you need to do to have a good quantity of qualified applicants to choose from.

Quickly Categorize All Applicants

Over the years, I’ve wasted huge amounts of time in the hiring process. So how does one become more efficient? Here is one strategy I’ve adopted: Immediately sort all candidate resumes into five categories, from the very best to the completely unqualified, and keep every resume sorted this way during the entire hiring process, moving resumes from one category to the next when new information makes this appropriate.

Phone Interviews Save Time!

One of the biggest time-savers in hiring is the phone interview. The best part about phone interviews is that there is no established protocol for minimum length. If you don’t like the candidate’s first few responses, you can simply say, “That’s all I have for today,” and move on to the next candidate.

Some hiring experts—like Peter Veruki, my coauthor for Adams Streetwise Hiring Top Performers—stress the importance of allowing the candidate advance notice to arrange a phone interview. But personally I prefer the candidate who’s ready to drop whatever he or she is doing and talk to me on the spot, at least for a more senior position.

During a phone interview, I like to get quickly to the knockout questions like availability, willingness to relocate or travel, and especially salary. If the candidate won’t give me at least a salary range over the phone, I won’t have him or her into the office for an interview.

Beyond the Standard References

How do you choose between top job candidates? References are a starting point, but I find that references supplied by candidates are becoming less useful every year—companies concerned about legal liability refuse to give references altogether, and many supervisors sugarcoat the performance of even employees that they’ve just fired. I put much more weight on whatever kind of reference I can find on my own—maybe from a coworker, a former customer, or someone who knew the candidate through a trade association.

I also like to simulate the actual work that the employee will perform. Editing tests, accounting tests, and sales and management decision-making scenarios have helped me make hiring decisions.

Even if the employee will report to me, I always get plenty of input from others, which also makes people feel more accepting of new hires. But the real reason I like to get input from others is because hiring top performers is very difficult and subjective. Even though I’ve hired hundreds of people, have run all kinds of businesses, and coauthored a book on hiring doesn’t mean I can’t get additional insight into a new hire from an entry-level person in my office who has never hired anyone. It’s a very subjective, subtle process. You want to proceed carefully with both eyes open and get input from everyone you can.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • A vacant position can be an opportunity to reevaluate the mix of positions and responsibilities that exist within the company.
  • Create a list of “must-have” and “nice-to-have” qualifications for the job.
  • Don’t just post the job—examine the alternative methods to find the best people.
  • Find a way to simulate the work the applicant would be expected to do.
  • Hiring is a subjective process—get input from others.