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November 2018
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Four steps for avoiding a bad hiring decision

Let’s look, for a moment, at the process of buying a car. It’s a big decision with many steps. First, you have to determine your price range, compile a list of possible models, and compare specs. Then you research safety features, performance reviews and reliability ratings. Finally, you take test drives until you find the one that fits you and your lifestyle the best. Even after putting in all that work, you could still end up with the wrong car. Maybe you can cut your losses and trade it in on another one, but you still wasted a lot of time and money.

Hiring a new employee is a lot like buying a car, and the consequences of a bad choice can be even more catastrophic. Time and money wasted, sure, but there’s also lost productivity and the hidden costs of turnover to consider. Yet you must make this hiring decision with far less information than you have when buying a car. There are no consumer reports on would-be employees, and you don’t get to try them out for free (and none of them come with a sunroof, either).

However, there are steps you can take to limit the likelihood of hiring the wrong person. Companies that integrate clear steps into the hiring process not only increase their hit rate, they build up their bench strength of future leaders and other promotable contributors.

  1. Define the success factors

Many organizations focus on developing a detailed list of job tasks instead of determining what kind of person is best suited for a role. Instead of trying to find a person who checks a bunch of “experience” boxes, it’s a good idea to develop a specific success model for each open position.

Before you even start looking at applicants, decide what the role needs to accomplish, how it interacts with other people and processes inside and outside the company, and how it fits into the overall company strategy. Is it a structured role steeped in process or an unstructured role? What’s the level of client contact? How much independent problem solving is involved?

Once you have established the true position requirements, such as Manages projects independently or Follows rules diligently, you’ll have your success factors. Your top candidate is the one whose motivations and strengths align with the factors you have identified, not necessarily the one who has been trained in a specific task.

  1. Use a valid pre-employment assessment

Good HR professionals and recruiters, whether contracted or in-house, should be able to source a field of ostensibly viable candidates. However, a candidate’s past experience does not equate to future success. In other words, there are plenty of mediocre applicants who did enough to stick around somewhere and pad their resume.

A scientifically validated personality assessment (i.e., one based on hard data and R&D-tested to ensure validity) will tear down façades and show a person’s intrinsic motivations. If one of your success factors is Sustains client relationships, for example, the assessment will show the difference between an applicant who is merely personable and one who is an attentive listener, service-minded and responsive to stakeholder input.

If someone’s personality drivers line up with your success factors, you’ve found the connection that often translates into top performance.

  1. Ask behavior-based interview questions

Behavior-based interview questions effectively circumvent vague claims of accomplishment by asking candidates for specific examples about how they have handled job-relevant situations.

Imagine that an applicant for a customer-service role writes “Achieved 94% customer-satisfaction rate” on his resume. That could be a made-up number, or it could be apropos of nothing that the individual actually did. A behavioral interview question here can be, “Talk about a time you dealt effectively with an upset customer on your own. What was the problem and how did you resolve it?”

After a few questions along these lines, you’ll begin to gain clarity around the applicant’s ingenuity in service situations, his decision-making style, his client focus, and his attentiveness as a listener. To take it further, come up with a consistent set of questions for each role and then determine a system for scoring responses (e.g., 1 for poor, 2 for fair, and 3 for good) so you can quantify which applicants delivered the strongest answers.

Make sure you ask all the applicants the same questions, and preferably, have one person ask the questions and another do the scoring. This approach reduces bias.

  1. Implement onboarding & developmental action plans

Sometimes, the problem isn’t a bad hiring decision; it’s bad post-hiring decisions.

A big mistake companies often make with new employees is to assume their training and development needs are the same as everyone else’s. As revealed by the results of the pre-employment personality assessment, people are different from each other (surprise!) Employee development, as a general concept, should be an ongoing focus. However, it is especially critical for hiring managers to stay involved for the first six months of tenure to keep potentially good hires from turning bad due to misalignment and lack of communication.

Put together a true onboarding program that fully integrates new hires not only into the role but into the company culture as well. Moreover, use the personality data you’ve collected to build a customized development plan for each employee that maximizes strengths while compensating for limitations.

By devoting a little extra time, money, and attention up front, you will return on your investment many times over when you have the right people in place who are not only motivated and productive but also willing to stick with you for the long haul.

About Caliper - For nearly half a century, Caliper has been helping companies achieve peak performance by advising them on hiring the right people, managing individuals most effectively and developing productive teams. The accuracy, objectivity and depth of our consulting approach enable us to provide solutions that work for over 25,000 companies. To find out more about how Caliper can help you identify and develop people who can lead your organization to peak performance, please visit us at  or call us at 609-524-1200. Email to contact Caliper.