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15 Ways to Find the Perfect Employee in a Hiring Pool

There's no need to sift through a mountain of resumes to find a perfect fit.

Hiring for a new position in 2017 is just like dating in 2017: There are simply too many fish in the sea. The moment you put a listing on Glassdoor—or Indeed, or LinkedIn, or…you get the point—you're overrun with a mountain of resumes. And worst of all? The quality runs the gamut; you'll find eminently qualified all-stars side by side with people who still have their time as a barista listed under "related experience." It's almost easiest to hire someone just to sort through the pile. But it doesn't have to be this way—especially if you're smart about your approach. Here, 15 steps to ensure your hiring pool only has the best fish in the sea. And once you've caught up the best possible team, focus in on these 8 game-changing strategies every boss should know.

Start with Referrals

Career, leadership, raise, hiring

It's conventional wisdom that the relationships you have are the best way to find the next job—and the same holds true for hiring. "Nearly 90% of executive-level jobs come from networking, 60% if you include junior levels, as well," says Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of Nail the Interview, Land the Job.

There are good reasons why businesses often employ new workers based on referrals from existing workers.

"People don't tend to refer people who are not qualified because it would reflect poorly on them," says Bobbi Rebell, author of How to Be a Financial Grownup: Proven Advice from High Achievers on How to Live Your Dreams and Have Financial Freedom. "The odds are high that the referring employee will have done some vetting of their qualifications, and that assuming that employee is a good fit, their candidate will be as well." Referring an unqualified candidate wouldn't reflect well on your employee, so whoever they put forward will most likely have the right qualifications. Among the other advantages to beginning with personal referrals: lower recruiting costs and shared employee values. And for more great corporate leadership advice, learn how smart bosses build healthy businesses.

Boost the Referral Bonus

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If you want to fill highly specialized positions in your company, that may be hard to accomplish through traditional channels. To get better recommendations, try to incentivize your workers to start giving suggestions by offering a limited-time cash bonus for referrals—and make it substantial. "One way to get more of these, especially in this tight job market, is to consider increasing referral bonuses for candidates made by existing employees," Rebell adds.

You can also consider offering a little reward to workers for each of their referral applicants who are "fits" to be called in for an interview and who make it to the finalist list, even if you won't actually be hiring them. This will give added motivation for referrers to suggest qualified people in the future. And if your employees are looking for even more of a pay increase, make sure you know how to handle the dreaded raise question.

Strengthen the Job Description

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Review the job description you're broadcasting to the masses to be sure it gets specific about what the work involves and the type of employee it demands. Be sure to avoid boilerplate language and get into the details. "A good job description should accurately portray the required skills and responsibilities for the available position, while also displaying a little bit of personality in the writing in order to attract candidates who will fit in culturally, as well," says Scott Wesper, hiring manager at human capital management company Arch Resources Group. "Oftentimes, an employer will quickly toss up a generic job description that doesn't truly describe what they're looking for in a candidate. This results in unqualified candidates applying for the position."

Revise the Job Description, Again

hiring process

This point is worth restating: The biggest difference between a qualified pool of candidates and an overflow of amateurs is often how the job description is written. Rather than just writing down every task the job will entail, go through multiple drafts, refining the description to ensure it captures the big-picture purpose that the employee will serve in the larger organization.

"The goal isn't to trim the position down to a skinny, weightless version of the original," says Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, owner of and chief career writer at CareerTrend. "Instead, the goal is to build an end position description that really sings. It must speak not only to the hard skills and experiences necessary to perform well, but also to the soft skills and values the company seeks in order to hire someone in sync with their vision and mission." When it comes time to interviewing, make sure you don't ask any of the 20 offending questions smart interviewers never ask.

Ask Screening Questions

Candidates waiting for a job interview, studying interview questions, hiring

Before you even look at someone's résumé, it can be worthwhile to ask every applicant to provide short answers to several specific questions, giving you a quick snapshot of each. "You'd be surprised at how many people fail to answer these questions," Jeanne Grunert writes for Accion. "That's an immediate red flag that people can't follow directions or aren't willing to take a small extra step to do the job right."

These can be questions that cover general trends in the industry or specific issues the company is facing and that you would expect qualified candidates to know. Whatever they are, they should provide a quick litmus test of whether the candidate knows what they are doing and are worth moving along the hiring path. That path might be a long one, depending on how many qualified applicants show themselves—but keep in mind these 8 CEO-proven resilience builders to keep your cool and find the perfect candidate.

Targeted Social Media Postings

hiring process

"Employers can also be strategic in where they list a job—targeting higher-qualified groups for the specific position," says Rebell. "For example, look for subject matter expert groups related to the field you are targeting. Websites that attract subgroups of the industry can be a great resource."

The available groups and subgroups for job postings via online social media groups continue to grow with numerous media sites dedicated to specific interests, businesses, industries, skill sets, and more. Join the networking sites and social platforms where members of your industry meet and interact, and use those areas to spread the word about the position you're hiring for. And if your candidates are on LinkedIn, they should be well-versed in the art of choosing the perfect LinkedIn profile picture.

Seek Influencers

Business team, team, hiring

Speaking of social media, it's more important than ever for job applicants to have a reputable platform of their own, and you can narrow your hiring pool by targeting those who are proven influencers on social media. "Engaging in social and evaluating what candidates are saying and writing on social media can be a revealing tactic to add to the armory," says Steve Nicholls, MD of Executive Connexions, a career coaching & outplacement company working with senior level executives.

Delving into a candidate's social media profile gives you a sense of who they are and how they will fit with the company, as well as an idea of whether they are a thought leader in your industry.

Leverage Professional Associations

Career, leadership, raise, network, hiring

"I would also think about the networking organizations that your potential candidate would be a part of. If HR, they may be a member of SHRM or ATD," says Lederman. "Post in those groups who often have a members-in-transition support group." If you need more of a leg up with professional discussions like these, learn how to negotiate anything and win.

Don't Get Blinded By Brand Names

Procrastination, productivity

"The most common mistake a hiring manager can make is just looking at the brand name of the schools and companies on a candidate's résumé," says Claire McTaggart, founder of SquarePeg, an HR tech startup that uses better predictive data to match job seekers and employers based on fit. "A candidate might have an Ivy League degree and be a bad fit for your firm or the role, while a candidate from a state school with great experience from an unknown startup might be best positioned for the role."

Look Beyond First Impressions

Interview, hiring

Along the same lines, putting an inordinate emphasis on the initial "vibe" of an applicant can lead you to accept someone too quickly who may lack the qualifications the job will actually require. "Many face-value behaviors can be faked and manipulated to get around typical interview questions," says Tripp Rockwell, CMO for cloud-based analytics platform DNA Behavior. "And then there are the behavioral biases of the interviewer—what cognitive/behavioral hang-ups might prevent them from recognizing potential red-flags given off from a candidate?"

Do Multiple Screenings

interview, hiring

Just as you go through multiple drafts in composing a quality job description, you should have multiple steps in your screening and hiring process, filtering out the best candidates at each step. "It takes more time in the early stages to do this, but it'll pay off in helping you to narrow your choices down to the best possible candidates," ZipRecruiter writes on its blog. "The first round of interviews should only include a basic rundown of questions. Verify that the necessary skills are present, check references and ask lots of questions to determine if the candidates have practical knowledge as well as head knowledge." And when you get to the next stage of interviews, make sure you avoid these 20 interview questions smart bosses never ask.

Conduct a Behavioral Assessment

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"Based on the roles and makeup of the existing personnel and environment, it's that much easier to apply a simple 10-minute, online behavioral assessment to ensure a narrow search, and that the candidate truly fits the role," says Rockwell. "No phony tricks to monkey around with your hiring process."

For instance, an effective test will provide some insights regarding whether the applicant is anxious and insecure or emotionally stable, uncompromising or agreeable, extroverted or introverted, and close-minded or open to new ideas.

Use a Staffing Agency

Interview, hiring

Staffing agencies can often offer a level of expertise beyond what your company's HR department may be able to handle (particularly if you are a startup). These agencies tend to meet with top talents from a wide range of industries, with a widespread network that they can tap into.

"Some agencies will even go as far as to guarantee the hire, meaning if the employee is not a good fit, they will find a replacement for you at no additional cost," says Wesper. "This method can be pricey, but it will save you a lot of time, headaches, and money by avoiding mis-hires."

Emphasize Corporate Culture

Business team, team, hiring

"To get more focused in your approach to gathering candidates, really hone in on the skills and personality types that are most suited for the role and fit to team/environment," says Rockwell. For instance, if it's a part of your company culture to indulge in a little after-hours or happy hour bonding, you'll want to be sure candidates and employees know how to drink with the boss without losing the job.

Ask for a Trial Assignment

Procrastination, hiring

An easy way to narrow down those who can actually do the work? Ask them to do some of the work.

"Even with resumes, background checks, and the like, it can be difficult to assess someone's skills," writes Accion's Grunert. "A short, paid assignment demonstrates your professionalism and interest in the candidate. It also enables the candidate to demonstrate their skills without a filter that can make their skills look better than they really are."

For the best results, the trial assignment should provide insights into applicants' weaknesses and strengths and get a true sense of what they are capable of. If the candidates have been whittled down through several other hiring steps, this assignment should also be paid.

The hiring process doesn't have to be so time-consuming you're bringing home the work after the week is over. But if you do have to, read up on the smart man's guide to working on the weekends.

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Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more
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