Hiring the wrong person for a job is one of the costliest mistakes an employer can make. The time you spend on selecting the right employee for a job can really pay you back when you use good selection techniques.

5 basic steps to improve your selection process

1. Define the job clearly and precisely.

Describe the six or seven most crucial tasks of the job, and write your description down with specifics about these essential tasks. Also, decide how well the tasks must be performed. What level of performance do you expect — entry-level, average or advanced?

2. Identify your selection criteria.

What skills are needed to carry out these essential job tasks? What knowledge is needed? What personal characteristics? Ideally, ask someone who performs the job to help you determine the essential job tasks and the essential skills required. Perhaps the person leaving the job can help, or even someone doing the same job at another company.

3. Assess your candidates according to the criteria you have defined.

Plan ahead with a set of questions you’ll use before you begin interviewing or checking references. Have your list of essential job tasks and selection criteria prepared. To make the interview more helpful, use a planned structure, with the same questions for each candidate. To increase objectivity, have someone else whose judgment you respect also interview the candidates. Requesting samples of the candidate’s work or asking the candidate to perform a task simulating the job is a highly predictive assessment method.

4. Obtain more information from your reference checks by asking previous employers and supervisors questions that cannot simply be answered “yes” or “no.”

For example, ask “What advice would you give me in hiring this candidate?” rather than “Would you hire this person again?”

Questions like this will create a dialogue with the employer. Encourage them to talk about the candidate’s behavior as a team member. Reference checks help to ensure all the information on the candidate’s resume is accurate, including their past job position, total experience, previous salary and job skills.

5. Ask yourself and those helping you in the selection process: “If this person didn’t work out, what would be the most likely reason?” and “Could I live with that?”

This will reveal your doubts and concerns. For example, you may feel that problems with this candidate could be corrected with a little more training. But if you answer something like, no, this person might be difficult to supervise — do more assessment before you hire.