Your 5-step to hiring the right candidate the first time


In an already challenging job market, nothing is worse than having to repeat the hiring and training process for the same position because someone turned out to not be the right fit. We talked to HR professionals across a variety of industries, and while not foolproof, here were their best tips to help ensure that you pick the right candidate during the interview process.

1. Clearly define the role

We often think we do a good job creating descriptions for our positions, but sometimes we are just compiling a big list of general things a candidate may or may not be responsible for. We do not define how they will be trained or supported, and we leave off the list of tasks they will need to complete that we think are most boring or cumbersome.

The best way though, to ensure you hire someone who is an excellent fit for the job, is to make sure you have excellently defined what the job is. Do not post for an experienced tax preparer if you’re looking for a glorified data entry person. Someone with experience is expecting development and challenges while you are hoping you just do not need to babysit them by putting K-1s into tax software.

You could find a great candidate, but they will get bored and burnt out and, ultimately leave the role vacant with you repeating the process to fill it. Be as specific as possible about what the job is and what the job is not.

2. Call references

In all my years as a licensed CPA, someone actually asked for my license number to look it up and make sure I was legitimate exactly one time. If we have the tools and resources to get firsthand accounts of what it is like working with an individual we are considering for a position, why would we not use them? It is a red flag if someone does not have references to give you.

While there are always circumstances that do not work out, we have all had them, candidates should at a minimum be able to provide at least two professional references or two character references for a student just coming out of school. Use them.

The best way though, to ensure you hire someone who is an excellent fit for the job, is to make sure you have excellently defined what the job is. 

3. Be flexible with what “a good fit” means

Experience is great but it is not everything. In accounting in particular, it can be harder to find candidates that excel at soft skills. My first job out of college, one of the managing partners would always tell us how much he loved to hire people with a food service background.

He said that it was one of the hardest industries to ensure client satisfaction all the time, it was fast paced and required organization and attention to detail, and your customers. Those skills are sometimes more difficult to instill even if a candidate can prepare a 1040 like nobody’s business.

Without a well-rounded skill set your candidate will struggle to develop and eventually stagnate in their role. Lack of development is likely to increase your job turnover leaving you having to re-hire.

4. Be honest about the work environment

Do not promise someone that they can have a flexible work schedule and six weeks a year of vacation time if the reality is you are going to put so much pressure on them to work overtime and meet deadlines that they never get to enjoy those benefits.

Accounting firms tend to over promise on work life balance when the hiring market gets competitive because reduced overtime and more work life balance is the thing that most candidates will change jobs for. But if you truly are not able to offer those in practice, do not offer them in the interview process.

If the candidate is expected to work overtime, be in the office instead of working remotely, or travel to clients for the role, all those things should be discussed before an offer letter goes out.

5. Personality goes a long way

We all work better as a team with people we genuinely enjoy spending time with. That can be hard to determine in an interview while avoiding questions that are on the HR no-no list to ask. But things you can ask to help you determine personality fit are questions like “how do you best learn” or “how do you like to be managed”.

If a candidate tells you they like hands-on training and you are hiring for a role that needs to be mostly self-sufficient from day one, it may not be a good fit. Not that you do not have a great candidate, but if you do not have the time or resources to adjust to that learning style, that candidate may not be the answer to your prayers.

It can help to sit down before the interview process and list some personality traits you are looking for in the role, such as strong communicator, energetic or detail oriented to help you focus your interviews on finding what you need.

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