Hiring & Firing

Hiring national or international staff locally can be something of a lottery. Half the time, you will hire someone who excels in the job and makes you look good. But the other half of the time, you will hire someone who lets you down two months later and makes you look bad. You can improve the odds by being ruthless when short-listing candidates for interview on the strength of their CV’s (curriculum vitae). Look neither at age nor gender, but only at the degree to which their qualifications and experience match the specifications of the job. Prior to interviewing, ask the candidates to send an example of their recent work. Read this, and be prepared to quiz the candidate, not on the contents as such but on why and how it was written.

The purpose of the interview is to ascertain why short-listed candidates really left their past positions, whether they really did what they say they did, judge their flexibility and willingness to work beyond the basic job description, their attitudes to your authority, and whether you think they will fit within your current management structure. Interviews are only useful if they get behind a participant’s experiences. This is achieved by pursuing in-depth information around a topic by asking pre-formulated yet open-ended questions (the same open-ended questions are asked to all), with respondents free to choose how to answer the question. This approach facilitates faster interviews that can be more easily analyzed and compared. In terms of process:

  • Choose a setting with little distraction.
  • Explain who you are (there should always be more than one person, and at least one woman) and the purpose of the interview.
  • State that the interview is confidential, and confirm that the interviewee is happy to have references followed-up (which must be done once the favoured candidates have been chosen following the interviews).
  • Explain the format of the interview, and how their answers will be analysed. If you want them to ask questions, specify when they’re to do so.
  • Indicate how long the interview usually takes.
  • Ask them if they have any questions before you both get started.

In terms of the questions to be asked, note the difference between fact and opinion in the responses, and pose them in terms of past, present or future. In terms of sequence:

  • Get the respondent involved in the interview as soon as possible.
  • Before asking about controversial matters (such as feelings and conclusions), first ask about some facts. With this approach, respondents can more easily engage in the interview before warming up to more personal matters.
  • Five questions are sufficient. Each one should follow the line of: “give an example of x; what you did; why you did it; what would you have done differently; and how you applied the lessons learned”. Of the five questions, two should be on ‘competences’ (such as ‘integrity’ or ‘leadership’), with the remainder based on technical knowledge.
  • The final question should be, “is there anything you would like to add or highlight, and is there anything you would like to ask us ?”

In terms of hints for interviewers:

  • Attempt to remain as neutral as possible. That is, don’t show strong emotional reactions to the candidates’ responses.
  • Encourage responses with occasional nods of the head, “uh huh”s, etc.
  • Be careful about the appearance when note taking. That is, if you jump to take a note, it may appear as if you’re surprised or very pleased about an answer, which may influence answers to future questions.
  • Provide transition between major topics, e.g., “we’ve been talking about (some topic) and now I’d like to move on to (another topic).”
  • Don’t lose control of the interview. This can occur when respondents stray to another topic for too long.
  • Write down any observations made during the interview. For example, was the respondent particularly nervous at any time? Were there any surprises during the interview?
  • Grade each candidate with ‘marks out of ten’ against specific criteria, such as, ‘was the question answered ? Was the response over-wordy ?

For the person being interviewed, more and more Human Resources departments are hiring people who “give good interview” rather than those who have the best technical qualifications or experience. This trend is giving rise to a risk-averse culture within organisations which appears to be accelerating. Mostly, this is the result of questions being posed which focus on ‘core competencies’ such as ‘leadership’ and ‘challenges faced’ rather than demonstrable evidence of outcome that positively affects the bottom line.

A typical  interview follows a predictable pattern:

  1. “Summarise your career to date”: Focus here on three successes involving teams.
  2. “What can you bring to our company?” Highlight three core strengths that you know from your preparatory researches are what the potential employer is looking for.
  3. “Give us an example of when you were involved in a difficult negotiation. What was the outcome? What would you have done differently?” You can expect four such questions, each with a different topic but using the same format You are being assessed as much for your ability to answer the question in a logical and timely manner without waffling, as for the content of your response.

Unless you are closing down a programme — in which case everyone is losing their job — firing an individual for poor performance is unpleasant for all concerned. Such an event should not take place without there first having been two formal notifications: the first oral, the second in writing. The latter should have involved written appraisal against expected and agreed deliverables.

Let the employee know (s)he is not being let go for incompetence, but because his or her particular skills no longer fit this programme or organization at this time.

This having been done, politely point out where the employee in question has failed to deliver and ask them for any comments in each case. Always make it clear that the employee is not being let go for incompetence, but because he or she has particular skills that don’t anymore fit this programme or organization at this time. Make it clear whether or not you will be supplying a reference. As with hiring, when conducting these interviews always have another person with you. At least one person should be female. This prevents later allegations of ‘abuse of position’ or even ‘sexual harassment’. When letting drivers or warehouse staff ‘go’, make sure that all car keys are accounted for and that they are escorted off the premises.


This is is a section from Clusterwise 2. Reproduction is encouraged. It would be nice if the author, James Shepherd-Barron, and clustercoordination.org were acknowledged when doing so.

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