Defining the Ideal Employee

Before you can bring someone in, it's best to work out what exactly you're looking for

Defining the Ideal Employee

In the last instalment, we discussed some of the problems facing recruiters in the current economic climate and, on a high level, suggested some ways we can address this. Today, we’ll look in-depth at the first stage of recruitment – defining the ideal employee.

It’s impossible to complete any task successfully if you don’t clearly know what you need to achieve. In sales we set goals, in projects we gather requirements, and in recruitment we define the employee we’re looking for. This vital step in the recruitment process helps us to know what we’re aiming for, guides our CV screening and interview techniques, and allows us to set boundaries to our recruitment beyond which we will not stray. These boundaries could be desired hard or soft skills, calibre of employee, or any other metric which we use to recruit. The result is that we know who we’re trying to recruit and vastly increase our chances of succeeding.

In order to successfully define the ideal employee, the first step in this is considering those who’ve done the role in the past. If this is a new role, some degree of imagination will be required here.

You will build your candidate provide from the outputs of this exercise, which will be lists of attributes in a number of areas:

  • Minimum skill requirements
  • Ideal skill requirements
  • Star skills (those which could  make someone particularly successful)
  • Essential personality traits
  • Desired personality traits
  • Those traits best avoided

Whilst building these attribute lists, you should ask yourself as a minimum the following questions:

Who’s performed this role previously?

There are certain questions to ask yourself about previous employees. Ideally, create three employee profiles: one for your top performer, one for a typical average (acceptable) performer, and one for someone who’s not been successful previously. The questions you ask will vary by industry and job function, but a good basis might be:

1. What skills did this person have when they joined the company?

These should be skills identified at their interview and first few weeks in the job. You’ll use this information to build a list of required skills (minimum acceptable) and nice-to-have skills (ideal candidate) to request in the job specification.

2. What skills did this person have at the end of their tenure or when they became particularly successful?

This should model your potential employee when they are up to speed. As you use these inputs to define your employee, the skills from point 1 will most likely form a base-line of minimum requirements for the candidate, whilst the skills identified in point 2 will become your nice-to-haves.

3. Which skills did you always feel were missing but would have been useful?

These are the skills which you felt would have driven past employees towards even greater success but which you never saw, either naturally or after providing training. These would fall either into your minimum requirements or ideal requirements.

Has the role evolved since last time I recruited?

If the role has evolved, the skills which you’ve identified from past employees at the end of their tenure will carry far more weight than those at the beginning. Gradual evolution whilst someone is in a job is very easy for the employee to adapt to over time, whereas a new employee with skills not yet suited to this evolution of the previous job will have a larger jump to get up to speed. Considering the skills the previous employee had at the end will ensure you get a better-prepared candidate for the role.

Do I want to make any changes?

If the role hasn’t changed much in recent years, are there any changes you want to make? If so, now is the time to do it.

During my career as a sales manager, the moments I’ve made the most change to job specifications have been times of staff turnover. In this way you reduce changes to the existing job description and potential negative emotions around this. As long as the new employee comes in with an accurate understanding of the role, then expectations can be met.

If you feel that now is the time to make some changes to the role, it’s important to think about which additional skills would be required which haven’t been required previously, and to add these to your list.

What sort of person will be successful?

Although we shouldn’t stereotype too much, it’s a fact that certain types of people thrive in certain types of role. If you’re recruiting a salesperson, you want someone outgoing and resilient; if you’re recruiting an accountant you want someone with good attention to detail; for a leader, someone with charisma and vision. Think about the job you’re recruiting for and consider the type of person who’d be successful.

This should be about identifying personality traits rather than skills. Regardless of the skills the employee should have, how should they be packaged in the person?

Who is working in my existing team/company?

Last but not least, the new recruit has to fit into the existing company culture. One of the worst things that can happen after a recruitment exercise, is that the new recruit rubs current staff up the wrong way and they leave.

Consider the personality types in your existing team: are they outgoing or studious, social or self-motivated? It’s vital to find the right balance in the new employee. On the one hand, you want a balanced team where different people complement each other, whilst on the other hand you need to ensure that team members are similar enough that they gel into a high-performing unit.

Defining the employee

As you consider these areas, you’ll build up a list of essential skills which you can’t do without, desired skills which you’d like if you can find them, and a couple of skills which will really make the employee excel. Alongside this, you’ll know what type of person you should recruit, and who to avoid. Keep these somewhere safe, as we’ll use them as our recruitment process continues. In the next instalment, we’ll use these to attract the right candidate, and we’ll come back to them again when we think about our interview technique.

Neil Shorney is director of Naturally Sales Ltd

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