A bad hire is an expensive and stressful mistake for any business, but especially for small businesses with no HR department on hand.

Here’s a simple guide to help you avoid bad hires and find the right people to grow your business.Identify the skills you need

Think broadly about the role and the ideal combination of skills you need, not just about finding a like-for-like replacement or plugging a gap that exists now.

It might help to list weekly and monthly tasks in your business, and then assess how you currently perform.  Consider the skill, energy and capacity levels across your team against those tasks and you’ll see where an extra member of staff can help. You can then use that information to define a really clear job spec for your vacancy.Be clear about what’s in it for them

When you’re writing a job spec, make it simple and persuasive. You want candidates to know that they’re a great fit for your business and feel excited about the opportunity to join you.

  • Make job titles simple and clear – no ninjas, wizards or gurus please.
  • Make the job description snappy. On average, people take 49.7 seconds to dismiss a job description. You’ve not got long to grab them.
  • Keep your requirements short and relevant. Don’t waste time with generic skills like ‘good communicator’.
  • Excite them about your business. Tell them what makes you different and a great place to work.
  • Give a salary range – it manages expectations and makes sure you don’t waste your or your candidates’ time.
  • Include other benefits – not just holidays and pension or childcare schemes but is flexible working an option? What about training and career development? Do you reward loyalty?

Shortlist your applicants

Use your job spec to filter all your applicants.  Under the Equality Act 2010, everyone should have an equal chance to apply and be selected for jobs, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or pregnancy or maternity.

Make a list of everyone who has applied and then score them against the ideal skills, qualifications and experience needed to do the job. This will help you sort out the ‘possibles’ from the ‘definite nos’.

Send the ‘nos’ a polite reply thanking them for their application and explaining that you won’t be taking it any further. Every applicant, however unsuitable, deserves the courtesy of a response.

Then get to work on your possibles.

Use your skills/qualifications/experience scoring to prioritise. Read CVs and covering letters carefully – they can tell you a lot about the applicant and how genuine their interest in your job is.  If they’ve done their research and know a bit about you, it’ll shine through.

Let any more rejected candidates know they haven’t been successful this time and then invite your shortlist for an interview. Don’t forget to tell them who they’ll be seeing and what to expect. Interviews can be nerve wracking!Interview in stages

To be confident in a good hire, you need to be absolutely sure of the candidate’s skills and their fit for your business.

Prepare for interviews with a prioritised list of the skills you need.  What are essential and what can you live without?

Keep questions relevant and invite useful answers.  A mixture of ‘tell me how…’ and ‘what if…’ will prompt people to explain their thought process. Asking candidates to share their proudest work achievements will show you what they consider to be great.

Grade all candidates’ answers consistently and take notes.  A numbered system, or poor to excellent will help you compare everyone equally.

Always follow up successful formal interviews with an informal coffee/meet the team.  You’ll get to know each other and see quickly if there’s a natural fit.treat your candidates with respect

To snare the best candidates, applying for your job should be easy and enjoyable. Make them feel welcome and part of the team – they’ll want the job more for it.

Keep in regular contact when you’re arranging and confirming interviews and during your decision making process. Candidates go to a lot of effort in applying for jobs, the least you can do is let them know where they stand.

Be sensitive to their current situation. It’s not easy to take time off work for multiple interviews, so if you have to meet a candidate again, be prepared to do it before or after work.

Of course, your other option is to use a recruitment service to find great candidates for you. That may seem like an expensive route, but using an expert to handle the hiring process from start to finish means you can focus on running the business.

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