Know HR requirements to interview successfully.

Once you've established your business as the “Employer of Choice,” the next challenge becomes organized selection of employees. In business today, most managers are promoted from the ranks and given little if any training for their increased responsibilities. Learning by hard knocks is particularly risky when it comes to personnel matters. Interviewing and hiring are skills that one acquires over time, yet errors while learning can be quite costly. The good news is that many of the hazards can be mitigated by careful planning and documentation.

After both internal and external candidates have been identified, an organized interview process should follow. That means scheduling the interviews, preparing the documentation needed for the interviewers and selecting the procedure for narrowing down to the final selection. Each of these areas should be thought through and be consistent from candidate to candidate. Most companies schedule preliminary interviews, with limited interviewers, as a pre-screening process. Then, the smaller pre-qualified group can be interviewed in more depth.

As it relates to each individual interview, it's important to recognize that good candidates will be “sizing you up,” just as you are doing with them. So, put your best foot forward. Punctuality and organization are essential! Be prepared with pertinent questions in a logical flow. Begin by making the candidate comfortable and explaining the process. Ask increasingly challenging questions. Open-ended, behavioral questions, such as, “Tell me about a time when you couldn't meet a deadline,” can often be most revealing. Be ready to further probe their responses for how the situation turned out. Take notes - it's impossible to remember specifics later on and it shows genuine interest on your part.

All of your questions must relate to the applicant's ability to perform the job. No personal questions in areas related to age, health, disabilities, religion or marital status should be asked. It is, however, appropriate to ask questions directly related to an applicant's ability to perform any physical functions required by the job they are seeking. These physical functions should be included in the job description.

Interviewing is a two-way street. Let the candidate ask questions, paying particular attention to their preparation and whether they've done any research on your company. Candidly answer questions about the company, but avoid any misleading promises. Conclude the interview by soliciting any further questions and sharing the timetable in which they will next hear from you.

It's a good practice to have candidates sign a release allowing the company to check their references - which should be done in every case - and perform a background check. Certainly, drug testing is appropriate.

Job offers should be made formally, including all pertinent duties, responsibilities, reporting structure, compensation and benefits. These formal offers should be signed by both parties, if accepted, and placed in permanent personnel files. Candidates who have not been accepted should also receive prompt advisement, thanking them for their time and interest.

Finally, if you are offering an above-average environment, compensation and benefits for above-average people, the worst thing you can do is “throw newly hired employees to the wolves” when they report for work. Be prepared to indoctrinate and train new team members. The alternative is to be prepared to interview their replacements!

Human resource management isn't really that difficult. It takes understanding the laws and requirements, as well as planning and documentation. Most of the problems that occur are directly related to ignorance of the law - which is not an acceptable defense - or unwise shortcuts. Remember: Adherence to human resource management requirements has nothing to do with the size of your business!

Sidebar: Best Practices

Each month, we'll provide proven Best Practices. Readers are encouraged to send along any successful approaches they may be using in managing employees. We will feature the best of them in upcoming columns.

5. Develop a consistent interviewing, evaluating and hiring process.

The easiest way to do a consistent, thorough and fair job in personnel interviewing and selection is to establish an organized, systematic written process that is followed every time! While such a process might be time-consuming and cumbersome to set up originally, it will save time in the long run. As interviewers and managers become more familiar with required procedures, speed will increase. And, importantly, the company will do a better job of employee selection, while also minimizing your potential legal exposure.