What to Look for When Hiring Your Next Employee

Before you even hire your next employee, consider the requirements for the job and the ideal candidate. This list offer four tips for creating the best descriptions for both the job and employee you wish to hire.

Four Steps to Creating a Practical Description of the Job and Ideal Candidate

Do you have job descriptions for each position within your company?
Do they accurately describe the qualities of the ideal job candidate?
Are they clear, helpful and practical for use in making hiring decisions?

If you answered "no" to any of the questions above, you’re certainly not alone. Many small and medium-sized business owners admit that they’re not sure how to accurately describe jobs and, in turn, don’t always know what they should be looking for when hiring a potential employee.

Some depend on generic job descriptions that are vague, complex or impractical when making selection decisions. These descriptions tend to be expensive to develop, difficult to update, and end up gathering dust on office shelves because they’re not intuitive or easy to use. Others simply assume that applicants need a certain degree and number of years experience in the field to be successful, and basically leave it at that.

In either case, managers don’t always have the specific information they need to make good selection decisions, and end up uncertain about how to source, screen and select the right type of employee. Fortunately, there are four simple steps to overcoming this problem.

1. Develop Key Organizational, Departmental and Role Objectives

Perhaps the most important pieces of information missing from most job descriptions are organizational, departmental and role objectives – the reasons why a position exists and the part it plays in helping the company succeed. The majority of job decisions instead provide a list of standard tasks and purposeless activities, many of which are generic to a certain job title and fail to describe what it takes to be successful in a particular organization.

For example, standard job descriptions often indicate that Sales Representative are responsible for using a variety of tactics to acquire new customers, like cold calling and attending trade shows, but provide no indication of why these tasks should be done.

What if one of your organization’s goals is to increase profitability and it happens to be very costly to use trade shows to gather new clients in your industry? In that case, this task could work against the company’s purpose, cutting into potential revenue and limiting its success. Without an objective in mind, the employee may not consider other ways to build more profitable client relationships.

Understanding key organizational objectives forces hiring managers to really think about the tasks that would provide the most value to their companies, removing certain activities from the description, adding others, and modifying some so that they describe how an employee would best contribute to company’s goals.

Suggested Resource: "Make Success Measurable!" by Douglas K. Smith

2. Outline Systems and Processes.

Once you know why a position exists, and the part it plays in helping your company succeed, only then can you focus your attention on the activities completed in the role. However, it does little good to simply build an unstructured list of potential tasks and duties, as you would find in a traditional job description.

Instead, it is most helpful to think in terms of systems and processes, the steps that an employee takes in completing a particular role objective. For example, a Sales Rep doesn’t "build profitable relationships with current customers" simply by calling them on a regular basis. Rather, there is an series of tasks that the employee would engage in to meet that objective, in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

Perhaps it begins with reviewing the current client database and compiling information on customer financials, purchase history, and other background details, with a focus on identifying opportunities to sell other company offerings. Then reps may use this information to develop a written sales proposal that is later presented to client management in a group setting. The final step to achieving this goal may involve negotiating pricing with buyers.

The benefit to systems thinking is that it is much easier to update the job description as the organization evolves, and as you learn more about what it takes to be successful in the role. It helps you identify weak spots in a particular process and update it as you see fit. Of course, any updates to the tasks performed could mean that you should be looking for different qualities in a potential hire than is currently the case.

Suggested Resource: "The E-Myth Revisited" by Michael Gerber.

3. Develop Role-Specific Competencies

At this point, you would know the job’s purpose and what needs to be done to meet that goal. This is important because it informs you about the competencies you should be evaluating during the selection process - the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes a candidate needs to possess in order to complete a series of tasks successfully.

For example, effectively compiling client information may require that your sales candidates know how to use your company’s database software and have the ability to understand and evaluate client statistics. Explaining sales proposals to the client may require well-developed presentation skills, and attributes that include confidence in formal social settings and comfort persuading and negotiating.

In turn, being aware of required competencies allows you to choose assessment methods to best uncover these qualities in your applicant pool and ultimately identify the candidate most likely to be a high performer in the role.

In the case of hiring Sales Reps, you may now include a:

  • Skills test to measure candidates knowledge and proficiency in using your database software.
  • Numerical reasoning test to assess candidates’ ability to understand and evaluate client statistics.
  • Group exercise to evaluate presentation skills.
  • Behavioral style questionnaire and structured interview to assess confidence in formal social settings and candidates’ comfort persuading and negotiating.

Those who perform well throughout the assessment are most likely to effectively complete a process, meet role objectives, and ensure that the company succeeds in achieving its mandate.

Suggested Resource: Jobs and related competency information on O*Net at http://online.onetcenter.org

4. Measure Performance

The final step in creating a practical job description is to figure out how to objectively measure performance in the position. That way, you'll be able to distinguish between your most and least successful hires, shedding light on whether you’ve chosen the right tasks and competencies. In other words, you’ll know whether your employees’ approach to meeting role objectives is actually effective and whether or not you need to update your description.

For example, if the key objective for Sales Reps is to increase profitability, then a measure of performance may be "revenue generated per customer, minus the cost of making the sale and providing the product." In this case, if you find out that Sales Reps with the highest profit per customer spend more time with clients trying the understand their needs, compared to their less successful peers, then you may need to revisit your job description in order to better highlight the importance of meeting with clients.

In turn, these changes to the job description mean that you would also need to measure candidate consultation skills and open-mindedness, perhaps through a valid behavioral styles questionnaire and structured interview questions. A close-minded candidate with poor social skills would likely be unsuccessful in this environment, and have difficulty increasing profits.

Suggested Resource: The Hire Insight Group White Paper entitled "Knowing What to Look for When Hiring Your Next Employee: Developing a Practical Job Description for the Small or Mid-sized business"


Clearly, developing a useful job description does not have to be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking. It simply requires you to think about why the role is important, what employees must do to meet these objectives, and which qualities they must possess in order to maximize their performance in the position.

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  • Chad Hayward


    Many thanks for the comment. You're exactly right recommending that employers use valid job-related assessment methods - it's something that we in I/O psychology (yes, I'm one!) push constantly. In fact, it was one of the reasons that I wrote the above article, hoping that people would work through a process as above to better understand the job, before creating an evaluation process. It was a way to get readers thinking about why the position exists, how to choose critical tasks, and how to determine the competencies that are required to be successful. I also try to stress the value of determining performance metrics, as a way to validate the process after its development, by measuring the performance of those hired using certain methods (i.e., if the methods used cannot differentiate between employees who are most and least successful at meeting role objectives, then the methods may not be valid and the process should be re-evaluated.)
    Your second point is a good one and highlights the difference between knowledge/skills (i.e., knowledge being facts and information learned; skills being capabilities needed to perform a task that can be enhanced through practice) and ability (i.e., enduring aptitudes that are stable over time). I'll certainly agree that abilities and aptitudes are most important, but would argue that knowledge and skills should be assessed as well. Some positions require that candidates have a certain level of knowledge and skill in specific areas before being hired. In other cases, it saves the employer from having to spend a great deal of time training someone who does not have a specific skill (e.g., it would cost a great deal of time and money to hire an untrained mechanic who has strong mechanical aptitudes...that person may have high potential but it would be unrealized without proper training). So, in the case of the salesperson, the ideal candidate would have both the aptitude for using the computer system and knowledge of the specific system used (e.g., Access) so that employers are not stuck with someone who is smart but inexperienced with that particular database.
    I also wrote a longer white paper on the subject, the link to which is in the fourth section above. I would love to hear your thoughts on it, and whether I was better able to communicate the need for assessment validation. I'll send an invite to connect and perhaps we can exchange notes on the subject.

    All the best,

  • Chad Thompson

    Two very critical things I think you might be missing in terms of pre-hire assessment and testing for selection. One, anything kind of pre-hire assessment (e.g., testing, interviews) must be job-related. This is done through a validation process, which can mean several different things. To decide how to best validate your pre-hire assessment, organizations often turn to I/O psychologists. Two, your pre-hire assessment program should be focused on things that cannot be taught on the job. In the salesperson example, you would want a test that tests their overall computer skills (if that is a requirement of the job), not one that taps their ability to work in your specific software package.