If you’re a novice hirer, listen up – here’s how to pick a winner

Sam McKeith

Natasha Hawker has a simple message to start-ups on hiring – get it right the first time to save yourself a bundle of money in the long run.

With skill shortages now biting in a number of industries including tech and IT, Hawker, who helps small businesses manage their HR, says firms are having to compete harder for top talent.

For Aussie start-ups and SMEs, she said picking the right candidate was extra important because the time and cost it takes to recruit means small firms are usually under pressure to pick a winner the first time around.

Hawker, the founder of Sydney-based recruitment firm, Employee Matters, says to make a successful hire, start-ups first need to figure out if it makes financial sense to expand their team.

“Most people make some very common errors and the most common of these is that they talk too much and don’t listen."

After that, she says finding the right person for the job is all about acquiring nuts-and-bolts skills, with interviewing one of the most important.

“You actually need to up-skill yourself on interview technique,” she said.

“Most people make some very common errors and the most common of these is that they talk too much and don’t listen.

“The golden rule is 80-20, they should be listening 80 per cent of the time and asking questions 20 per cent.”

It’s also about asking the right types of questions, she says.

“If you dive deeper … their story will either hold up or it will fall apart.”

Many inexperienced bosses often take candidate responses at face value and move on to their next question instead of asking probing follow-ups.

“Most candidates are pretty savvy these days, they’ve worked out the standard questions they know they’re going to get and they tend to prepare fairly rote responses to that,” she said.

“If you dive deeper … their story will either hold up or it will fall apart.”

She says interview questions should fall into one of three categories – technical, behavioural and cultural.

Technical questions got at whether the candidate could do job, behavioural questions focus on past performance as an indicator of future actions, and cultural queries assess their fit in the workplace.

Hawker says cultural fit was one area particularly overlooked by novice hirers.

“A brief question to ask about that could be ‘tell me about an environment that you’ve loved working in, why did you love working in that environment?’”

Another big tip for newbie hirers is to adopt a “standard and a consistently used” recruitment process.

Hawker advises doing two interviews with candidates, as well as making sure you carry out reference and background checks, and psychometric testing.

“If you want to have a best practice process, that’s what you should be doing.”

Sam McKeith

Sam McKeith is Sydney-based media professional. He has contributed to many leading publications including The Huffington Post, The Australian Financial Review, The Australian and BRW Magazine. He was previously a senior reporter at the Australian Associated Press where he covered national affairs. 

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