Corrections or additions?

This article by Gina Zechiel was prepared for the November 14,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Tips for Finding The Best Employees

Part psychology, part sleuthing, interviewing job


takes great skill — and a measure of tact and restraint too. Oh

yes, and a knowledge of the law. September 11 showed us that an


can go on without desks, computers, or files if he has smart,


dedicated employees. How to find them? How to pull the stars out of

the constellations of job seekers?

On Thursday, November 15, at 9 a.m. Christine Purcell speaks

on "Selection Interviewing and the Selection Process" at the

Police Department Building in Flemington at a workshop for employers

sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Labor and the Employers

Association of New Jersey. Cost: $10. Call 609-777-1834.

Purcell is a senior occupational analyst at the Department of Labor

and works for the Employer Human Resources Support Service Unit. In

addition to conducting public seminars, she provides one-on-one


to employers. "Sometimes," says Purcell, "a company has

a bigger need, and we give the seminar on the company’s premises."

She works with employers on writing and revising policy manuals, and

provides advice to companies that are losing employees. "If a

company has problems with too much turnover," she gives as an

example, "we can track employees who have left, send them a


Answers are shared with employers, but employees’ identifies are kept

secret. Says Purcell: "We compile results, review, analyze, look

for trends, write a report, and then present it to the employer."

In selection seminars Purcell talks about a number of issues, and

even has employers draw up good interview questions. Many elements

to into a stellar job interview. Here are a few of the most important:

Red flags. "The key thing is identifying red


says Purcell. Here is where an employer may discover that all is not

as it should be. "Look at gaps in employment, vague answers, and

long pauses before answering questions," says Purcell. Very


answers to simple questions could be a bad sign too. Perhaps the


is just nervous, but maybe he has significant difficulty expressing

himself. Or maybe he is trying to hide something behind a rambling


Legal questions. "Religion or politics have no


Purcell emphasizes. Marital status is off limits too. Don’t ask about

children, or aged parents either. "Avoid anything really


says Purcell. "All questions should be job related.

If the employee brings up his religious requirements or child care

arrangements without being asked, "that’s hard to deal with,"

says Purcell. The best response, she suggests, is to end that line

of conversation, while assuring the candidate that the information

he has volunteered will have no bearing on the hiring process.

Arrest record. Interestingly, Purcell says it is fine

to ask about any convictions the applicant has had if the question

is job-related. However, asking about arrests is not allowed.

References. This is a tough one. Few things can save an

employer from disaster more than a full and honest report on an


But, says Purcell, it isn’t easy to get the information. "Previous

employers may not always be forthcoming with info," she says.

"They’re afraid of being sued. But always check." If all else

fails she suggests trying to give references questions they can answer

with just a `yes’ or a `no.’ Says Purcell: "Employers sometimes

have codes `would you consider hiring that this person again, and

yes or no." The way the game works, if an employer says nothing,

he is really saying no. "It’s using silence as a code," says


Performance. Among the ways to predict future job


are using employment tests, evaluating past performance, and assessing

education and training.

"Some employers are nervous about employment testing," says

Purcell. "We try to advise them to make sure test is valid and

reliable." She also recommends that employers not create their

own tests. "Get as much information as possible from testing


she says. "Check on the Internet, talk to other employers."

"The key thing," says Purcell, "is for employers to ask

themselves why they are using this test." It can’t be used to

screen people out. The purpose of a pre-employment has to be a quest

for the best performer. Employers must give the test to everybody,

says Purcell. "You must be consistent."

In the end, interviewing is never a pure science. "There

are always savvy interviewees who get past the interviewing process,

and then the employer finds out that they are a disaster," says

Purcell. The closer the interviewer can stick with the facts, the

better chance he has of avoiding being snowed by a smooth — but

ultimately weak — employee, or of missing the star, who interviews

poorly, perhaps because he is shy.

"Some people — getting information from them is like pulling

teeth," says Purcell, "but they may be terrific. With others,

you can’t shut them up; you have to make sure that all the questions

you have prepared get answered."

— Gina Zechiel

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