Employment Expert Offers a Checklist to Identify Potential Top Performers

As many firms keep a watchful eye on the employment market and plan to carefully add staff, they face a tough question: Who will be the first person hired? According to Liz Hughes, vice president of specialized staffing firm OfficeTeam, pent-up demand and pressure to hire the perfect candidate make the process more difficult.

"Many managers have been given permission to hire but are still unable to refill every downsized position," Hughes says. "The challenge for them is determining what criteria will be used to identify the best candidates."

How can managers ensure their first hires out of the downturn are smart hires? Hughes advises firms to seek out top performers during the selection process, not "perfect" candidates. "A candidate's skills and experience may appear ideal on the resume, but the interview and reference check are the best tools in identifying who would be a top performer in the actual role," she says. Qualities like motivation, versatility and a proactive approach are common among top performers. Following are other areas to consider to distinguish the strongest candidates:

  • Passion - What is the applicant’s greatest accomplishment? It could be completing a master's degree, landing a major client or finishing a marathon. Whether it's related to work or not, the person's passion will reveal something about how he or she maintains motivation and defines success. 
  • Favorites - Ask applicants a "favorite" question; get them to name a favorite board game, birthday gift or movie. The answer itself may yield some interesting material, but more important will be how well they think on their feet and the reason they give for their answer. 
  • Optimism - Ask candidates and their references to expand on how they handled a difficult boss, a budget cut or a mistake at work. Top performers acknowledge difficulties and how they learned from them without sugarcoating the answers. Be wary of people who can’t think of any problems or see them only with rose-colored glasses. 
  • Expectations - Many top performers are interested in opportunities to learn and advance in an organization. Take note of the person who has unrealistic demands or references who indicate that the candidate is difficult to work with - you may not have a top performer on your hands but a diva instead. 
  • Tone - What are the references saying about the candidate, and more importantly, how are they saying it? Take note if a reference's tone is enthusiastic, hesitant or uneasy. Be sure to ask candidates for a range of references, especially for management roles. Talking with supervisors - as well as peers and direct reports - will give you a clearer picture of the person's abilities and style. 

Hughes adds that the pressure to hire right is especially strong in the current environment. "As companies gear up for growth, the last thing they want to do is staff up with mediocre employees. Hiring top performers will be critical to their ultimate success."

OfficeTeam has more than 300 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.officeteam.com.

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