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Newsday: A bad hire can be very costly to a company

Firms should create a complete plan to bring in solid candidates

By Jamie Herzlich

MELVILLE, N.Y. -- Ever wonder what one bad hire can cost your company?


As a rule of thumb, it will run you about one-third of a new hire's annual salary to replace him or her, labor experts say. So for an employee making $30,000, we're talking about $10,000. Certainly not chump change.

That's why it pays to hire right the first time. And this means doing more than just running an ad in the paper, experts say.

"When you build a house, you need a blueprint," says Marni Hockenberg, a principal with The Hiring Experts, a Minneapolis-based executive search company. "When you're hiring, you also need a blueprint." It will guide you through the entire hiring process, says Hockenberg, who suggests starting by coming up with a clear definition of the company's working culture.

"If they can't articulate what their culture is, then they're not going to be able to find the person that will fit in with their culture," she says.

Next: Develop hiring criteria, Hockenberg says, that include assessing the skills a qualified applicant needs to come in with, as well as educational background, salary and personality traits relevant to the job.

"You need to create a standard that you'll measure all the applicants against," says Diane Pfadenhauer, president of Employment Practices Advisors, a human resources consulting business in Northport, N.Y. "The standard will help prevent you from falling in love with someone who is not qualified."

It pays to come up with an accurate job description, she says. An applicant should know exactly what a job requires. This way, there are no surprises, says Jonathan Watkins, owner of Wright Music Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y. Watkins gives new employees a contract that defines their responsibilities in detail. The 11/2-page document outlines every task -- down to whether someone can expect to empty the trash.

"One of the best things a company can do to get the right person is to give them the most realistic job preview possible," says Robert Micera, director of human resources for Margolin, Winer & Evens, a Garden City, N.Y.-based accounting firm.

If possible, he suggests letting potential hires speak to people already on the job or letting them shadow other employees.

Remember: Hiring is a two-way street. You have to be happy with new employees, but they also have to be happy with you. So give them something to be excited about, says Barbara Gebhardt, president of Opus Staffing in Melville. "Sell your company," she says. "Before you start an interview, know why someone should (want to) work there."

This goes beyond salary. She advises talking up the dynamics of the company and some of the attributes that make employees stick around. "Think about benefits that may turn people on," says Gebhardt, noting that it can be something as simple as offering an employee a health club discount.

Before you set up an in-person interview, try to screen candidates by phone to make sure they have the right skills. Then develop questions for the actual interview based on your hiring criteria, experts say.

"I make the interview very conversational," Hockenberg says about the tactic that gets people to open up. Asking questions as to how applicants got started in a line of work and why they are interested in working for your company will help you gauge their passion, she says.

"We use behavioral-style questions," she says. For instance, ask how they handled a difficult situation or what they consider their greatest work accomplishment and how they achieved it.

Always ask for examples, Pfadenhauer says. "Instead of saying, 'Do you know how to use Microsoft Word?' ask for examples of how they used it," she says and suggests watching out for gaps in employment and inconsistencies in resumes. Ask for references and verify as much information as you can.

"I've rescinded more offers of employment for falsified education credentials," says Micera of Margolin, Winer & Evens, who suggests doing background checks. He says it pays to verify end dates with previous employers because some applicants falsify when they left a company to hide employment gaps.