How to hire the right people

Hiring staff is not a simple process. You need to take time and follow a number of key steps.

Specifying the role

Start by writing a good job specification. You need to be clear about the role, the responsibilities and the type of candidate the vacancy might suit. The more detail you provide, the better. For a particular role, you might detail:

  • Qualifications required
  • Experience needed, both in terms of your sector and in general
  • Identify between three and six key aspects of the role from the job specification e.g. sales experience within the sector, knowledge of market and business development techniques. These are called key job criteria and should be used to create any advert, design any interview questions and shortlisting criteria, as well as structuring the selection decision

You should describe your business and provide a link to your website. Increasingly, employers are seeing recruiting as a branding opportunity, so don’t be shy about sharing information that you believe will interest a prospective candidate.

Don’t just ask for CVs, otherwise you’ll be flooded with emails from candidates who aren’t suited to the role. Instead, ask candidates to send in a cover letter and application form along with their CV outlining their suitability for the job. That screening technique is a simple way to find out just how serious candidates are about the vacancy.


If you are advertising the role yourself, be sure you use the main job recruitment sites, and perhaps LinkedIn if this is a professional role. If you are using a recruitment agency, ensure you are happy with the commission rates and their hiring history. Track their record in your sector.

Use your network to get personal recommendations. Send the job spec to your contacts by email and also possibly through LinkedIn. Ask people to share it. Personal recommendations are often one of the main sources of good candidates, although it is important to assess all applicants using the key job criteria to ensure there is a good fit.


Use cover letters and your job spec to help you shortlist. Another way to shortlist candidates could be by conducting phone interviews. This will give you the chance to assess their experience and personalities before narrowing your focus.

how to hire people

The interviews

By this stage, you should have narrowed the field to a handful of candidates. Conducting interviews is not as straightforward as it may seem. It’s never advisable to conduct job interviews on your own. Ask a trusted staff member, an experienced outsider, an adviser, a friend in business or even a HR consultant to conduct interviews with you.

Remember that asking certain questions is against the law. Examples of the questions you cannot ask can be found in the Guide to Interview Questions.


Ensure the candidate is well briefed on the time and location of the interview, dress code, the approximate duration of the interview and whether they need to present anything or not. Ask all applicants if they have any special requirements e.g. mobility.

You also need to prepare. It is often best to do interviews back to back so that you are completely focused on the recruitment process, and you can more easily draw comparisons.

Before the interviews, meet the second person who will attend. You should discuss the criteria by which you will evaluate the candidates. For instance, the headings might be about experience, qualifications, general approach and the likely ‘fit’ with your business. That will help you give a basis of comparison. You also need to agree who will ask what questions and the running order.

Study the candidate’s cover letter and CV well. Look for employment gaps, interesting roles and information you can ask about, including their personal interests.

During the initial interview

  • Don’t leave any questions unasked: This is your chance to get to know the candidate, their skills and interests.
  • Probe background and motivations: Here are some sample questions: Why did they leave their last job? What attracts them to your business? How do they see their career path developing? This sort of information will be hugely instructional when you’re making a decision on a candidate.
  • Present yourself in the best light: Remember that you are being assessed too. You want to portray your business as a good place in which to work.
  • Ask non-business related questions: Ask the candidate about their interests outside work. This will give you a good idea of whether you’ll get on well with them or not.
  • Provide opportunities for the candidate to ask questions: This often happens at the end, but you should allow for questions at other stages, depending on the flow of the interview.
how to hire people

What next?

Once the interviews are complete, you should compare notes with the other interviewer and discuss the merits of each candidate against the criteria you have agreed. That process should narrow the field for second interviews.

While some business owners might consider that to be over-kill, second interviews often draw out candidates more and can often lead to a change in perception. Again, you need to do your preparation in advance.

At that point, you may have your preferred candidate, but always have one or two candidates in reserve. Do reference checks by telephone and not just by email. Again, prepare for those calls.

Apart from verifying the work performance of the candidate, the calls provide an opportunity to ask more general and open questions that will give you a more rounded view. For instance, you could ask:

  • How did the individual cope under certain circumstances (for instance, dealing with difficult customers, working under pressure)?
  • How did he or she get on with work colleagues?
  • How would you rate the candidate’s loyalty to the business?
  • How strong were the candidate’s technical and interpersonal skills?
  • Would you re-hire the candidate if the opportunity arose?
  • Is there anything else relevant to the candidate that you think I should know about?

Once you have validated the candidate, you should then offer the person the job. You should initially do so verbally, and you should meet the candidate again if you haven’t had a detailed discussion on pay and conditions. Then you should make the offer in writing.

You should seek written confirmation of the offer before you alert the other high-ranking candidates that they have not been successful.

As a courtesy, you should inform all candidates, even those you have not interviewed, that they have been unsuccessful in their application. Not to do so reflects negatively on your business. You should thank the candidates for their applications and wish them well in their careers.

how to hire people

And finally

Take time to recruit. Rush jobs often are more expensive and disruptive in the long run. Instead, take your time and consider interim arrangements, the use of contractors, and asking existing staff members to take on more responsibilities, to help share the burden until you have found a new recruit.

Don’t do it on your own. Involve someone who may see different perspectives and will challenge your thinking.

Prepare well for the interviews. Know your candidate, as well as the questions you should be asking.

Main image from iJeab /