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Three Steps to a Perfect Hire

If you’ve ever hired in haste only to repent in leisure, it’s time to put this hiring process in place.

By Cynthia Wall, LCSW

Many managers assume they should seek candidates with the best resumes and training. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that your business depends on excellent customer service. This is especially critical as Baby Boomers get closer to retirement. There are hard days coming for those who have been making poor financial choices: piling up debt, taking equity from their homes, spending more than they earn and being underinsured.

As Boomers attempt to redirect their financial choices to solvency, many will be tempted to question the need for “extras” such as long-term care and disability income insurance, or increased life and health insurance coverage. The importance of paying to protect their investments and family’s future needs to be conveyed with compassion.

High-pressured sales techniques will not work. You need people on your staff with the right mix of personality and skills who honestly want to assist your clients in finding a balance between affordability and adequate protection. To achieve this, it is often wiser to choose people who naturally care about others: Encouraging advanced training of good-hearted people is easier than teaching empathy to those with credentials.

To identify a candidate’s personal qualities, your hiring and selection process needs three elements: screening, probation and evaluation.

1. Screening: It’s tempting to hire someone after one lively conversation. However, a magical feeling of rapport is only one element that indicates a good fit. A person who shines under pressure and claims dazzling skills may not have empathy for customers or loyalty to your office. On the other hand, someone who appears less confident in an initial interview may turn out to be an ideal match for your long-term needs.

Detach yourself from the natural tendency to want to like and be liked by concentrating your screening on identifying genuine respect and maturity.

  • Set up a formal interview involving key personnel whose opinions you trust. Prior to arriving, the candidate should fill out an application you provide that includes:

    1. a statement of what he likes/would like about working in the insurance and financial services industry

    2. a description of his ideal working environment, including hours and level of responsibility

    3. personal interests and unique experiences—this helps reveal the interviewee’s personality

    4. three references—at least two from supervisors and others from clients, if appropriate

  • Use prepared questions to allow you to focus on essential topics. Create these with your staff or partners, focusing on values and ethics that are important in your practice. Avoid questions with yes or no answers.
  • Cite real examples of problems you have faced in your practice, and ask how the candidate would handle them. His responses will show a great deal about his skill level, sensitivity and personal style.
  • Stay neutral by avoiding negative reactions or eager praise. Breathe easily and keep calm. Observe the candidate’s expressions and body language as well as words.
  • Ask for his ideas about how to increase customer loyalty and success in your business.

Then, reflect after the interview: Does he follow instructions? Can he communicate in writing? Does he interrupt or try to impress rather than listen? These are clues about how he’ll listen to customers and staff.

Always call supervisory references. Describe the position and ask where the candidate might shine or need training. Gather subtle clues by reading their tone or hesitation in their answers.

2. Probation: If you sense adequate maturity and capability, offer the candidate a probationary position. Make the details absolutely clear in writing.

  • The period should last 60 days for both professional and paraprofessional positions.
  • Write out the salary, benefit package, bonus and raise protocols.
  • Stress that probation is for training and testing for a mutual sense of a job fit. He can decline to continue at any time, just as you can ask him to leave.

Go over a list of expectations for his initial 60 days. Ask him to revise the list during the probationary period. Keeping a clear picture of the job you want him to do is a sign he accepts the responsibility to prove his value in the position.

3. Evaluation: Evaluation consists of ongoing feedback (see box) and the formal hiring interview. How a potential employee responds to suggestions and corrections reveals his maturity. Notice if he is eager to correct and prevent mistakes. Encourage discussion so you can observe if he is thinking of how to add value to your business.

How a potential employee responds to suggestions and corrections reveals his maturity.

By the end of the probationary period, you will know if the candidate is mature and caring. Acknowledge this with a formal hiring interview in which you each have the opportunity to make the position permanent. Allow an hour of uninterrupted time to review mutual concerns and encourage additional training if you choose to offer him full-time employment.

Refer to the original task list you gave him, and ask to see his amended list. Have the candidate assign a grade, A to F, to his performance on each item. You will see if he responds honestly. Fears about being critical fade as you reassure him that he is doing better than he thinks, or you can validate his need for training. Acknowledge areas of accomplishment and discuss solutions for challenges. Delegate new tasks and upgrade the permanent job description.

End the formal hiring interview with a celebration of his new status. Give your new employee the promised wages and benefits, and describe how he has become an asset to your business.

Cynthia Wall, LCSW, is a therapist, consultant and author of The Courage to Trust. She conducts workshops and consultations to help small businesses use the successful strategies of larger corporations. For more information, go to



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