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Best Practices

Best Practices in Selection

By Deb McClanahan, BroadBandHR Consulting

This article may be useful to any organization in any functional area or industry — the basic principles spelled out here were developed over a long practice across many industries and types of organizations for any type of position, from executive to individual contributor. A sound selection process can move your organization forward in ways that you could never have predicted.

Requirements — what is the job?

It is critical to understand the baseline state of the role. If the position is a replacement for someone who is leaving or has left the organization, it is always a good idea to reassess the position.

  • Should the role change to allow the organization to do more than the past incumbent did? Is there an opportunity to make smart business process changes that impact the position?
  • Could the position be reassessed to provide a learning opportunity for someone in the organization as a developmental assignment?
  • Who are the internal customers that this position has as key contacts?
  • Who are the external customers for this position?
  • Are there major changes in the industry or the economy that impact this role?

In addition to detailed and general market assessments, one should also assess factors such as competitors, labor market availability, and other macro-economic factors which may impact the role and how the work is done.

Requirements — what does it take to do the job?

This assessment will point you toward the actual requirements that will be used in the recruiting process. We often have a tendency to set requirements at a level higher than actually required. Sometimes this happens because of organizational preferences (e.g. Google likes to hire Ivy League school graduates). Sometimes it happens through lack of thought about the position or assumptions that are incorrect. While this can be positive for your organization as a whole, it sometimes creates difficulties after the recruiting is done. A realistic assessment of the real job leads to a real set of requirements that fit the position. There may be an opportunity to make strategic additions to your organization in building additional bench strength to your team in reassessing requirements for a given role.

Who Selects?

It is important to establish who is making the decision on the position as soon as the definition is complete and the position is approved to be filled. You also need to think about how widely the selection process will go — should a team of managers and peers have input into the interview process? Will there be a consensus driven process to select the right candidate? Remember that whatever process you choose to use, the process should be applied consistently to all interviewed candidates. You may choose to interview a number of candidates and then winnow down to a group of 2-3 finalists.

While it may seem obvious, the hiring manager should have the final say on who is hired for their position. It is common that some level of review of the selected candidate takes place before the offer is issued. In larger organizations, a review by HR is common, as is a review by the hiring manager's manager. Each organization has a slightly different process for completing this process. These decisions should be made at the start of the process, and not changed unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Set a Timeline for the Process

It is helpful for all involved in the selection process to understand upfront what the preferred completion will be. Agreeing to a selection timeline often includes determining a "must have by" date and backing up from that to allow for a candidate who is employed to give notice to a current employer. Timing should not be the only parameter considered — caliber of candidates and the match to the position should be the final determiner of when the recruitment process ends. But having timeline estimates in place for the selection is helpful.

Make the Right People Aware of the Opportunity

Many organizations make their employees aware of open positions as soon as they occur. Sometimes it is important to not let employees know of a position. HR and your recruiter can help you determine what the right approach is and why.

If you have an internal opportunities program, ensure that qualified employees know how to apply for consideration of the position. Many companies reward current employees for referring their friends and family through Employee Referral Program awards.

Ensure a Broad Candidate Pool

Whether you use internal or external resources, you need to ensure that your candidate pool includes a broad swath of qualified candidates. An Executive Search professional has many more tools to identify the right people for the position than you or your internal personnel will have. We specialize in identifying people who are typically not looking for a job, those most often who would not respond to an ad or internet posting. A well balanced candidate pool will include diverse candidates including race, sex, nationality/ethnicity, veteran status, and age. We also have access to people through our own networks that you would not see on the open market.

Use a Process Appropriate to the Position

Twenty seven individual interviews done in four trips to the company site is not an appropriate interview process for any position. That's inconsiderate of the candidate's time, and wastes a lot of your organization's time unnecessarily. I hear complaints from candidates on this issue regularly — this indicates to me that the company just doesn't have its selection act together. Two or three rounds of interviews after a phone screen should be a maximum investment for both the candidates and your organization.

Some companies use testing programs for technical positions. The quality of online administered tests is excellent today — don't build your own. If you choose to test, use a validated third party testing service for everyone that is a candidate for a specific position. These testing programs will scare off unqualified candidates who can't do the work, as well as reveal the fit and potential for qualified candidates.

Some companies choose to do another assessment or work sample for finalists for a key role. This can be very revealing and an excellent process if done correctly. Do not try this at home — ensure that you have guidance from your HR professional or Executive Recruiter in doing this type of exercise — this can be a disaster without appropriate planning and execution.

Ensure that the Selected Candidate is Interested

Sense check the candidates' interest along the way. If the process is delayed because of other activities, ensure that someone is communicating to the candidates accurately and often. A quick email to let candidates know of any delay is a great way to keep candidates actively in the process and with the company. This also lets the candidates know that the company is one you want to work for. This is another way that your Executive Recruiter can make your life easier.

Close the Deal

Whether you use an Executive Recruiter, some other outside resource, or an internal HR person, it is often appropriate to have someone other than the hiring manager negotiate with the selected candidate. There are often hard feelings and disappointments when the hiring manager is in the middle of the negotiations. The one exception to this in my experience is when the CEO is recruiting for his/her direct reports — this should be done by the hiring manager unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Allow appropriate time for the candidate to make a decision after the formal offer is made. We often like to have the hiring manager extend a verbal offer, and have the HR professional follow up with the formal offer process. A well-executed offer and decision is the close to a great selection.


We often find that clients come to us for running an entire selection process for an Executive Search. We can also perform a specific part of the process, and demonstrate what a successful selection process works.


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