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Finding the needle in the haystack: What’s Important, What’s Not When Seeking The Best Person For The Job

“We need to get someone in right away.” Whether due to a sudden change of mandate, an unexpected surge in workload or the unanticipated departure of a valued employee, the hiring process often begins with an urgent request. The natural response is to get right on it and set up interviews as quickly as possible. But when it comes to identifying and hiring the right communications person for the job, taking the time to consider the relevant skills for the position, assessing existing team dynamics, and examining the personalities and particular needs of clients inside and outside your organization will go a long way toward selecting the best candidates.

What is important and what is not when going through the process of hiring communications people?

First and foremost, beyond reviewing the job description, prepare a brief describing the specific skills required and the type of person who would best be suited for the job. Ideally, this means sitting down with the leader of the team that is seeking to hire the individual and getting them to verbalize what they need. For example, if the person being sought will be dealing primarily with a high technology client who is knowledgeable about complex technology products and services and also has a cheeky sense of humour, then it would be wise to consider candidates who, apart from their solid communications credentials, are extremely tech savvy and don’t mind some jovial banter on the job.

Second, a job interview is an opportunity for a candidate to explain why they have the specific skill set your organization is seeking. It is not a friendly chat. Keep the focus of the interview on the job description and the particular traits of the individual being sought. How well could the interviewee potentially fulfill the job requirements? How well would they interact with key individuals on a daily basis? While some candidates can be charming and know how to sell themselves well, make sure that anyone chosen for a second round of interviews matches the core elements of the brief.

Third, stick to the script. Bring along a prepared list of questions to the interview. Ensure that every candidate in a particular search answers the same set of questions, so that an objective assessment can be made at the end of the interview process.

Fourth, interviews should not involve a cast of thousands. The more people allowed into the recruitment process, the more dissent regarding candidates will potentially emerge. Apart from the hiring manager, invite only those individuals who are crucial to the hire into the room. The immediate supervisor, one or two peers and a senior manager will likely do – unless there is a complex reporting or working relationship, in which case you may wish to slightly increase the participant count. While second and third interviews are frequently conducted, be mindful of the fact that the more individuals involved, the longer the process will take and you may lose a candidate to another employer who is more efficient at completing the hire.

Fifth, corporate fit is vitally important. Once you’ve made a short list of individuals who are equally qualified and are strong finalists for the position, take the time to consider their fit within your organization. Think of how each candidate matches up against your corporate mission, vision and values. Are they a natural fit with your corporate culture? Do they share your approach to business and are they passionate about what you are trying to achieve? Do their long-term career aspirations align well with your organization’s long-term business plan?

Everybody wants to find that needle in the haystack and make the right hire. The most successful hires are those individuals who best meet the expectations of the actual job, including having the ability to navigate the particular personalities and dynamics of internal and external teams. It is human nature to be drawn to certain candidates through similar past experiences, interests, educational or personal backgrounds. But in order to choose the right hire for the organization, recruitment requires you to rise above personal preferences and take an objective look at what is best for achieving your corporate business objectives.

Sandra Upeslacis is the Manager of Talent Retention and Acquisition at NATIONAL Public Relations, Canada’s largest public relations firm with 300 employees in nine offices across Canada, in London and New York. NATIONAL has experience in assisting clients with the recruitment of communications professionals, in review and configuration of communications departments, and in training new and existing staff. Email, [email protected]