Annual Meeting Reports

Best Hiring Practices

Hiring involves more than filling a position—it provides an opportunity to change one’s whole organization. Three knowledgeable employers described their experiences in identifying the diamonds in the rough.

Production Services Manager Nancy Devaux and Chief Executive Officer Adrian Stanley shared many opinions about hiring practices. Both emphasized the necessity of deciding one’s objectives ahead of time: What level of skill and training do you want your new employee to have? What qualities are most important? For example, do you need someone who will produce results fast, someone who will develop new ideas, or someone who is a strong leader? To avoid bias and keep focused, the objectives should be written out before you begin interviews because the best candidate might not be the person whom you like the most.

Devaux and Stanley both recommended taking one’s time when hiring and avoiding situations that require a quick decision. Look within your own organization first for qualified candidates, they said; it is better to retain engagement and loyalty than to hire new people. If hiring someone new, be clear about the job description and consider the professional and cultural fit of each candidate with your organization.

Devaux structures her interviews in three stages: an initial interview, a written assessment, and a followup interview. In the first interview, she advises combining standard questions with “dating– game-type questions” that yield unique responses. For example, ask how candidates approach challenges, failures, and supervision, but also ask them creative questions, such as, “If you were part of a bicycle, what part would you be?”

In the written assessments, Devaux includes questions about real situations to test job qualifications. She also includes questions to evaluate knowledge, writing skills, professionalism, and computer aptitude. In the second interview, a week later, Devaux introduces the key players in the organization (peers and supervisors) and has candidates shadow someone in the office. Afterward, both sides comment on the experience.

Stanley suggested that one strategy for hiring is to look within one’s company at the best employees—what qualities do they share? He counseled examining other companies that perform similar tasks and evaluating the qualities shared by their employees. He also recommended involving human-resources personnel and one’s colleagues in the hiring process. Avoid bias, he said, by having a way to score candidates evenly and by always keeping written notes of your own initial opinions before gathering information from others. For important positions, Stanley stated, consider offering trial periods, and do not be too discouraged if you make a bad hiring decision occasionally.

Stanley also discussed his experiences in hiring overseas. He cautioned employers to be aware of cultural and money differences—tax rules and family values differ greatly across borders. For overseas hiring, consider using a consultant, and definitely take local advice. And be prepared to pay to keep good employees.

American Meteorological Society Director of Publications Kenneth F Heideman gave a talk titled “When a ‘Miss’ Is a ‘Hit’”. In a “miss”, Heideman said, everything about a new hire seems good, but then the candidate leaves or is fired within months. Misses call everyone’s judgment into question and decrease morale. Sometimes, however, the opposite happens: a merely “adequate” candidate ends up being a “hit”, and these cases provide great opportunities for both employers and employees.

In corporate culture, Heideman said, employers typically look for “red flags”, but what are the signs that a candidate could develop into a superstar? Often it does not become apparent that you have someone with extraordinary skill sets until after the hiring. The key is to keep your assessment and expectations of each hire fluid. If it becomes clear that you have hired someone special, it is your job to cultivate the person’s skills in a way that maximizes his or her contribution to your department and organization, even if that far exceeds your initial impression of the person’s capabilities.