Take Advantage of Your Assistant's Opinion When Hiring

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Do you regularly ask your assistant for his or her feedback on job applicants you interview? If not, this may be a good time to start. Increasingly, companies are finding that support staff can offer eye-opening observations about prospective hires. In fact, in a recent survey of executives commissioned by our company, 91 percent of respondents said they consider their assistant's opinion an important factor in the employee selection process - up from 60 percent five years ago!

It's natural that administrative professionals have acquired more hiring clout. Over the years, their jobs have grown increasingly sophisticated and often involve managing projects, coordinating events and interfacing with employees at all levels. This integral role enables them to provide valuable opinions on a candidate's potential fit with the company. They may also possess knowledge of a prospective hire's pre- and post-interview behavior that can help fill in the picture. To elicit the most accurate information from you assistant, consider the following guidelines:

- Encourage a Candid Conversation -

When asking administrative professionals for their opinions on prospective hires, make it clear that you're looking for honesty, not accord. Let your assistant know that all comments don't have to be positive ones, nor are you seeking only negative impressions. You should also refrain from opening the discussion with a statement that might bias your employee's response. For example, by saying, "I really liked that candidate. What did you think?" you may compel your assistant to agree - no matter how he or she really feels. Instead, behave impartially, and refrain from commenting on opinions as they are delivered. By agreeing or disagreeing with these observations, you may inadvertently prompt your assistant to express a point of view that mirrors your own rather than his or her honest reflections.

- Ask Specific Questions -

When discussing a prospective hire, try to zero in on the specifics. Asking targeted questions will help your assistant provide the most relevant information. Here are a few suggestions:
  • How did the candidate spend his or her time before the interview? The response to this question can be very telling. Did the candidate review company literature prior to your meeting or engage in some other professional behavior, or was the waiting period spent having a loud cell phone conversation, eating or engaging in some other type of disruptive activity?

  • How would you rate the candidate in terms of courtesy and professionalism? In today's team-based office environment, it's important to look for indicators that a prospective hire will work well with others. While the candidate most likely treated you with courtesy - after all, the hiring decision is in your hands - he or she may not have shown the same respect to your administrative staff. This question often proves extremely illuminating.

  • How well do you think the candidate will fit in with our company and department? Assistants are among the few employees in the organization who regularly interact with staff members at all levels. This experience can provide valuable insight into how well-suited a candidate is to the company's corporate culture and whether his or her qualities complement those of others within the organization. Administrative professionals may know, for instance, what personality types will click with certain managers or which traits are especially valued within a particular department.
Of course, to benefit from your support staff's opinions on prospective hires, you need to ensure they have ample information upon which to base them. Generally, assistants interact with an applicant prior to the interview. If no such opportunity presents itself, it's helpful to facilitate an encounter. For example, you could arrange a brief meeting between your assistant and an applicant before or after the interview. Alternatively, you could assign your assistant the task of conducting the screening interview, administering a proficiency test or participating in some other part of the hiring process.

As the role of the administrative professional continues to expand, it's important to recognize the unique position these individuals are in to provide informed hiring opinions. By inviting them to honestly express their views on prospective employees, and drawing out their responses with specific questions, you significantly improve your chances of hiring the best employees for your business.

-- Article courtesy of Julie Thompson, Great Plains District Public Relations Coordinator for Robert Half International, which has more than 250 locations in North America, Europe and Australia, and offers online job search services at www.rhii.com.

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