Tips on hiring top performers


GOING through a stack of resumes or surfing job websites is the general practice when hiring. A better bet would be the workplace because the best candidate for any job is already doing it. 

There is a negative ripple effect when hiring people who are not up to the task – every employee dealing with them is rendered less efficient. 

Companies cannot afford to hire people who cannot hit the ground running. This is the main reason why companies do not hire fresh graduates.  

Unemployed graduates are not only perceived but found to be unable to communicate (well) in English, not ICT competent and do not know how to function as a team player, as noted by Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn recently. 

Companies can reverse the negative financial effects of staff turnover by hiring well-equipped candidates and following up with comprehensive orientation. 

Of course, hiring a sure thing means missing the diamond in the rough, too. It hurts to reject people who might have been great. But it is more devastating to hire someone who cannot perform – the higher the level, the more painful it is. 

The best strategy is to increase the likelihood of ultimately hiring a winner. 

Verbal skills have a lot to do with some jobs and absolutely nothing with others, and yet people still place so much stock in the interview process that they are amazed when it fails them. 

When people are interviewed, they exhibit interview behaviour. On the job, they exhibit job behaviour. The two may be totally different. 

Fortune magazine’s research on the “World’s Most Admired Companies” is filled with examples of leading firms that implement internships, three-month trial periods, assessment centres and simulations because they have learned that nothing is as predictive as on-the-job performance. 

It is now acknowledged that organisations have erred in emphasising skills over personal characteristics. The better concept and approach is to look for factors like style, the “total person,” drive and initiative. 

A company can always train an employee to make a sales pitch but not to be outgoing and personable. 

Our advice: Hire somebody who is already capable of doing the job from both a skills and a “total person” standpoint. 

Employers are not encouraged to limit its search to active job-seekers. Active seekers make up a remarkably small section of the market. 

Companies wanting to tap into the people pool to recruit those capable of getting down to work on the first day must have a strategy for connecting with passive job-seekers. A key strategy is creating a corporate brand. Candidates need to know about the company and have a strong, positive image of it. 

During the National HR Summit 2002, Dr Fong said: “About 70% to 80% of re-engineering and Total Quality Management initiatives have failed in the past 10 years due to an obsessive focus on ‘system process’ while neglecting and undervaluing ‘people process’. Re-engineering fails when people are not sufficiently prepared for the change due to a lack of emphasis on the very life-blood of the company – people.” 

Like an iceberg, the “system process” is only 10% of the solution to the human capital issue when the neglected balance of 90% is very much in the critical “people process” of matching the skills and competencies with job patterns. 

Watson Wyatt asked top performers what would attract them most to a new situation. They also asked employers what they thought top performers were looking for. 

Significant gaps were identified when comparing the answers from these two groups. Employers far underrate the importance to employees about flexible work schedules or opportunities for advancement. 

Not only pay, but opportunities for advancement, to learn new skills, and having a job redesigned to fit their skills are very important to employees, yet employers consistently underestimate the value of these softer rewards. 

Group and project incentives and technical pay premiums are highly valued by employees, and are rarely used. Employers may want to consider shifting resources within reward budgets. 

Two conclusions can be drawn from the compensation awards currently used by employers: serious gaps in employers’ and employees’ opinions of what works; and employers are investing in plans that are not highly valued by employees while neglecting plans that are. 

Another element to consider: Retention starts before the hiring process is even complete. 

New employees are immersed in cultural issues, historical education and a plethora of other information during their first few months on the job. Offering a systematic new-hire orientation conveys a sense of sincerity from the organisation, and provides much-needed structure during this time. 

Fact: turnover is highest during the first to third year. Mentoring recruits through a well-designed programme provides a smooth transition into the company. 

A final word on hiring people who can hit the ground running: Look within your own organisation – most fail to tap their own talent reserves. No one is as up to speed on a company as its own employees. 

Companies should make every effort to move good employees around rather than watch talent walk out the door. 


  • o Ismail Abdul Jamal is Principal Consultant, e-Profiles Sdn Bhd (e-mail: 

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