Friday, August 8, 2008

GOOD CHOICE! (hiring during downturn)

ST Recruit on 4 Nov 2002
by ONG Yong Hwee
When you hire new employees, what you see may not necessarily be what you get. Learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. 
In an economic downturn, it is vital to have strong employees on your team. Tough times require tough people, and it is not necessarily true that those who have done their job well during the boom times will be able to pull their weight during the lean years.

When you are hiring, be sure you have the ability to differentiate between those who are genuinely good workers and those who do well because they "happen to be at the right place at the right time".

For instance, candidates who have been successful in a multinational corporation (MNC), where the products are market-ready, business systems are well-developed and resources are available, may not necessarily do well in a non-MNC environment. Therefore, local companies that intend to hire key and often expensive staff from MNCs have to be very careful in their recruitment process.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when considering a candidate:

Is he or she capable of motivating staff?

Find out whether the candidate has successfully mentored any of his staff. Make sure he is not the kind of person who puts down his co-workers, or who sees them merely as obstacles on his way up the corporate ladder.

Look for a person who uses his expertise to develop new ideas for the growth of the company, and not one who plots and gets involved in petty office politics.

Beware the candidate who looks good but is merely a hitchhiker going for a ride in your company. Always countercheck his claims or achievements with his referees. For instance, the business ideas he claims to have successfully implemented in his last job may have come from the corporate headquarters and not from the candidate. A big company with a good business model is like a big ship running on its own momentum. It will keep sailing even when there is a less-than-competent captain in charge.

Does he blame others for his mistakes?

Watch out for the candidate who plays the blame game. Be on the alert if you hear one too many personal attacks or complaints. If all the jobs he has held so far did not work out because of politics or difficult colleagues, the problem probably lies with him. Usually, this occurs with drifters ? those who move from job to job.

A candidate who admits and learns from his mistakes is the type of candidate you should seek. Try asking your candidate to cite one of his biggest career mistakes and the lesson he learnt.

Over the years, I have heard quite a few key managers denying any blame for the decline or failure of their business. Some even insist that they have never made any mistakes in all their decision-making years.

These are the candidates who refuse to take any responsibility for mistakes. It may also indicate that they were so cautious that they did not attempt to innovate and try out new ideas.

Would you hire someone in this category to help revive your business?

Is he stuck in an ivory tower?

Dreamers are usually easy to detect as they are all talk and no action.
A know-it-all may have all the management theories at his fingertips.

Your job is to detect the truth from the fluff: Is his knowledge gleaned from reading or from real-life experience? If it is the former, what you get is an armchair consultant rather than a real business practitioner.

Someone "up there" who is not hands-on may also have difficulty fitting into most local companies' work cultures which demand a more hands-on approach from their key personnel.

Is he flashy?

Avoid show-offs who claim to have done it all. This is not an employees' market. Therefore, candidates tend to blow their trumpets a little more.

Other points

Find out if the candidate is a clock-watcher who only works from 9 to 5. Worse, is he a spy for your competition? Is he the kind of person who "delegates" the dirty work to others?

This brief guide is by no means exhaustive. Use your common sense to map out more negative traits that you usually look for in candidates and apply them during the interviewing and recruitment process. It will definitely help you to go deeper in analysing your candidates.

Article by Mr Ong Yong Hwee, general manager of CEO Search and Services.

This article first appeared in ST Recruit on 4 Nov 2002.

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