Successful Staff Selection In Today’s Small-Medium Business: A Checklist


Staff selection is a complicated business. Most managers aren’t naturally good at it. And it’s very expensive. The cost of “mistakes” is huge and haunting. Poor staff selection erodes profitability. And it increases pressure on other staff. Managing employee performance starts with staff selection.

An Unconventional Approach

You’ll find that this checklist does not follow many of the conventional wisdoms. But it results from my experience. At the very least, this approach will  remove most of the costly mystique that shrouds so much selection. All staff selection involves risk. I want it to be much less of a gamble for you.

The Checklist

  • The prime purpose of staff selection is to get a job done. It is not to choose a person.
  • Treat transfer and promotion decisions as selection decisions.
  • The personal interview is a privilege to be granted to as few people as possible. You cannot tell what a person can do merely by talking to them. Prepare carefully for selection interviews.
  • If an applicant claims he or she is competent at something, don’t believe them – or anyone else. Let them demonstrate that they can actually do what they say they can.  Make “Get them to do it” an essential part of selection.
  • You can only achieve a satisfactory selection result if you specify, right at the start, the on job results you want to achieve. That ultimately sets up successful employee performance.
  • Keep your focus on the future when selecting staff. What’s most important is what they’ll do for you and how well they’ll do it. Past performance is important. But it’s also history. I call this the experience trap.
  • The purpose of the job advertisement – whatever technology you use – is to attract the person or persons, the fewer the better, who’ll achieve the job results for you in your business.
  • It’s in your best interests to include statements starting with “Only apply if …” or “Do not apply unless …” in your job advertisement. Your ad should deter unsuitable applicants.
  • If you receive lots of applications you’ve either failed to specify the job results you want or written a poor advertisement.
  • The perfect job advertisement attracts only one applicant: the “right” one.
  • Never, ever, ever ask for written applications. They’re an open invitation to misrepresentation,deliberate or not. They can also create a self-fulfilling  prophecy. This results in the best application writer, not the best applicant, getting the job.
  • Always conduct a phone screening interview before committing to a personal interview. Only grant a personal interview after you’re satisfied that a candidate has the background you regard as essential.
  • The personal interview is to assess whether a candidate who’s reached that stage in the process will fit your culture. You should have decided whether they can do the job long before the personal interview. That’s why you use the telephone screen and tests.
  • Always ask for proof of qualifications. Sight the documents.
  • Never ask for written references. I’ve  never seen a candidate present a “poor” reference.
  • If you must do reference checks, treat the information you receive with healthy scepticism.
  • Be absolutely “upfront” with applicants about your overall selection process. And explain the salary and benefits, working conditions and any other constraints or rewards.If you try to be tricky, evasive and secretive, expect candidates to be the same. You’ll be the loser.
  • Always use a mutually agreed probationary period, even for managers and professionals. An agreed “probation” gives both parties the opportunity to terminate agreeably and legally a situation that “isn’t working out”. But make sure you meet local legal requirements.
  • The selection process is complete and successful only when the new employee is achieving the job results you specified before you commenced the process.


A lot of what I’ve written flies in the face of accepted practice and conventional wisdom. I’m sorry if that offends you. But staff selection is a very expensive exercise. It’s a net profit eroder. One of the major costs is the time  you spend in the process. If you make an unsatisfactory appointment, you have to terminate the new employee and repeat the exercise. That’s more net profit down the drain. Think about it. Managing employee performance will be more difficult if you recruit poorly.

2 Responses to Successful Staff Selection In Today’s Small-Medium Business: A Checklist
  1. Kevin Clarke
    June 4, 2010 | 4:07 pm

    I wish I had information like this available to me years ago.

  2. Leon
    June 7, 2010 | 9:23 am

    G’day Kevin,
    Thanks for your generous comments

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