SEMA News - February 2010

By Steve Campbell

Finding and Employing the Best People Possible

This series of SEMA News stories is based on the idea of using reliable and repeatable methods to ensure business success. In coming issues, we will delve into a range of topics aimed at developing Best Practices through knowledge, motivation and skills.

While good people are hard to find, there is no substitute. Recruiting and hiring the best possible person for a given job can be a time-consuming and arduous process. The right employee can be invaluable to a company, just as the wrong one can do immeasurable harm. A logical progression of looking in the proper places, asking informative questions and listening closely to the answers can lead to the person best suited for the job.

Planning Meeting

Before setting out to find the perfect employee, determine whether a new hire is really needed. Get together supervisors, other employees who might be affected by the new hire and the employment director or head of human resources to talk about alternatives. Determine whether the tasks that the new person would handle might be absorbed by other employees or other departments. Make sure that the company can actually afford a new hire, that there will be a return on the investment. If there is a vacancy in an existing job, determine whether a current employee—either in a junior grade or in a different department—might be the perfect replacement. If so, encourage that person to apply; process him or her through the rest of the hiring process; and then convene the next planning meeting to fill his or her old job. An already existing employee may possess skills or special knowledge that an outsider would take time to develop. Don’t overlook the obvious.

“Promoting or transferring a current employee into an open position can be a real morale booster,” said Bob Stanley, SEMA vice president of human resources. “It sends the message to other employees that there is upward mobility and growth opportunities in the organization.”

Develop a Job Description

There should be a written job description for every position in a company. Job descriptions provide direct guidance for hiring the right people, but they also point existing employees to a path for advancement. Each description should include the education, experience and personal qualities that the job holder should possess as well as the duties and responsibilities of the position—but the description should be flexible. As technology and conditions change or people develop, so may the demands of the job. Try to write descriptions that allow for those types of evolution.

The overall description should include the essentials as well as the less critical job functions along with required skills and task knowledge. If the job includes a physical component—lifting or carrying heavy parcels or moving equipment, for instance—those requirements should be spelled out. The description should also include information about the work location and the type of environment, whether it’s an office, a warehouse, a cubicle or a counter. In addition, the job description should establish the job’s reporting structure, including supervisors, coworkers and subordinates.

Advertising and Recruiting

The job description should be used as the template for a help-wanted ad, which must include the essential job duties as well as the education and experience requirements that an applicant must possess. While placing the ad in the largest available local newspaper is a good starting point, think about what other recruiting resources exist. Consider where the ideal candidate for a job might be searching, such as relevant website forums, school job boards, trade association publications (see, for instance) and specialty publications that cater to likely applicants. And don’t neglect internal job postings, including on company bulletin boards and through company-wide e-mail notices. Encourage current employees to tell their friends and relatives about openings. In this age of the Internet, also post job openings on MySpace, Facebook and the rest of the expanding universe of social-networking sites. Talk with supervisors, employees and friends about other recruiting tools that you may not have heard about or considered. As a matter of courtesy, let internal candidates know if you will also be seeking outside applicants.


Once you’ve got a stack of résumés in hand, turn to the job description again to begin the weeding-out process. Compare the listed requirements with the applicant’s experience and skills. When you’ve pared the bundle down to a manageable pile, use the telephone as a screening tool. Develop a set of job-related but general questions that you can ask every viable candidate, and set-up interviews with only those who offer the proper credentials and give acceptable answers.

Prior to beginning an in-person interview, provide the applicant with the written job description and give him or her a few minutes to look it over. When the interview begins, ask behavior-based questions (“If such-and-such happened, what would you do?” or “In your previous job, how did you handle X type of situation?”). The answers should allow you to assess how a candidate reads, thinks, plans and reacts to specific, job-related occurrences. Use his or her reactions to evaluate the candidate’s motivations for wanting the job, the level of interest in the company, the desire for advancement and for a career in your industry.

You may wish to have several interviewers involved in the process, each pursuing different information and with different goals in mind. For instance, there may be a technical element to the job that a fellow technician would best be able to evaluate. If there’s service involved, someone from that end should quiz the candidate about how he or she deals with difficult customers; you may want to have an expert test the applicant for particular skills.

“Include employees that would be in peer or subordinate positions in the interview process,” said Stanley. “This will give you more insight in determining the candidate’s potential fit and chemistry with the team. The employees involved with the process will also appreciate that their input is being considered and valued.”

Have each interviewer prepare questions in advance to learn about the applicant’s capabilities. Make the questions open-ended, not yes or no, so that the applicant provides as much detailed information as possible. Counsel the interviewers to listen carefully to the candidate’s own questions about the job and the company, which may help to establish his or her reason for seeking the job. Is it just for the paycheck, or is the applicant truly interested in the industry and making a career at your company.

Do not ask questions that may be discriminatory or illegal. For instance, don’t ask about age, race, ancestry, religion, gender or sexual preference, among others. Don’t ask about height or weight unless there is a direct correlation to job performance. If you have a doubt about the propriety of a question, don’t ask it!

Once all of the interviewers have completed the process, meet and discuss how the applicant performed. Make detailed notes after each interview to ensure that you remember and can distinguish between applicants later.

Background Checks

When you settle on someone (which should be a consensus decision by all of the interviewers but may come down to the boss making the choice if there is no agreement), confirm that the candidate wants the job at the salary and under the conditions you’ve discussed. Inform him or her that employment also depends upon the results of a check of references and other background information. Then have the hiring manager or human resources department verify the applicant’s education and previous employment (going back as many as three jobs and including position, length of time, salary and job performance). Also talk with the candidate’s business and personal references, but only ask about areas that are pertinent to the job you are offering. If a drug screening or a physical exam is required, have them performed before making an official job offer. Run a criminal check and (in the case of finance or accounting jobs) a credit check. Failure in any of these areas is sufficient grounds for denying employment.

Job Offer Letter

A formal job offer letter confirms that the candidate wants the job with the agreed-to terms and conditions. The letter should include the details of the employee’s compensation (salary and bonus), benefits (including insurances, pensions, 401k offering and educational assistance, if applicable) as well as the details of the vacation and sick-day/sick-leave plan. The letter should also explain how expense reimbursement is handled, including any provisions for moving expenses or other enticements for accepting the job.

While it’s always best to consult with a human resources professional and to seek legal advice when hiring a new employee, these general processes should get you well down the road to hiring someone who can make a positive difference in your business.

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