What are the three criteria used in selecting high-potential hires?

No matter how refined your interviewing skills, no matter how accurate your testing or how thorough your reference check and background investigation information, the best you can hope for when hiring strangers is that you make high-potential hires. After all, any new hire represents little more than a gamble you're willing to wage that your initial costs and training will pay off for you down the road.

Depending on the kind and nature of work that employees perform, that pay-back period may be three months or one year down the road. If you lose individuals to premature turnover before you've had a chance to recoup the time and money necessary to bring them up to speed, then your return on investment of human capital will be diminished.

There are three criteria to focus on when identifying high-potential hires:

- Longevity

- Progression through the ranks

- Technical skills

The key issue that you'll need to focus on is, How do I question candidates in order to measure their potential in each of these three areas?

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Longevity is the ultimate return on investment when measuring human capital. Because people tend to repeat patterns of change in their careers over time, it's simplest to focus on candidates' reasons for leaving (RFL) past positions. The RFL is the link in a candidate's career progression. It shows you better than anything else does what the person's motivations, goals, and limitations are.

Challenge answers like ''No room for growth,'' which are trite and hackneyed attempts at getting around the real issue. Probe deeper by asking, ''What does growth mean to you?'' (Vertical progression through the ranks, horizontal progression, broadened responsibilities in other areas, or more money?) and ''What would have to change at your present company for you stay there?

In addition, don't accept ''Layoff'' as an umbrella excuse. True, many companies shed employees like layers of skin when revenues are down. On the other hand, companies sometimes disguise terminations for cause as layoffs because a no-fault layoff is quick and nonconfrontational in nature. Therefore, challenge the ''layoff answer by asking:

- How many people were laid off at the same time?

- How many people survived the cut?

- How many rounds of layoffs did you survive before you were let go?

Measure a candidate's progression through the ranks by replacing the traditional interview opener ''Tell me about your job and what you do with the following queries:

- Describe how you've progressed through the ranks and landed in your current position at your company.

- How have you had to reinvent or redefine your job to meet your company s changing needs?

- Distinguish between your vertical progression through the ranks at your current (or prior) company and your lateral assumption of broader responsibilities.

Measure technical abilities by asking candidates to self-assess their strengths and weaknesses in their respective disciplines:

- Do you consider your technical abilities basic, intermediate, or advanced?

- On a scale of one to ten, ten being you're a perfect technical match for this position, where would you rank yourself?

(Most people will rank themselves as an eight.) Ask, Why are you an eight? Then ask, What would make you a ten? - What would you add to or subtract from your technical background to make you more qualified for this position?

With these revised questions on hand and a greater knowledge of the ingredients that make up high-potential hires, you'll find that your confidence will build in the candidate selection process.

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