Archives For Step 5 – Assessing Top Candidates

Always conduct background checks on your candidates before you finalize an employment offer. We’ve heard too many hiring horror stories that result from skipping this step! Additionally, to ensure your candidate is the perfect fit, we recommend our work behaviors, attitudes and skills assessments.

How to Hire Better Shorts

Assessing CandidatesThe goal of any recruiting process is to select a candidate who is likely to be effective on the job and contribute to the company’s overall success. While that sounds easy, if you are an owner of a small or mid-sized company, an HR professional, or a manager, and are responsible for recruiting and hiring, it’s likely you’ve experienced stress as you move through the recruiting process. Chances are good that there are several steps you take to learn about the candidate and predict their future success. One of the tools that many companies, recruiters, and HR professionals use are assessments.

There are several types of assessments available in the marketplace. Assessments fall into three general categories:

  1. Skills assessments – the goal of these tests is to uncover whether or not the candidate has the skills to perform the duties required for the job. Skills can range from typing or data entry speed, to knowledge of programming languages, sales skills, or other technical skills like welding or operating various equipment.

  2. Cognitive abilities tests – the goal of this test is to uncover the candidate’s ability to learn, apply logic, and to assess reading comprehension, math skills, and general knowledge.

  3. Personality  assessments (including behaviors, motivators, values or integrity etc.) – the goal of these types of assessments is to learn about how the candidate will interact to others, respond to stressful situations and determine if a candidate will fit in with the culture of the work place and the demands of the job.

You probably use other tools to learn about candidates. These include candidate screeners and interviews. Candidate screeners are often part of the initial application process. Depending on the system used, a screener might include questions about skills, work experience, salary, and even work behaviors like travel and work schedule. Interviews, when done well, can shed light on the personality, values and skills displayed by the candidate.

It’s important to use assessments in a way that will improve the likelihood of selecting a candidate who will succeed on the job. A recent article in Entrepreneur put it best by saying, “A behavioral assessment is only helpful if you understand what behaviors would be successful in that particular job.” If you don’t know what behaviors will lead to success, implementing this type of assessment won’t help achieve the goal.

There are three powerful ways to use assessments:

  1. Use an assessment that will illuminate characteristics or proficiency you would like to know about the candidate. If on-the-job success is dependent on a specific skill set, choose an assessment for those skills.

  2. Use a high quality assessment. Most high quality assessments are validated. Validation means that research tools were used to gather data to demonstrate that the assessment measures what it claims to measure, that cultural bias is not a factor in the results, and that the results are reproducible. Also consider cautionary information expressing ways that the test should not be used.

  3. Use the assessment results as one factor in the decision making process. It is easy to imagine that excellence in a single skill or behavior might carry a candidate to success. Serious shortcomings in other areas can be devastating for on the job performance.

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, which discussed academic research on this topic, the assessments which correlate best with employment success includes multiple measures, “cognitive ability, personality and interests.” For example if data entry speed or typing speed is important, candidates should be asked to take a typing test. And if customer service attitude is important choose a behaviors and motivators assessment that uncovers how a candidate will respond to others. If the job requires logical thinking and an ability to learn new information quickly, try a cognitive abilities assessment. Gathering a variety of information that is important for success will help prevent bad hires.

During the recruiting process take steps to find out as much as you can about the candidate’s skills, experience and behaviors to predict their future success. Use a combination of information to make a smart hiring decision and to mitigate the risk. Choosing an assessment that’s right for the job, could mean that you are using a skills assessment, a cognitive assessment or a personality assessment, depending on job requirements. Use a combination of assessments including screeners and interviews. Sounds easy, right? But remember that it’s also important not to alienate candidates by prolonging the pre-employment process or by asking them to take so many tests that the feel like a guinea pig instead of a valuable prospective employee.

Recruiting Q&A

During a conversation in May with some of the top executives at small and mid-sized businesses nationwide, NewHire asked them to write down what questions they had about recruiting. Many of the questions we received in response fell into categories that we define in our 6 Step Recruiting Process.

Below is part two of a two part blog series outlining answers to those pressing questions. To see Part One of this blog, and the first three steps to the recruiting process, click here.

Step 4: Interviewing

Q: How do I interview to know if someone will fit in sales?

A: The recruiting process for sales reps should mirror the selling process for your sales reps as closely as possible. Be polite during an initial phone screen, but don’t be afraid to tell a candidate, “I’m not so sure this is going to work.” Their answer to that comment will give you an idea of how good they will be at handling objections.

Also, if you think you have the right candidate, give them a chance to close. Forget about the candidate for a day or two and see if they call you to follow up.

Finally, there are a variety of sales assessments available on the market that can pre-screen candidates for you so that you’re only talking to people who will fit in sales. Do some research, think critically, and decide if you want to invest in one that will help you find the right people.

Q: How can you match personality to company culture – during an interview, when people often don’t show their true personality?

A: We try to gauge “personality” or work behaviors, motivations, and personal drive in every step of the hiring process. From the initial application to the phone screen to the in-person interview, collect as many data points as you can about a candidate. If you still think they’re not showing their true colors, be up front with them. Ask them if you can expect to see the person they are presenting once they start with your company. Make it clear that if they’re not, both parties will be negatively affected. Being up front, even this late in the process, can definitely save you some headaches (and money) a few months down the road.

Step 5: Assessing

Q: When hiring for outside sales, how much weight do you give to sales assessments like Sandler?

A: This is very dependent on the job you’re advertising. If it’s a really good job in a talent-rich market, you’ll have enough candidates where you can afford to only talk to the candidates who pass the sales assessment that you subscribe to.
If it’s a really competitive market and you don’t have a wealth of candidates, it’s possible that you’ll have to make some exceptions or extend your search in order to find the right person. If you are having a difficult time getting enough recommended candidates from your assessment, look more carefully at the rejected candidates. Are there some that are close to right and have weaknesses that you can work with?

Q: How can we really find out how they performed in previous jobs?

A: Reference checks are good. But the word “really” in this question makes me think that person who asked might have been burned in the past. Sometimes, a bad reference check just serves as a peace-of-mind facilitator for the hiring manager.

Asking a candidate for proof of success can work. How many times has a sales candidate told you they were leading their previous company in sales and exceeding margins by 40%? A good response to this would be, “Hey, I’ve heard this from candidates in the past and ended up getting burned. I’d like to believe you, but I’d be more comfortable if you provided proof of your success. Can you?” They don’t necessarily have to, but their answer to this question can be a valuable indicator of success.

Step 6: Making an Offer

There were no questions about extending an offer to a candidate. However, things can definitely go awry if you’re not thinking this step through. Making a good offer that reflects the nature of the conversation you’ve been having with your top candidate is important. Be prepared to negotiate, though, especially with top talent.


Q: What’s the path of least resistance in recruiting, no matter the position?

A: I’m tempted to say, “Call NewHire!” Look, recruiting is not easy. It takes planning and execution, just like everything else in business. Easy processes with bad tools yield less than desirable results. You’ll pay for those results down the line.

Doing some work up front to define your target candidate and employee value proposition, write a killer job advertisement, and advertise it widely will get you good results when it comes time to narrow the candidate pool, interview the top 10% and finally make an offer.

The path of least resistance is still going to be difficult, but it will also be worth it. Great companies big and small have one thing in common: they put a great deal of energy into hiring well. They understand that in order to get the bus going in the right direction, you have to have the right people on that bus. That means hiring well should be hard. But it will be worth it.

Thank you for applying to ABC Company. Attached to this application you will find a personality assessment. Please answer the following questions and press ‘Finish’ upon completion.

At one point or another, we’ve all had to fill out an assessment while applying for jobs. There are many types of assessments that are all designed to evaluate an individual’s attributes and characteristics.  The purpose behind administering assessments of this nature is to identify a candidate’s compatibility with the company.

If a prospective employer handed you an assessment, how would you answer the following question:

“How would you describe your work style?”

A) Hard Working

B) Stays Late

C) Goes Above and Beyond

D) Lazy and Won’t Help Others.

If given this prompt and accompanying set of answers, which would you pick?  It’s very safe to assume that your answer would either be A, B, or C.  Now that we’ve established that D is out of the running; three responses remain. Which one are you?  Are you the “Hard Worker” who is diligent in carrying out your tasks and duties?  Are you the “Late Stayer” who is the first to volunteer for projects that require long nights at the office—even if it means picking up the phone to let your spouse know that they shouldn’t wait up for dinner?  How about the employee who “Goes Above and Beyond”?  Does that phrase describe you to a “T”?

In the eyes of the employer, A, B, and C are all acceptable answers. But out of these three responses, which one should you pick? The answer that honestly describes you? Or the one that you want to describe you? This is a struggle that most candidates face when taking an assessment. There are multiple answers that seem right; but which is the best?

Let’s say you go the route of choosing the responses that make you look like the model employee. You answer all of the questions with what you know the employer wants to hear (i.e. comes in early, stays late, can work multiple projects at once, or my personal favorite, very organized).  I, as the employer, just found the greatest employee in the world; and without hesitation call you in for an interview. You land the interview and then what? You start getting asked to give examples of when you had to be organized or when you took on multiple projects.  As a result, you bomb the interview because you can’t give examples that back-up your claims; even though the answers you gave on the assessment said you excelled at all of those things.  Now you’ve not only wasted your time, but the employer’s time as well.

Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum.  What if you decide to answer the questions truthfully?  Are you going to hurt your chances of getting the job if you don’t strongly agree or disagree to a particular question?  These are internal questions that candidates struggle with all the time.

So what do you do?  Two words:  Be yourself!  For most assessments, there is no right or wrong answer. Instead of worrying about making yourself look like someone else, make yourself look like YOU.   Wouldn’t you rather be considered for a position with a company that likes you for who you are? When going into a personality assessment, it’s always important that your answers are in line with your values and reflect the real you. In doing so, both you and your prospective employer will find a perfect fit.

You’ve narrowed your candidate pool down to a chosen few and are ready to check the backgrounds of your top candidates. Criminal background checks are in order. After all, you don’t want to hire a criminal, right? Seems simple, but like most issues in recruiting and hiring, the process can be complex with hidden pitfalls.

conviction records

Lest you think that this problem doesn’t come up very often, take a look at the front page of the Wall Street Journal from August 19, 2014. The article reports that the FBI criminal database contains arrest records for 77.7 million Americans, an astounding 33% of adults.

Perhaps the most common pitfall for employers is not understanding the difference between an arrest and a conviction in making hiring decisions. Here is the difference according the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

Difference Between Arrest Records and Conviction Records

The fact that an individual was arrested is not proof that he engaged in criminal conduct. Therefore, an individual’s arrest record standing alone may not be used by an employer to take a negative employment action (e.g., not hiring, firing or suspending an applicant or employee). However, an arrest may trigger an inquiry into whether the conduct underlying the arrest justifies such action.

In contrast, a conviction record will usually be sufficient to demonstrate that a person engaged in particular criminal conduct. In certain circumstances, however, there may be reasons for an employer not to rely on the conviction record alone when making an employment decision.

Bottom line: You shouldn’t deny employment to a candidate based on an arrest record.

conviction records hiring, employee criminal background check

Even more so, you shouldn’t go Googling around looking at “mug shot sites” to find out if your potential new employee has ever been arrested. Conviction records are another matter. You generally can (whether or not you should is another matter) use criminal conviction records to deny employment. The most common exception to this is if you are engaging in pattern of discrimination against a protected category of people and using criminal conviction records for crimes unrelated to job duties to deny employment.

So what’s an employer to do? Here are some basic rules:

  1. Do NOT use arrest records to make hiring decisions.
  2. Do ask if candidates have been “convicted of a felony.”
  3. Do inform candidates that you will be doing pre-employment backgrounds and obtain the candidates’ written consent.

One thing that you can do to work around this process is ask candidates if there is anything you will find on their background check that they’d like to tell you before you run it. It is much easier to deny employment to someone who has lied in the current recruiting process than for any kind of past action.

The takeaway here is that you cannot use arrest records when hiring. You can use conviction records, but you cannot use them to discriminate. Essentially, if the conviction directly affects the potential hire’s ability to do the job, you can use it. If it is unrelated, you may be at risk.


Mad computer

In the digital age, consumers have more information available than ever before. One increasingly popular source for such information is opinion and review platforms with non-professional/user-generated content. Whether it’s ranking a restaurant (Yelp), movie (IMDb), book (Goodreads), or even college professor (RateMyProfessor), it has become more and more frequent for everything and everyone to fall under anonymous Internet raters’ scrutiny.

And while much has been written about employers’ ability to use social media to check candidates’ backgrounds, the web has also enabled job seekers to research prospective employers based on past and current employees’ reviews. These employer reviews can play a major impact on the recruiting process, whether positive or negative, and are becoming increasingly important to track when looking to a make a hire.

Where are jobseekers going for Employer Reviews?

The two largest employer review websites currently are Glassdoor and Indeed. While smaller employers could have zero to a few dozen reviews, large employers, such as Coca-Cola, have over a thousand. On both sites, current and former employees rate companies on a 1 to 5 star scale.

Glassdoor allows reviewers to get a little more specific and asks reviewers to rate companies’ Culture & Values, Work/Life Balance, Senior Management, Compensation & Benefits, and Career Opportunities. Both sites allow reviewers to leave comments to accompany their rating, which is frequently where the most insightful information resides.

When a possible applicant uses these sites to research an employer and sees an overwhelming number of negative comments, their desire to spend time applying for that position shrinks. No one wants to work for a bad employer.

Do these reviews really have an effect on recruiting?

How frequently have you seen a restaurant proudly displaying their high Yelp or TripAdvisor rank? Some service sites put enough credence in user reviews that they use them for quality assurance.

For example, Uber, an increasingly popular transportation start-up does not allow drivers who fall below 4.7 stars to continue to drive under the company name. While goods and services providers have known for a while that online review sites affect business, when it comes to recruiting, many small- to mid-sized companies may overlook online reviews’ influence on attracting applicants and hiring people to fill positions.

When consumers turn into candidates, they don’t stop utilizing the web for information gathering. Time Magazine reported that nearly half of employees polled in 2013 said that a company’s online reputation matters as much as the job offer.  For personal evidence- all three of the most recent employees at NewHire (myself included) looked at online employer reviews during our job hunt. Finally, one possible extra perk keeping high reviews: saving money. Most candidates are willing to accept a lower salary if company reviews are favorable.

In their 2013 Candidate Behavior Study, CareerBuilder discovered that 67% of the over 5,500 job seekers polled said they would take a lower salary at an exceptionally reviewed employer online. That’s a lot of people.

Employer reviews are key to making good hires at the rate you want. So now that you know how important they are, what can you do about poor reviews? Stay tuned for part 2 and I’ll let you know.


When hiring a new employee, the interview process should include multiple candidates coming in for face-to-face interviews. Oftentimes you’ll find a candidate who surprises you in a how-did-they-get-this-far sort of way. It’s not ideal, but people can look good on a resume and have the experience that you’re looking for, but they may end up being something completely different in person. One of the ways to limit this possibility, is the implementation of assessment tests.

Skills and assessment tests come in many different shapes and sizes – you can get one that judges someone’s ability in almost anything. Here is a look at some of the different types of assessments.

Software Testing

            Let’s say you’re trying to hire someone for a marketing position. Chances are good that you’re going to want someone who can use Word, PowerPoint, and/or something like Photoshop. In that case, test them on it before you interview them. If you have a list of 10 people who are in the hunt, have each of them take a PowerPoint assessment test and see that two or three of them will have eliminated themselves by way of poor results. Sure, according to their resume they have the experience, but rather than finding out too late, you’ve now seen the truth in the form of a score report which takes up 15 seconds of your time.

Intelligence Testing

            While it’s hard to say that any test is bulletproof, certain tests have a reputation for being good measuring sticks. Our rule of the thumb is that before you use it on a candidate, you must use it on yourself! Feel free to try out a few of our options here. Among the most reputable is the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test. Employed by the NFL since the 1970s, the Wonderlic tests a person’s general intelligence, aptitude, and problem-solving ability by running a participant through a series of 50 questions over 12 minutes (or an off-site, remotely administered version at 30 questions over 8 minutes). The results are sent back to you with the score ranges color coded and the score (or applicable score range, in the 30-question version) highlighted on the page.

Behaviors and Personality Tests

Sales assessment tests seem to be the most common example of these (Meyers Briggs has long been one of the most popular sales assessment tests) but there are many different options when working to assess behaviors. These tests will ask a series of questions that help determine what motivates an individual, how they act naturally, how they act in a workplace, and what kinds of results they value most. As an example, Target Testing International (TTI) has a test which features a DISC assessment – determining the candidate’s Drive, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance – and a PIAV side – determining the personal interests, attitudes, and values of your potential employee. When used together, they provide a strong indication of the person’s makeup, which can then be measured against what you know about the position you want to fill.

Beyond this, there are certainly other options still out there for you to assess your candidates. Obviously, each of the above choices does come with a relatively low financial cost; significantly lower than finding out that someone doesn’t have their advertised skills after you hired them.

Running businessman.

Late last year Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, let it slip that bad hiring decisions probably cost his company around $100M!  It turns out that even companies with millions of dollars to spend and entire departments dedicated to bringing in talent can flub the hiring process if they aren’t careful.  There are certain steps you can take to maximize your chances of finding the right candidate, and like any process, skipping some steps can result in a shoddy product.

Here are the pitfalls that you need to watch out for if you want an effective, efficient hiring process.

1. Not understanding the job

If you don’t understand the duties and responsibilities of the job you’re hiring for, then you’re not even in a position to bring in the best candidates.  The purpose of a hiring process is to match the job to a person that can do the job.  When you have an inaccurate understanding of the job, then your ability to find that right candidate will suffer.  To minimize inaccuracies, get input from people that do the job or people who work closely with someone that does the job.  Their perspective will help you understand what you need to look for in candidates.

2. Rushing the process

Hiring is not a race.  It takes time to identify the candidate with the right combination of personality, motivators, and experience.  Rushing the process robs you of the opportunity to learn about any relevant traits in your candidate.  Use the interview stage to get to know the person behind the resume and application.  That extra bit of insight is the difference between knowing a candidate is a good fit and hoping a candidate is a good fit.

3. Drawing out the process

A drawn out process is a cover for not knowing exactly what you’re looking for or how to find it.  Throwing unnecessary hurdles at candidates for the sake of thoroughness will cost you time and candidates.  While you’re scheduling your top candidates for another interview with yet another manager, a company that’s on the ball will swoop in and lure them away with a job offer.  Sit down with your team and figure out what skills, motivators, and work-style the ideal person for that position should have.  Then figure out the most efficient steps you can take (tests, interviews, etc) to identify that person.

4. Hiring on the cheap

Hiring is expensive – there’s no way around that.  Recruiting the best candidates requires you to cast a wide net and spend resources to screen the pool until identify the right one for the job.  You wouldn’t expect to find an All-Star by searching playgrounds and sandlots, right?  The same logic applies to expecting to stumble on high-caliber candidates using minimal resources.  Does this mean you need to break the bank?  No, but you need dedicate as many resources to the process as it takes to reach the type of candidates that are the best fit.

5. Ignoring personality

Personality goes deeper than just having a nice person around the office.  It also factors in to how they do their job, what duties they’re best suited for, and which environments they’d be most productive in.  By ignoring how a candidate’s personality would mesh with their duties, you’re hurting your company AND your candidate.  You’re wasting resources to bring in someone that’s not an optimal fit for the job; your new employee is stuck in a position that’s not the best use of their talents.  Invest resources into finding out what’s behind the experience and skills, and you’ll be in a position to make an informed decision on who is really the best person for the position.

6. Failing to vet

While this problem is usually a part of the cheap hiring process, it’s not exclusive to it.  Companies spend thousands of dollars on advertising, profiling, and testing, but then decide that their gut feelings on a candidate are enough.  Unless you’re psychic, your gut feeling won’t tell you if your new accountant has an embezzlement conviction in his past, or if your new route sales rep has a few DUIs under her belt.  The vetting process isn’t so you can fill your payroll with angels and saints, but rather so you can see if someone has a history of behaviors that would be detrimental to your company’s success.


The key to an effective hiring process is that you have the correct elements in place to filter your applicant pool until you’re left with the best candidate for the position.  Doing anything that doesn’t move your company towards that goal is a waste of your resources and your candidates’ time.  However you run your hiring process, take some time to examine it for these pitfalls, and then take the necessary steps to address those issues.

This article is a guest post by Melonie Boone at Boone Management Group. Melonie has a passion for business and education. She currently holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources Management from Loyola University of Chicago, a Master of Business Administration in Management from Florida Metropolitan University as well as a Master of Jurisprudence in Business Law and Corporate Governance from Loyola University Law School.  Her comprehensive experience in optimizing strategic planning initiatives to achieve organizational goals allows her to work as a trusted adviser to entrepreneurs, business owners and senior management teams. Melonie has the ability to create, implement and execute strategic plans for every area of our clients business.


So you have the perfect candidate and you want to check them out online. Most of us almost instinctively conduct a Google search or check out their Tweets, Facebook or other social media outlets trying to get the inside scoop on a candidate. What we don’t realize is the risks associated with taking adverse action based on what we find. Social media sites can give you protected information like age, ethnicity and race. It can also include political affiliation, religious beliefs, disability and other personal information that if used in a hiring decision can be seen a discriminatory.

Before you make a decision to deny a person’s employment based on something you find on the web, please refer these following steps and read the article at the links below.

Tips to minimize your risk:

Ask some basic questions:

1. Why do you want to use social media?
2. What is the utility of doing the search?
3. What information are you hoping to find?
4. Is candidate use of social media a plus or a minus?
5. Is it critical to the position? (For some jobs, you may need someone thoroughly familiar with online sites and procedures; for others, there is no need.)

When Should You Search?

Do your search after the interview but before the offer, or make the offer contingent on passing the check? Before the search, get prior consent from the applicant.

Who Should Search?

“For sure,” says Meyer, a partner with Dilworth Paxson LLP in Philadelphia, “don’t let the person making the hiring decision do the online check.” Consider using:
• A third party
• A member of the HR department
• Another non-decision-maker

How Should You Search?

“The ad hoc approach is stupid,” says Meyer. Be organized about your search:

  • Have a policy.
  • Train people on your policy. (“Hiring managers, resist the temptation to go to Google.”)
  • Develop a checklist. Write out a list of what you want to know, says Meyer.

For example:

• Expressions of hate
• Drug use
• Sexual content
• Disparaging comments about work
• Mean things about customers
• Volume of online activity (updating status every 10 minutes, tweeting every 15)
• Good judgment
• Good writing

The checkers go down the checklist and only the checklist. They don’t report on protected characteristics.

Document your procedure so that you can show consistency in your checking activities.

It only takes a second to make a costly mistake. If you choose to use social media as a source for screening a candidate remember Meyer’s tips, use sound judgment and measure the entire interview process before making an adverse decision based off of what you find on the web.

reference check phone callReference checking is an essential aid to employers.  It allows an employer to verify information their applicant has provided and also has the potential to allow the employer another insight into the applicant’s character and work ethic before hiring.

However, many job candidates’ former employers are reluctant to provide any information except basic employment facts about the applicant. This may be for any number of reasons, but it’s an obstacle that could be overcome by having your applicant sign a release form allowing you to contact their listed former employers.  If your applicant has given consent to contact their references, the opportunity should not be glossed over or otherwise overlooked.

How to conduct a reference check

Ideally, you should speak with someone who directly supervised your applicant or directly reviewed the applicant’s performance.  When talking with the references, focus on the applicant’s documented history with the company and with how the supervisors dealt with them.

Prepare for your conversation with references by focusing on the work-related issues raised during the screening and interviewing process. For instance, one recent candidate claimed that she was the top salesperson at a former employer. The reference check call was a great opportunity to confirm that bit of information… she was!

If you have a particular area of concern about a candidate, verify the information with references. Don’t be afraid to be direct during the call. The more direct you are the more likely to get a valuable nugget of information.

Just as there are off-limits questions concerning your applicant in interviews, avoid these out-of-bounds topics for their references:

  • Disability
  • National origin
  • Citizenship
  • Marital status
  • Religion
  • Sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy)
  • Political preferences
  • Race
  • Color
  • Creed
  • Age

Questions that concern the above topics would definitely get you in trouble with EOE and ADA compliance. Avoid the hassles and steer clear from them and focus on the applicant’s duties and how they performed at their previous jobs.

Reference checks, if performed correctly, have the potential to ensure your hire is a great hire.

Please share a story or best practice from your reference checking!

Photo Credit: Willy D (Flickr)