Making the right hire

Hiring is more of an art than a science. It's a combination of facts and gut instinct, and some times one of those factors - or both - fail us, despite our best efforts.

We've all made a bad hire - or two. It happens. But it certainly makes us more gun-shy next time we put out the call for resumes. Three years ago, there was no such thing as a bad hire in the IT industry. There was work to do and not enough people to do it. Hiring was more of a "Hey, nice to meet you. The resume looks good. When can you start?" type of affair.

"Our due diligence and most interviewing skills went out the window two or three years ago," says Phil Sullivan, vice president of recruitment and placement for nSight, Inc. of Burlington, Mass. "People recognized for a long time they were probably going to be hiring underskilled people, but they just needed to get somebody trainable, if not expert, through the door. Things as simple as reference checking and background checking went by the board."

It's a stark contrast to today, obviously, when hiring is given all the attention, finesse and detail of brain surgery. Hire a bad egg now and it's hard to hide that smell.

"We have to get away from a lot of the bad habits that crept into the interviewing process," Sullivan says.

Going back to hiring basics is even more important now because positions being filled today tend to be senior-level and central to the competency of a company. "If these are the people who will be fewer in number, but have more responsibility, what you want to be certain of is you're hiring people of ethics and integrity, people you can trust." Plus, with companies having much lower headcounts, every employee is more integral.

Where do we start?

"Check references and references of references if you have any questions," Sullivan says. "A good number to ask for is four or five, it doesn't hurt to ask for more of that. Anyone with any time in the business should have that."

Sullivan says it's not uncommon today to hear: "My last three companies went under. I don't have any references." Candidates should be able to track their references down, he adds. "If they don't have a lot of references that may be a hint. Look out for the person who struggles coming up with a good set of references for you."

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