What makes a “good” employee? It starts with fit.

When shopping for shoes, few would seriously consider getting a size 12 if they had size 10 feet – even if the shoes were really great or a super bargain. Yet, that’s what is you are doing when you pick hire someone for your small business that does not fit the role. So how do you go about getting a good fit?

1. Define the role.

What is the main reason for this position in your organization? Is it to ensure customer satisfaction, sell your products, design efficient operations? In other words, if you have the “right” person in this role and they are well supported, how will your business be better off?

What are the key responsibilities of this role? If you’re hiring a salesperson, will they be making outgoing calls, taking incoming calls or both? Will they be responsible for keeping your customer data (CRM) up to date? Do they need to travel? If so, how many days/week are they expected to be away from home? Do they have any merchandizing responsibilities? What do you expect in terms of their input on product or service selection? What is their contribution to customer retention?

What skills and experience are needed? Is a college degree or some specialized training or certification required? How about the demonstrated ability to clearly communicate, collaborate and work well as a team member, or supervise others? Are there any physical requirements? Will they need a driver’s license?

2. Select finalists on the basis of how closely they match what you need.

Make a list of what you are seeking, based on the role definition. Go through resumes, cover letters and applications carefully to learn how well each fits. In today’s job market, you may get many replies. Even so, your ideal candidate(s) may not apply. If there are no matches, your ad may need clarification or you may need to search elsewhere. If you post internally – and it’s almost always a good idea to do so – be sure to mention the opening and what you’re seeking to current staff.

3. Interview systematically.

Prepare a list of open-ended questions to ask candidates that will help you to gauge whether they have what you want. “Do you have supervisory experience?” will get you a yes or no answer. The candidate’s response to “Tell me about a time when you and a subordinate disagreed about how to handle something. What did you do?” will get you provide a better understanding of the person’s skills and approach. Ask all the questions of each every candidate and make notes about what you learned in terms of fit. Interview everyone on your short list.

Consider having more than one person interview each candidate. It’s often very helpful to have another person’s perspective.

4. Wait for the right person.

Here’s where the shoes come into play. An unqualified candidate is not better than no one. It’s fine to hire a less than perfect fit with lots of potential if you also have a plan for to bring the individual up to speed and you make allowances for the fact that they won’t be able to contribute at the level you need until that happens. Hiring someone you “like” and hoping for the best rarely works out in the long run.

Bad hires are expensive and demoralizing for your staff. You may need to ask your current staff to work overtime or cut back on an some initiatives while you’re searching. Since you will invest spend time and money in getting the person oriented and trained, make that investment in someone who has good potential for making the contribution to your organization that prompted you to hire in the first place.


Since 1991, Laurie Breitner has assisted organizations with operational improvement, organizational development and strategic planning. Learn more at http://www.lauriebreitner.com.

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