Part two of this three-part series on the hiring game focuses on the critical steps that will ensure you hire the right people.

Last month's article ("Finding talent," p. 37) covered how to find talent in today's drum-tight labor market. Assuming you have now implemented these practices, you now find yourself with an army of prospects lined up at your door to complete your employment application. What do you do now?

Select for Fit.

Most employers don't properly define what they need. Before you rush to interviewing, you first need to define the specific performance skills and personal attributes needed for the position you are looking to fill.

Come up with a performance skills list of requirements to perform the job. For a warehouse specialist, you might want the candidate to be able to presently drive a forklift, lift and move up to 50 lbs, and within the first ninety days, be able to continually pick sixty lines per hour with no errors. Performance skills for an outside salesperson could be to obtain 30 new accounts and produce $30,000 in monthly gross margin at 22% within the first six months of employment.

Personal attributes are character traits. For example, an outside salesperson ideally should be a self-starter, possess excellent verbal communication skills, have a positive attitude and be an assertive individual who can close orders while increasing gross margins. Being a highly detailed, analytical thinker who is extremely well organized would be important personal attributes for accounting, bookkeeping and information-technology personnel. These are all personal attributes and each position you are seeking to fill will require job candidates with different character traits.

Once you have a detailed list of performance skills and personal attributes, you can fashion a Candidate Rating Profile (see form on page 50). You must ensure that each performance skill and personal attribute is specific and measurable so that each interviewer at your company can rate the job candidates. It's best to compile a list of questions that allow you to rate the specific performance skills and personal attributes you outlined on the Candidate Rating Profile.

The Interview Process.

Most employers fail to interview candidates thoroughly. It should be a multi-person and multi-step process. Now that you have a stack of applications/resumes as a result of the recruiting tactics you have employed based on last month's article, resist the urge to pick up the telephone with the sole purpose of scheduling personal interviews.

First, take your best job candidates on paper and conduct initial telephone interviews with all of them. You must determine if the candidate has the requisite skills to perform the job, and decide if you want to continue the interview process.

Notify the candidates you are telephoning that this is the initial screening phase to select whom you will interview face-to-face. Tell them that those applicants who pass the initial telephone interview will next be brought in for a two-person personal interview, followed by peer interviews, testing, and finally, reference checks.

During the telephone screening, determine salary expectations up front so that it's not an issue once you're well into the interviewing process. Based on the application or resume, utilize this time to answer the following questions: Does the candidate have a record of accomplishment that assures you he or she will be a successful performer in the open position? Why is the applicant seeking to change jobs and join your company?

The team approach in interviewing candidates works best. First, conduct a two-person interview, which typically consists of two managers or supervisors or a supervisor and a human resources representative. If the candidate passes this interview, schedule a peer interview with several people of the same function or from the same department. Peer interviews are especially important since peers perform similar processesto be completed by the applicant. In addition, when peers are involved in the selection process, they will support their new hire.

When interviewing, you must omit asking any questions that might be legally perceived as discriminatory. As a general rule of thumb, avoid asking any questions about a candidate's name, age, marital status, sex, family, national origin, religion, or any disabilities. During the interview, your job is to listen actively and resist the temptation to talk. Ask open-ended questions that require a detailed answer by the applicant. Never ask a question that can be answered with either a "Yes" or "No" response. Make it a practice to always ask "How," "Why" or "What" questions.

Pre-Employment Testing Process.

There are two forms of pre-employment testing that you should utilize: aptitude testing and personality testing. Aptitude tests are job-specific measurements of an applicant's knowledge and ability to perform certain tasks. For a truck driver, there is a road test required by the U.S. Department of Transportation. For a warehouse specialist, a candidate could test-drive a forklift, lift 50-lb parcels of material, and pick orders from a picking ticket in your warehouse. There are tests available from the American Society of Certified Public Accounts you can administer to potential accounting personnel. For salespeople, you can easily create a written test, utilizing NAED's EPEC or Edge self-study programs or vendor self-study programs to ascertain the candidate's level of product knowledge. You can also role-play with a sales applicant, posing as a customer, giving them several sales scenarios and asking them to close an order.

Personality tests measure an applicant's personal attributes described above. The most accurate personality test I have found is the Predictive Index published by Praendex, Inc., Wellesley Hills, Mass.

The Reference Check.

Never fail to conduct a thorough reference check. The reference check is the "reality check" to confirm every important fact the candidate has revealed to you. Check the references of the top three candidates from at least each candidate's last three employers. The further you go back in time, the more likely people are to tell you the full truth, and a performance pattern will emerge.

The Candidate Review.

Compiling the Candidate Rating Profiles and testing results, you must assemble all the individuals who interviewed the candidates to review each candidate. In the final analysis, ignoring the gut instincts and reservations of any one interviewer will ultimately result in a hiring mistake. If any interviewer provides a "thumbs down" on the Candidate Rating Profile, the candidate should not be hired. Remember, the key to hiring winners is to "Hire Slowly!"

To be continued.