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Staff Selection - 10 Top Stressful Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Staff Selection – 10 Top Stressful Mistakes And How To Avoid Them


You need the “right” staff in your business. It’s surprising that so many managers take so little care in choosing them. Staff selection’s a very costly activity. Avoid these ten mistakes. Get better people, reduce your costs and make management less stressful.


1. Not Understanding What You’re Doing

The purpose of staff selection is to get a job done. It is not – I repeat not – to choose a person. It’s like buying anything for your business. Decide first what you want to achieve. Then buy something, or in this case someone, that’ll achieve it for you. You’re the buyer. Candidates are sellers: not the other way around. You’re not trying to “sell” your business to them. They’re trying to “sell” their competence and experience to you.

2. Poor Job Analysis

You need an output centred job analysis; not a long winded person or position description with “and other duties as required” stuck at the end of it. You need to know before you start how you’ll know for certain that you’ve been successful. To do that, you need a clear, measurable definition of what the job’s designed to achieve.

3 Imprecise Job Ad

Whether you use an ad or an agent remember this: the purpose of the job ad is to attract the “ideal” candidate and deter everyone else from applying. You want “few but ideal” applicants. If your ad attracts lots of responses, you’ve probably written a lousy ad. Measure the success of your ad by the quality, not the quantity of candidates. Be upfront with potential candidates. Say, “Only apply if…” or “Do not apply unless…” Make sure your ad contains very clear and very specific directions about what you want.

4. Asking For Written Applications

Never, ever, ever ask for written applications. Would you buy a new computer by putting an ad in a newspaper and asking every computer retailer who felt inclined to write to you and tell you why you should buy their computer? Don’t “buy” staff that way either.

Put your name and phone number in the ad. Get applicants to call you. Screen them on the phone. Invite them for interview only if you’re almost certain they could achieve the objectives of the vacant job. Be “tough but fair” in your assessment. If an applicant, an agent or consultant sends a written resume send it straight back. Attach a polite note asking them to call you as requested in the ad. Save time, money, stress.

5. Failure To Test

I find it remarkable that competency testing isn’t mandatory in staff selection. And that applies to everyone including applicants for a managerial job. You cannot tell what someone can do merely by talking with them. If an applicant claims that they can do something, there’s only one way to find out whether they’re being truthful. Get them to do it.

6. The “Experience Trap”

You prime concern should be about what candidates – sellers- can do for you and your business in the future: not on what they’ve done for someone else in the past. Yet so many managers focus on past performance in selection. It’s important but that’s all. Constantly ask yourself, “What results will this person contribute to my business in the future?” Be careful that you’re not seduced then caught in the “experience trap”.

7. Trusting References And Referees’ Reports

I won’t mince words. Ignore written references entirely. Treat verbal referees’ reports with suspicion. Candidates will only present written references that praise them and extol their skills and virtues. Why take notice of them? And applicants will only give you names of people who’ll do much the same. Even where a verbal report is critical of the applicant, you don’t know whether the referee “has an axe to grind” or some “hidden agenda” or, in the worst case, is hostile towards your business. And always ask for documentary proof of claimed qualifications from applicants who “pass” your telephone screen.

8. Overvaluing The Face To Face Interview

The face to face interview is a major privilege to be offered only to those candidates who have

Absolutely satisfied the rigorous demands of your telephone screen
Demonstrated their competence to your satisfaction.
In other words, the face to face interview is for those few candidates whom you already believe will be able to do the job. It has three major purposes

You should interview as few people as possible. It should be one of the very last things you do in the selection process. The face to face interview should be about ‘culture fit” not competence. Let me say so again. You cannot tell what people can do merely by talking with them. That applies no matter how good an interviewer you think you are.

9. Ignoring The PR

The staff selection process is also a public relations exercise. Complete strangers are contacting your business for the first time. Treat them honestly and truthfully. Even if their candidacy is entirely unsuitable, they and their friends and colleagues may be customers or potential customers. Be polite and professional.

One more thing: unsuccessful candidates want to know that they’re unsuccessful as early as possible in the process, preferably during the telephone screening. And whatever else you do, honour precisely any commitment you make to an applicant. If you tell a candidate you’ll call back by 10 am tomorrow, make sure you do exactly that.

10. Being Rushed

Hasten slowly. You’re about to invest tens of thousands, perhaps hundred of thousands of dollars in a new resource. You expect a spectacular return on your investment. Take your time. Prepare thoroughly. Write and use scripts for every contact that you have with any applicant by phone, face to face or in any other way. The more you rush, the more likely you are to make an error. Errors in staff selection are be very costly indeed.


I know that much of what I’ve said challenges the conventional wisdoms of staff selection. That doesn’t bother me one bit. I’ve worked in and around selection for decades. I’ve written books, articles, eBooks, manuals and self instruction texts about the subject. My main concern is to ensure that managers can make the best possible selection decisions for their businesses. If that upsets the so- called staff selection “professionals”, so be it. But if it helps shatter the mystique that these people have established to protect their staff selection “patch”, I’ll be delighted.


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