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The Sad State of Personnel Affairs and What You Can Do About It

The Sad State of Personnel Affairs and What You Can Do About It

Tired of always finding the wrong person for the job? Turn your hiring process around with these tips from leading CIOs and recruitment specialists.

Finding the right person for a job isn't easy for a variety of reasons. Job candidates are always on their best behaviour during interviews, which makes assessing their day-to-day attitude tricky for CIOs. And some candidates are so experienced with job interviews that they know the answers you're looking for based on the questions you're asking and how you're asking them. Third, with corporations constantly worrying about lawsuits, CIOs can no longer rely on a candidate's references to get an accurate picture of what an individual is really like.

"There is no scientific algorithm that can be put to this process," says Donald Lemma, former vice president of corporate IT and CIO for pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough. "It really is subjective and not objective. It's [based on] gut feel and putting reasonable evaluation criteria in place. We try to do the best we can," he adds.

Yet CIOs like Lemma understand the importance of hiring people with positive attitudes. That recognition comes through in statements like this one from Lemma: "Mud flies far. If one person fails, we all fail. If I make a bad hiring decision, we're all affected."

Dede Ramoneda, vice president of information technology and telecommunications and CIO of Progress Energy in Raleigh, North Carolina, says hiring good managers is particularly important to her because they set the tone for employees who report to them. "If you do a bad manager hire, it's not just one bad hire because you've impacted all the employees who are under that manager," she says.

The problem CIOs run into is that few of them have mechanisms for hiring that really home in on a person's attitude or fit. Their hiring processes tend toward the pedantic. They accumulate and screen resumes that come in to HR willy-nilly from newspapers and job boards. They invite a select few of those candidates to come in for interviews. They ask canned questions during those interviews, for example: "Tell me about a project you worked on. What went well? What didn't?" They bring candidates who made good first impressions back in for follow-up interviews and to meet with other members of their organization. Those other members of their department in turn ask more canned questions, often the same ones that others have already asked without knowing it. It's clear they follow a process; it's just not a very effective one, says John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University (SFSU). (To be fair, some IT executives, such as Las Vegas-based Mandalay Resort Group's CIO Tracy Austin, ask sound, pointed questions including: What steps do you take when you're faced with a situation where one of your direct reports has struggled with the last three projects and has not delivered one on time or on budget? Have you ever terminated someone? How and why did you do it?)

CIOs who subscribe to the pedantic, traditional method of hiring staff members need to change if they want to improve their hiring odds. The stakes of making a bad hire are too high for them not to. "You're looking at a minimum of a $25,000 investment for making a bad hiring decision," says Christopher Hjelm, CTO of Orbitz in Chicago. He bases his cost estimate on the time and effort involved in hiring and bringing up to speed a new employee earning $100,000 a year.

But the greatest cost, says Eric Silva, CIO of Lyondell Chemical Company, is that you brought someone into your organization to do something that has value and it didn't get done. "Generally, a poor hire has screwed things up even more. And on top of all that, you have to start this [hiring] process all over," he says.

A really good hire, on the other hand, can contribute to a 35 percent increase in an organization's performance, according to SFSU's Sullivan, who's known in his milieu as the Michael Jordan of hiring due to the recruiting help he's given high-tech companies.

Hiring someone stellar who's also going to fit with the culture of your IT organization doesn't have to be a crapshoot. In addition to the techniques CIO offers in "How to Hire So You Don't Have to Fire", page 68, here are some additional tips for turning your hiring process around.

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