Smaller businesses may imagine that good personnel practices are for the big guys down the block. But Linda Trignano, of HR Performance Solutions (www.hrperformance-solutions.com) of Pompton Lakes, believes that instituting sound human resources practices from day one will benefit all businesses — by helping them hire the right people. “The better the people working with you and for you, the more sound and successful your own business will be,” says Trignano.

Trusting instead to instinct is likely to bring in people who may share the boss’s golf interests but are not a good match for what the job requires. And eventually, when businesses want to get rid of an inappropriate hire, they may face complicated legalities that can devastate their businesses.

Trignano is offering a free seminar titled “Hire Right: Recruit & Retain Effectively,” on Thursday, February 5, at 10 a.m. at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Madison campus. Call 973-507-9700, visit www.njawbo.org/wbc, or E-mail wbcasst@njawbo.org.

Trignano outlines the hiring process from start to finish:

Define the job. This first step, which many business owners don’t want to do, is critical. “Determine what’s needed in the job,” says Trignano, “as opposed to ‘We have a lot to do here.’” That means looking critically at the business’s needs and putting them down on paper — assessing both the functions of the job and the skills you want to bring into the organization. And remember, she adds, “People skills are as important as technical skills.”

Often people shy away from defining a job in a specific way. “Owners feel that defining a job may limit them,” says Trignano, “but it is really the reverse.”

Even if owners are hiring a bookkeeper, but also expect the person to interact with customers, their primary need is for one particular skill and that is what they need to focus on. “Clearly defining what skill you need and what work the person will be performing can help you get much closer to the right person,” she says. And a good job definition is essential for writing a clear job advertisement.

Source the candidates. “In the good old days, finding a candidate was a matter of putting an ad in the newspaper, getting resumes, and responding,” says Trignano. “Today there are many ways for a candidate to find a job and conversely many ways for employers to find a candidate.”

People still get jobs through newspapers, but employers who rely solely on that are missing a big part of picture, Trignano warns. One new approach to sourcing candidates is to use social marketing websites — like LinkedIn or Facebook — to pass the word about an open position. The goal is for viral marketing to take over as friends and acquaintances pass the ad along to their own connections.

Another place to advertise is on large career sites, but Trignano warns that unless the job description is very accurate and also limits the job geographically, “you will be inundated with responses.”

Another source is a local career search group, where individuals meet physically or virtually to share job leads and search techniques. Here again a clear job description is critical. “With so many people out of work, you will get candidates who don’t meet the job description,” says Trignano. If they see a job advertised in Ewing, for example, even though their skills are either above or below the job’s requirements, they will apply because it is close to home.

Interview the candidates. Interviewing is a skill that gets better with practice, but in reality most people do not do a lot of direct hiring over the course of their careers. Even the owner of a small business may hire the first five employees directly and then pass off the responsibility to someone else. Putting in place a professional hiring process from the beginning, says Trignano, reduces the impact of inexpert interviewers.

To select the candidates you want to interview, first eliminate people without the job skills or educational levels you want. Then select the three to five top candidates.

The interviewing process for a particular position should be as standardized as possible, but also tailored to the candidate’s experience. Trignano emphasizes the importance of writing out a set of questions that will elicit the information you need. She also notes that written questions provide a standard for comparing answers across candidates and serves to limit reliance on gut feelings.

Interviewers should read resumes carefully and take notes before the interview. It is important to know exactly what skills a candidate is bringing to the table and how these will mesh with the job’s requirements. “This person is going to be in the inner workings of your business, running it, and being with your customers,” says Trignano.

Since job seekers often embellish somewhat on their resumes, an interviewer must probe to find out whether activities related to the job requirements were described accurately. If a resume indicates that the person successfully launched a marketing campaign for a small business, the interviewer will need to ask: What specifically was your role? What exactly did you do?

Other types of questions are more general and relate to past behaviors. They offer the candidate an opportunity to tell you about things not specifically listed on the resume, says Trignano. For example, tell me about a time when you had to make a decision that your boss didn’t agree with. Or, tell me about a time where you stepped up to a leadership role when that wasn’t your main responsibility. If you’re looking for a leader and the person can’t come up with an example, then it is likely you don’t have the right person, says Trignano.

The interviewing process should also allow other people in the company to speak with a candidate. “It might not be a full-blown interview,” says Trignano. “It is a way to have more than one person give their opinion and evaluation of how the candidate would fit into the company culture.” For example, if company values innovation, hiring someone who does not take risks might not be a good fit.

Check the candidate’s background. This is a must for ensuring a safe work environment for all, but be sure to get the candidate’s permission first. Small businesses often brush over this step, says Trignano, but it is easy to do. Many services are available to run credit, motor vehicle, and criminal record checks to ensure that people are who they say they are.

A Passaic native, Trignano started college as a day student when her twins entered kindergarten, and she received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Ramapo College when she was in her mid-30s. She also has a master’s in training and supervision from Montclair College. Her mother was a payroll supervisor.

Trignano worked for 16 years at AT&T in sales, human resources, and business development for its web site. There she negotiated contracts with companies like weather.com to put up their information on AT&T’s Worldnet.

After AT&T downsized Trignano went for a degree from the online Coach University. She felt that coaching was a great way to bring together her business experience and her interest in people.

In 2003 Trignano started her own business in training, assessment, and development, with a focus on team building, leadership skills, and understanding different styles of communication. She also counsels individuals experiencing difficult life transitions — death, poor health, or divorce — and their employers as well to help them maintain productivity as they integrate these changes into their lives.

Trignano believes that setting up a formal hiring process is important for a business. “Even if it is your first hire and you are hiring your cousin,” she says, “you want to set the precedent of hiring in the correct way.” That includes an employment application, which many people skip, and a written offer at the end of the process.

At AT&T Trignano taught managers not to use intuition as the basis for hiring decisions, but rather “to literally learn to be able to put those feelings aside and ask about background, skills, and what is on the resume — so you know the candidate and make a decision based on absolute facts.”

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