Landing the best candidates to fill critical roles in your business requires a series of carefully coordinated steps. Your human resources (HR) team must strike a delicate balance between science, psychology and art to find top talent and to avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes.

Here are seven strategic ways to avoid missteps:

1. Craft finely honed job descriptions

It sounds routine, but an incomplete or poorly written job description can become a stumbling block - not only for HR, but for your business. A carefully calibrated description means less time and money wasted on unqualified candidates. The ideal job description provides a more targeted pool of high-quality prospects.

Bear in mind that the best job descriptions are both present- and future-facing. This can result from the HR team not only seeking candidate qualifications that satisfy the company's immediate, short-term needs, but endeavoring to acquire employee skill sets that will serve the company in the future as well.

A thoughtfully crafted job description thoroughly explains the role, skills and attributes necessary to be successful. It should also articulate the firm's values. A well-defined set of values reinforces the company's image and culture. A candidate may have the right skill set, but if he or she has different values, it can impact the morale and productivity of other employees-;and possibly throw your company off track.

2. Create better behavior-based interview questions

Unfortunately, many managers aren't prepared to conduct a thorough interview-;and their inability to get the answers needed to make a well-informed decision is a major factor in bad hires. That's where the right HR person can - and should - step in. Too often it's the opposite: managers will interview someone, say they're great, then in a couple months their HR representative will get a call that things are not working out - and: How do we deal with this?

Work preemptively to develop more targeted, scenario-based questions and discussion points to better understand candidates, and avoid the all-too-common scenario of buyer's remorse.

"With so many "sample" behavioral based interview questions floating around the Internet, many job applicants come well-rehearsed with their responses," notes President and Founder of Performance ReNEW Natasha Bowman, JD, SPHR. She adds, "The more specific you are with asking questions that require the candidate to truly simulate a situation for that role, the more likely you will get a candid response."

A good example: "Tell me about a difficult situation you've faced before. How did you handle it?" Give interviewees an opportunity to show you how they think and problem-solve - essential insights about any new hire.

3. Consider employing new "blind" screening technology

When it comes to fostering applicant-pool diversity, recent studies have shown that even algorithms can have biases - because they're created by humans, and we all have biases. Studies, including one from Harvard, show that further biases among online users - e.g., what search terms they enter - can further train an algorithm to generate results with a questionably biased slant.

Enter tools like the Blendoor app, used in the screening phase, which blocks out potentially bias-triggering data like a candidate's name, photo or age, and only shows skills, work experience and education. The result is a reduction in the kinds of biases inherent to the human condition that also impact hiring.

4. Weigh social media profiles with caution

Interviewers' practice of assessing candidates' social media profiles as part of their interview prep can easily become problematic when it gets into the realm of not hiring people based on personal or political beliefs and values - opening the door for discrimination. Decisions made by looking at social media tend to slip from objective to subjective, largely premised on whether the viewer personally likes or agrees with the content and opinions posted on that profile.

If someone has the right job qualifications, correlating that individual's social media profile with how good or successful that person might be in the role can be counterproductive. According to a recent Scientific American article, difference contributes to innovation: "...people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, non-routine problems." It goes on to say the same is true for "social diversity." For social-media research, stick to LinkedIn - a professional platform with genuinely valuable information, like "recommendations."

5. Exercise wisdom when evaluating red-flag finds

Be as judicious as Solomon when you receive unfavorable applicant information. The key evaluation questions: How much time has passed since the "infraction?" Is this behavior/judgment relevant to this job-;and might it harmfully impact operations? You might give marijuana possession when a candidate was just 19 (with a clean record ever since) a pass. Prior violence may potentially constitute too high a risk. It's important to evaluate the worst-case scenario and how it would impact business.

Bowman cautions, "Using past criminal convictions could also potentially violate state law. As of June, 2017, over 150 counties and cities have passed "ban-the-box" legislation which prohibits employers from asking about criminal arrest and convictions of job applications." She elaborates, "The idea around ban-the-box is that if an employer has the opportunity to evaluate and select a candidate absent knowledge of previous criminal arrest or conviction, they are more likely to proceed with extending an offer, even after learning of a candidate's criminal record."

6. Leverage innovative pre-hire assessment tools

Many HR professionals are using pre-employment tools and technologies to appraise candidates' skills and knowledge and consider their "cultural fit." HR consultant and coach Holly Burkett, SPHR, Ph.D., author of Learning for the Long Run: 7 Practices for Sustaining a Resilient Learning Organization, recommends Virtual Job Tryout, an online simulation tool that helps ensure candidates are a cultural and team fit. The platform also provides "day-in-the-life" interactive job simulations.

Another good program, for personality assessment, is Rembrandt. Questions are designed in a way where it's almost impossible for candidates to "fake" answers, because they don't know what the "right" answers are and what the company is looking for. Both tools can help companies reduce 90-day turnover rates, improve candidates' hiring experience, and create more consistency in staffing decisions.

Training and business-performance company TwentyEight's Chief Human Resources Officer at Tara Dresen, SPHR observes, "There are three things research has shown cannot be taught: intelligence, good judgment, and time management," She adds, "References are golden. If one can ascertain from multiple references solid support for these three areas, you have yourself a top candidate for any role, and certainly for any leadership role-;as these three attributes are intertwined in decision making."

Regarding bypassing tried and true methods she observes, "If you want a real reference, consider the degrees of separation between your network and the person of interest. There are likely only two, maybe three."

7. View the recruitment and selection process as a journey - not a destination

Developing a high-performing recruitment and selection process isn't a short-term undertaking, Burkett warns. Creating an effective employer brand and developing large talent pools of qualified candidates means adopting a future-driven, systematic approach to recruitment and selection that requires ongoing improvement to achieve increasingly better results. This process reflects a shift from a reactive 'filling-of-positions' approach, she says, to a forward-thinking one, in order to keep a steady supply of talent in your company's pipeline for the long haul.

Bowman puts this long view into further perspective: "The best way to recruit top talent is to not to have to recruit at all. Organizations should focus their efforts on creating an engaging, positive workplace that has a reputation that precedes itself." Citing websites such as glassdoor.com that allows potential candidates to do preliminary research on your organization to determine if you are a great place to work, she adds, "Organizations that rank high have "A" players waiting in line to help you to achieve organizational success. Create an environment so valuable for your current employees that they become your ambassadors and help attract strong candidates to your organization throughout the recruitment process."

Published on: Aug 2, 2017