How To Hire Successful Managers

A five-step selection process to avoid hiring mistakes in the gases and welding industry

teamHas something like this ever happened to you? Filling the recently vacated management position was more time-consuming than you thought it would be—screening résumés, interviewing multiple candidates, evaluating them in meetings that never seemed to end. In addition, there were out-of-pocket expenses—advertising the position, paying a recruiter to pre-screen candidates and bringing two of the candidates to town for their interviews.

And now, after only 30 days on the job, your new manager, in whom you had such high hopes, has just informed you that the job is not what he thought it was going to be, and he is leaving the company. To make matters worse, this morning you learned that morale in his department was in the pits, several employees who had reported directly to him were threatening to quit, and other managers were having trouble with him.

How did someone who looked so good in the interviews and seemed so very well-suited for the job work out so poorly?

Pre-Employment Screening
The cause of this unfortunate turn of events was lack of depth in the pre-employment screening process. This is not to suggest that all the valuable work that was done evaluating this candidate was faulty; in fact, it turns out that the match between the new manager’s knowledge, skills, abilities and experience and the requirements of the job was a good one. The problem was that not enough attention was paid to the effects that this specific person’s work-related behavior and management style would have on an existing department.

Personality tests provide an in-depth look at the “real” person behind the “look good” interview behavior but will not predict with 100 percent accuracy what a person will do in every situation.

Many people assume that the interview is the only way to “get to know” what the candidate is like in terms of management style. Interviews, however, should be only one part of a multi-step evaluation process. There is a lot going on during an interview; not only are you trying to get a feel for the individual’s management style and work-related personal preferences, but also you are listening to his or her responses to specific questions. In addition, there are aspects of a person that don’t show up well in interviews but that can have important effects on their management style and behavior. And, while you are working hard to get to know the “whole person,” the candidate, at the same time, is working hard to make sure that the impression he or she makes is a good one.

Interviewing alone simply doesn’t give you enough information about the candidate’s work-related behavior and management style to allow you to make a fully considered hiring decision. Every candidate is a collection of many parts. On the first day of work, however, the entire person, all of the good parts and all of the not-so-good parts, walks in your company’s front door. You need to know about all the parts before making the hiring decision so that you can avoid unpleasant surprises.

A Systematic Approach
To get a more complete picture of the management candidate’s work style preferences, you need a process that gets information about those preferences and attitudes from a variety of sources. Most companies use some or several of these sources of information, and some companies use all of them. The key is to use all of the sources of information about a candidate’s work style preferences in an integrated way; it’s probably the closest you can come, short of spending six weeks camping with them, to getting a mental picture of the “whole person.”

No single source of information is likely to provide enough about the management candidate. In fact, piecemeal information can actually sometimes lead you astray. When you put all of the job-relevant information you have gathered together and evaluate it thoughtfully, however, you are much more likely to have a good idea of the whole person who will be coming in the door.

Step 1: Define the Job and Job Requirements
Start with the job description and make sure that it describes the job that the new manager will be required to do as completely and specifically as possible. Include all requirements, such as specialized knowledge and/or skills, credentials and/or education, experience or career record, physical requirements and so forth. Don’t overlook the communication (oral and written) skills that managing others will require, or any specialized management abilities that the job will require. Include the reporting structure of your company and be specific about to whom the manager in this new position will report. The more specific and complete you are at this point, the easier it will be to evaluate candidates later. The finished job description should include a list of required skills, experience, abilities and qualities.

Step 2: Interviews (Initial and Follow-Up)
Interviews conducted at different stages of the selection process have different purposes. The purpose of the initial interview is to verify that the selected applicants are still actively interested in the position and to make sure that both you and the candidate have a similar understanding of the job, its requirements and the steps that you will ask the candidate to go through as the selection process continues. The first interview gives you a preliminary, overall impression of the candidate.

Follow-up interviews are generally conducted later in the selection process, after qualified candidates’ background, job-relevant knowledge, skills and abilities have been verified. Information that may have raised questions during this background checking can be clarified during subsequent interviews.

It is generally most productive to do at least two, and sometimes more, follow-up interviews with candidates, depending on feasibility and on the complexity of the reporting structure in your company. If possible, candidates should interview with the person to whom the new manager will report, since their ability to communicate with one another effectively will have a long-term impact on the new manager’s success.

Step 3: Background Verification and Drug Screening
Checking a candidate’s references is always worthwhile, even if all you can verify is that he or she was accurate about employment dates and gaps in employment. If you have identified specific educational or credentialing requirements during Step 1 of this process, the candidate’s background information should be verified (education, training certification and work history at a minimum.) In addition, drug testing, whether attitude or physical, is another commonly used screening device at this step.

If you find discrepancies between what the candidate claims and what you are able to verify, you can still proceed (with caution!) to consider that candidate, and ask him or her to clarify those discrepancies for you during a follow-up interview. The key requirements are that any verification, screening or testing that is done at this stage be done for all candidates who reach this stage of consideration, and that it be job-relevant.

Step 4: Personality Testing and Management Style Evaluation
A manager’s personality has an enormous impact on his or her management style. The quality of relationships with subordinates, peers, customers and others will be determined by his or her personality traits, attitudes and values. Basic personality characteristics also profoundly affect a person’s work and management styles, both over the long term and when the individual is operating under high stress.

Beware of the pressure to fill a position with the first warm body to show up.

Most candidates put their best foot forward during the selection process—especially during interviews—but many personality characteristics don’t show up in even the most thorough interviews. Well-designed personality tests are very useful, therefore, at helping you see the whole person. Remember, however, that while personality tests can provide an in-depth look at the “real person,” the one behind the “look good” interview behavior, they will not predict with 100 percent accuracy what a person is going to do in every situation.

Well-designed and documented personality tests should include guidance for you about what the results mean, and the results should always be evaluated within the context of what the job will require of the person who holds it. As it is with the information that you may discover from background checking or specialized screening, so it is with personality test results: People are complex, and some results may raise questions in your mind. Use that information in follow-up interviews with qualified candidates to get to know the individuals better. Knowing where the less-than-perfect parts of a person’s personality are (and everyone has them), and how troublesome they are, gives you the information you need to make a better hiring decision.

Step 5: Put It All Together
Don’t skip this last step! Put all of the information together that you have gathered about your qualified candidates in order to make a balanced, fair and fully informed hiring decision. The decision that you make should be based on everything that you know about each candidate.

No single step of these five will provide complete information about the candidate, and information provided by any one of the five steps can always be criticized to some degree for its accuracy, relevance or timeliness. For example, interviews are subjec- tive and, therefore, particularly susceptible to bias. Background checks may be incomplete; a clean drug screen may simply indicate the applicant “got clean” in order to pass the drug test. Personality tests only indicate a person’s behavioral preferences but won’t predict what the person will do in every situation.

Looking at all of the information available about qualified candidates and sharing it appropriately with other managers who are involved in the decision-making process will let you see a more complete picture that includes not only the candidates’ strengths but also the areas that are of concern. It is this “preponderance of evidence,” where no single piece of information is totally convincing yet each makes a significant contribution, that provides the most complete picture of each candidate. The more complete the understanding you have of the candidate, the better the quality of the hiring decision you make, and the likelier you will avoid making a hiring mistake.

Beware of the pressure to fill a position with the first warm body to show up. Do so and you may have ample time to regret your haste. Usually the more candidates you see, the better the likelihood you will find the best person for the job. If you have only seen two or three candidates, you are relying on good luck to pick a winner. Preparation, thoroughness and patience are more likely than good luck to produce good results.

You do no one a favor when you hire a manager who is not a good match for the job. The round peg trying to squeeze into a square hole is not going to be happy with his or her inability to effectively do what is required, and you are not going to be happy with a manager who is “high maintenance.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Kurt Helm Meet the Author
Kurt G. Helm, Ph.D., is president of Helm and Associates Inc., located in Helmsburg, Indiana, and on the Web at