Many small businesses do “threshold hiring”: A position becomes open and because of time pressures — and perhaps uneasiness about the whole hiring process — the first seemingly eligible person who walks across the threshold is hired!

Larger companies, of course, have the luxury of having a Human Resources department with a set of procedures for hiring. But professionals and small companies usually have to wing it.

Of course, there are many personnel employment agencies and “head hunters” who can be hired to help with employee selection. This route saves a great deal of time because the company does the initial assessment and interviewing and presents the client with several appropriate candidates. Yet many small companies don’t want to spend the funds for these services, and/or they simply prefer to do their own hiring.

So if you are a small-business owner, a professional in your own practice or someone with hiring responsibilities in a small company — and you are going to do your own hiring — what can you do to make the process efficient and yet improve your odds of getting the right people in place?

A first critical but often overlooked step is to look closely at the responsibilities and duties of those who are already on your work team. List all the work activities appropriate to the team, and ask each person to list the percentage of time s/he spends on each task (the total must equal 100 percent). This process helps determine what level of person to hire — or what tasks need to be reassigned internally. It also clarifies the job description for the new hire.

For example, a law firm may think it needs to hire another paralegal but discovers that the paralegal it already has is spending time opening mail, running copies, doing word processing and answering the phone rather than doing productive, billable work. It may be more appropriate for the firm to hire a secretary to perform these tasks and free the paralegal to use her talents working on documents, acquiring records and other tasks for which she is trained.

The next step is to perform a “labor needs” assessment. This involves listing the different tasks the new hire will be expected to perform and then deciding which personality characteristics the position requires. For instance, will the new person be working with clients? If so, s/he will need to have good people skills. For someone who will be doing research or filing with little or no client contact, a person who is detail-oriented will be best suited for the position.

After determining the kind of work to be done and the personality characteristics for an ideal match, consider the minimum level of experience you want the new hire to have. What kind of work might the person have done before that would make her an instant asset and require minimal training? It may be worth it in the long run to hire a more experienced person at a higher salary who can “hit the ground running” rather than to get an inexperienced person who will require extensive training.

Next, consider the skills you want the new hire to have. For support positions, knowledge about specific types of software and office equipment might be important. Skill assessment of typing, grammar, filing, attention to detail and proofreading are also significant. For higher-level positions, consider requesting a work sample prior to making a final hiring decision. A personality assessment may also be helpful. When it is clear which kinds of assessments are appropriate, decide which ones, if any, will be done for screening purposes and which ones will be saved for final candidates after interviews.

Prior to interviewing it is most helpful to prepare an interview evaluation form that allows the hiring person(s) to compare candidates on key criteria. Categories may include education, experience, practical knowledge, communication skills, composure/overall impression, motivation, appearance, etc. Each interviewee can be rated by the interviewer as “outstanding,” “above average,” “average” and “below average” on each criterion, making it much simpler to make a final selection among candidates.

If others in the company are going to be working closely with the new hire, allow them an opportunity to meet, conduct their own informal interviews and have input into the process. This not only makes current employees feel valued but also ensures that they will be supportive of the new hire (since they had a say in the selection and would not want to be wrong).

No matter how pleased you are with a candidate, reference checks are still a must. Better to spend the extra time being safe rather than sorry.

Finally, consider sending a “thank you” note to every applicant. While it is common these days for this courtesy to be omitted, think of the reputation your company creates when it cares enough to take this extra step.

Author: Judi Craig

Judi Craig, Ph.D., MCC, is an executive coach in San Antonio. She is president of COACH SQUARED, Inc. (www.coachsquared.com) and a senior practice advisor with Atticus, Inc.