Too often it's sentiment rather than skills that drives the hiring decision. As many employers will tell you, personality is a poor predictor of future job success. It's best to focus on candidates who can "get the job done," not simply "get the job." Although presentation and poise matter, those qualities don't necessarily make a good employee. The more orderly and systematic your hiring strategy is, the more likely you will select a candidate based on performance and potential, rather than personality.

The hiring checklist below provides 12 steps to take when confronted with the challenge of hiring new talent.

1. Evaluate your department's needs and write a position description

Look at your department and determine if this is an automatic refill or if there are new needs that have evolved in the department that could be met in a more effective and efficient way. Once you've nailed down the postition it's time to start writing the position description. Make sure you define the goals and objectives of the position, understand and evaluate the current position description, research the market and your company, make use of your internal knowledge assets, define compensation and career growth opportunities and more.

2. Determine the best markets and vehicles for reaching your candidates

Search for the opportunities that will give you the best ROI --web job boards, referrals, search firms, print ads, etc. Explore areas where money can be extended further and better. You should develop a marketing plan that is aimed at communicating your needs to all of these resources.

3. Pursue recruitment strategies targeted to those markets

By asking the right questions of yourself, of the position and of your target audience, you can customize your recruitment strategies, ensuring that you get not just a bigger response, but a better response.

4. Conduct a resume review to determine "A" list candidates

Through a systematic process of elimination that focuses on first impressions, functional requirements, performance objectives and "ideal" skillsets, the resume review should provide you with a solid list of "top-drawer" candidates you would like to speak with further.

5. Prepare a telephone screening script

Create a standardized screening form that focuses on learning the candidate's years of experience, salary expectations, availability, current job commitment, etc. and deliberately addresses gaps or areas of confusion on the resume.

6. Initiate telephone screening process

The telephone screening is a valuable opportunity to learn more about a prospect. It can spare you the inconvenience and expense of inviting an ill-suited prospect in for an interview. Use the telephone screen (usually no more than 20 minutes) to confirm that the applicant's skills and your expectations match. Questions and issues that surfaced during the resume review can be an excellent starting point.

7. Conduct interviews with top candidates

Before the face-to-face interview takes place, create a list of questions tailored to each specific candidate. These questions should provide information not found on the resume or covered during the telephone screening. Review the resume again beforehand and highlight areas of greatest interest, strength or potential weakness. The in-person interview should get at information beyond basic skills, duties and responsibilities. It should concentrate instead on a candidate's measurable achievements. Your assessments at this point should be "performance-based"--focusing on outcomes and results.

8. Evaluate promising candidates through testing (if appropriate)

Give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and talents further through a variety of more "hands-on" vehicles, including:

  • Portfolios
  • Writing and design samples (tear sheets)
  • Software proficiency tests
  • Typing accuracy and speed tests
  • Editing and proofreading tests
  • References/client endorsements
  • And more

9. Schedule second interviews with candidates who interview and test well

These are your most promising prospects--the ones you are close to making an offer of employment. Generally, you will only have two or three candidates who you will want to bring in for second interviews. Often, other staff members will be invited to sit in on these interviews. Including other members of the department in the second interview gives key players a chance to meet the person they might be working with and to ask questions that might not have been addressed in the first interview. It also can help to ensure that the hiring decision is a democratic decision.

10. Check references

If you haven't requested or followed up on the references the prospect provided, this is the time to do so. References tend not to be the most reliable indicators of employee performance, as one can assume a candidate is not going to provide a potentially "negative" reference. For this reason, most hiring managers regard the reference as "cursory." It is possible, however, to structure the conversation to yield more revealing answers:

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Describe the position and ask the reference if he or she can see the candidate doing well in that job
  • Ask if there is anyone else in the organization who might be willing to talk about the candidate
  • Leave your contact information in case the reference thinks of anything else he or she wants to add

11. Make an offer of employment

As you prepare to make an offer, anticipate any hesitancies or queries your prospective employee may have. Make sure you have thought through the answers to potential questions relating to salary, benefits, start date, advancement opportunities, work schedule, etc.

12. Start the new hire

Starting a new hire involves more than simply making sure the employee shows up on the start date. The first couple of weeks of a new job can be anxious and overwhelming. Try to make the transition as easy as possible for your new hire. Make sure a workspace has been clearly designated, is uncluttered and in good working order before the employee arrives that first morning. Computer and phone should be up and running. Insurance forms and other paperwork should be taken care of expeditiously and preferably at one time. Employees should be taken on a short tour of the office, as they probably won't remember where anything is and may feel too shy to ask. Have an itinerary in place, so employees can feel a sense of direction and accomplishment that first day.