Candidate selection, also known as talent acquisition, is the process of finding and hiring the best candidate for an open position. It covers everything from sorting through applications, to sending talent assessments, to creating the final job offer. It’s also one of the most important processes in any organization.
Research shows that bad hires cost companies 30% or more of their salary. The more important the position, the more it can cost your company: Bad managers don’t just underperform, but actively drive other employees away.
Assessment tools like the Predictive Index Job Assessment™ can prevent bad hires and ensure you only select the best talent. Before we dive into that, though, it’s important to cover the basics of the candidate selection process.
The recruitment process varies between organizations. That said, a comprehensive process should include the following steps:
- Create a candidate profile.
- Create and post a job ad.
- Find the right resumes.
- Screen your best candidates.
- Leverage behavioral data.
- Use strategic interviews to improve candidate selection.
- Conduct background and reference checks.
- Pick a final candidate.
- Send a job offer.
1. Create a candidate profile.
You can’t select a great candidate if you don’t know what you’re looking for, which is why you need a candidate profile. Candidate profiles are a description of the ideal candidate, and they serve a few roles:
- They keep the hiring team aligned. If everyone knows what the ideal candidate looks like, they’re less likely to disagree on a hire.
- They help you focus on the most important skills and traits, as opposed to simply on-paper qualifications. Also, you can only put so many qualifications in a candidate profile, which forces hiring managers to prioritize.
- Candidate profiles help you write your job ad. Once you know an open position’s competencies and requirements, the rest of the job ad becomes easier.
2. Create and post a job ad.
Now that you know what the job involves, it’s time to write a great job ad.
You might think a job ad is just a matter of describing the tasks and responsibilities, but usually that’s not enough. The best candidates often have the luxury of choosing which company they want to work for. As a result, you need to think of the job ad as a form of marketing: Does my company seem like a place a great candidate would want to work?
You should also consider your company and team culture. After all, even qualified candidates might not be good hires if they don’t match your culture. A tech startup might need competitive go-getters, while a legal department might need a cool head who avoids risk. The language in your job ad should reflect this, otherwise you risk attracting the wrong people.
3. Find the right resumes.
Once you’ve received a batch of resumes, it’s time to start narrowing down your candidate pool.
If you have too many applications to sort through manually, you might need to use an ATS, or Applicant Tracking System. An ATS will usually include selection tools to automatically remove application forms that don’t match certain keywords or requirements. This reduces your workload, and allows you to focus on the best candidates.
That said, no tracking system is perfect. An unqualified candidate’s resume can sometimes slip through. Likewise, an ATS can’t tell you if a cover letter is stellar. You should always take a closer look at the remaining applications before you put together your final shortlist.
4. Screen your best candidates.
Your best screening tool isn’t an automated system: It’s a phone call with a recruiter.
Every hiring process should include a short, 10-15 minute discovery call with promising candidates. Use this initial interview as an informal background check. Does the candidate’s work experience match up with their resume? Do they have adequate communication skills?
Don’t worry about behavioral interviews or other in-depth interview styles yet. Instead, ask basic interview questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What do you know about our company?
- I see you worked with X company in the past. Tell me more about your experience there.
5. Leverage behavioral data.
The best predictor of job performance isn’t a fancy cover letter or a great interview. It’s a candidate’s behavioral data.
Pre-employment assessments come in two main forms: Behavioral tests and cognitive tests. Behavioral tests measure traits like adaptability and extroversion. These metrics give you a better idea of whether a candidate is a natural fit for the role. Cognitive tests measure a candidate’s capacity to learn. Candidates with high scores on cognitive tests can more easily excel and grow into a role for which they may not be the cleanest “resume fit.”
Assessments aren’t the end-all, be-all to hiring decisions though: You still need to get a feel for whether the candidate will gel with your team. Plus, while there’s a large body of scientific research backing assessments as a predictor of job performance, they need to be used in an equitable and responsible manner to be most effective.
6. Use strategic interviews to improve candidate selection.
Now that you’ve narrowed the field down even further, it’s time to start bringing in candidates for formal interviews.
The length, number, and intensity of the interviews depends on the role. Someone applying as a retail associate might only need one interview, while high-level software engineers might have half a dozen or more. No matter what the role is, the best interviews are strategic interviews.
Don’t focus on general questions. Instead, tailor your interview to the candidate’s possible weaknesses. For example, if a job candidate’s behavioral assessment shows they’re less of a team player than you’d prefer, you might ask the candidate how they’d handle a situation where they need to balance their own work with helping a coworker.
At the same time, you don’t want to be too structured. Conversational interviews give you a better feel for how the candidate is behind the scenes. Be a little flexible and give time for small talk. This can pay dividends in the future: Even if they don’t accept or aren’t a great fit, a positive experience may lead them to recommend you to other people they know.
Finally, you should consider if it’s a remote or in-person interview. If it’s a remote interview, you’ll need to put extra care into making sure technology works, and the candidate is at ease.
7. Conduct background and reference checks.
Most employers conduct background checks before hiring. Background checks verify a new hire’s criminal record, identity, and immigration status, which helps avoid legal or other issues. Except in rare cases, background checks are done by an outside agency. Remember to hire the whole candidate: A small blemish twenty years ago might not disqualify them if they’re otherwise an excellent fit.
Reference checks, on the other hand, are usually done in-house. Reference checks involve calling a candidate’s former employer and verifying the resume information is true. Candidate experience can be faked or misrepresented, so it’s important to check the details. That said, you also want to be respectful of their former employer’s time, so come prepared and keep it brief.
8. Pick a final candidate.
There’s no easy answer to choosing who goes from prospective employee to new hire. In general, though, it pays to hire someone who not only has the skills and experience, but whose values align with your own, and who can adapt into new roles. While learning can’t necessarily replace skills, it does increase an employee’s value in the long term.
9. Send a job offer.
You’ve found the right person for the job. Now comes the easy part. Coordinate with human resources to send your candidate an offer, including salary and benefits. It helps to have a personal touch—if the candidate accepts, you don’t need to wait until their first day to make them feel like part of the team.
This is especially true since, to some extent, hiring is onboarding: By the time the candidate has accepted the final offer, they should not only deeply understand your company and their future role, but should be developing relationships with their future colleagues.
The candidate selection process isn’t just a collection of steps: It needs to be part of a cohesive hiring process, with an emphasis on candidate experience. When you master both the individual steps and improving your candidate selection as an integrated process, you can bring in employees that start strong and only grow from there.