SWOT analysis and other strategic staffing tools
One of the most important decisions made by businesses of all sizes is selecting the best candidate for an open position. From a purely financial basis, a review of several surveys shows that replacing an employee costs between 25 percent of a low level employee’s annual salary to two to three times the annual salary of an executive. With this in mind, each hiring decision should be a careful, well-considered, systematic process such as the one described below.
There are a number of tools that can be used when selecting finalists from a pool of candidates who all meet the defined skills, experience, industry, and education, certification, or licensure qualifications of a position. The three addressed here are behavioral interviewing, using the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) tool for assessing and differentiating final candidates, and employee screening best practices.
Using behavioral interviewing questions, where all candidates are asked to provide an example of a time when they performed a position-critical task, is based on research that shows that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior in a similar situation. Asking a common set of questions based on the essential job functions and work environment allows managers to compare candidates in an objective, consistent and legal manner. Research has shown that structured interviews have a higher predictive value than unstructured interviews (Oliphant, Hansen, & Oliphant, 2008).
With behavioral interviewing the interviewer asks the candidate to frame his or her response in the STAR format by describing the Situation or Task, the Action taken by the candidate, and the Results achieved (MIT Career Center, 2010). The interviewer records the statements made by the candidate as near to verbatim as possible without paraphrasing or adding the interviewer’s own interpretation. It is also helpful to have two company representatives present, one to act as recorder, and one to observe the candidate’s reactions, behaviors and body language.
If you are not familiar with behavioral interviewing techniques, there are several excellent sources available through an Internet search. My recommendation is to use websites affiliated with career centers at major universities. You also may be able to contact your local Department of Labor office for additional assistance and training, or inquire about resources at your local library or bookstore.
SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning tool used by many organizations. The acronym SWOT refers to an organization’s own Strengths and Weaknesses, and the current Opportunities and Threats in the external operating environment (Simmering, 2006). A few years ago, I started using the SWOT categories to develop an additional tool to evaluate final candidates for positions within my organization. I have found this adaptation to be useful in comparing and contrasting final candidates and developed the protocol described below.
After the interview is concluded, all participating interviewers record any written and verbal statements from the resume, application and interviews that describe the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats/tensions they observed in each candidate. Interviewers record their observations in a four-box table similar to this illustration:
Identifying and recording the individual candidate’s strengths and weakness needs little additional description. In the opportunities quadrant, anything identified as a value-added characteristic that the candidate possesses that would make the organization more competitive and successful in the marketplace would be recorded. Some examples might be that the candidate has experience with a particular process or body of knowledge related to a direction in which the company wants to grow. Or the candidate for a management opening may be known for engaging and developing employees to become more innovative. Another candidate might have a wide network of influence in his or her professional association, or with the same governmental agencies and other stakeholders also important to the hiring company. These candidates would be strong in the current position requirements and have even greater potential for future strategic contributions to organizational success.
When recording items in the threats quadrant, I think of what a colleague and friend who is an employment attorney describes as red flags. Red flags are actual or potentially inappropriate or negative characteristics that show up in the candidate’s statements and behaviors during the interview. Examples would include an applicant who is late, unprepared to answer questions, blames others for past failures, states fuzzy facts, is unable or unwilling to be specific about his or her contributions, has unexplained gaps in employment, is disinterested or disengaged during the interview, has a flawlessly written resume but uses poor grammar, rambling conversation, and unclear thinking when answering interview questions. Candidates like these are sending warning signals.
Tensions are the feeling interviewers get when they hear or see something that would create conflict with the workgroup or with other key stakeholders. Interviewers should record their observations under the threat/tension category. Hiring the best qualified candidate who would be a mismatch with the organization and workgroup culture is a common hiring mistake. However, this category cannot be used as an excuse for discriminatory, unlawful decisions prohibited under federal and state antidiscrimination laws.
Finally, completing your due diligence by confirming information on the application and resume and through a robust employee screening procedure is recommended. Remember that a resume reflects what the candidate wishes to share, while your application asks for information you want to know. The application (paper or online) also should include the candidate’s signature attesting to the facts as presented. Pre-offer reference checks and post-offer criminal background checks and drug and alcohol screening are all part of a preferred job offer process.
All employers face a challenging task in attracting and selecting qualified individuals in an era of world-wide talent markets. Each hiring decision has greater potential for affecting corporate performance outcomes because the pace of change and scope of competition has accelerated substantially compared to the past. Strategic staffing practices using a variety of decision tools, such as behavioral interviewing, SWOT for staffing, and employee screening, are foundational to enhancing corporate performance and sustainability in the 21st century workplace.
Oliphant, G.C., Hansen, K., & Olophant, B.J. (2008, Fall). Predictive validity of a behavioral interview technique. Marketing Management Journal, 18(2), 93-96.
Singh, P. (2009). SWEAT analysis to determine organizational effectiveness. International Journal of Learning, 15(11), 149-159.