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Editor’s note: Every Wednesday, Independent Street is running a QA with a leader of one our Top Small Workplaces 2007.

Just because a job candidate aces an interview doesn’t always mean they’ll be a good fit.

We spoke with Jere Cowden, chief executive of Cowden Associates, a Pittsburgh human-resources and actuarial consulting firm with 27 employees, about his company’s hiring practices and what can ensue when you hire the wrong person. Here’s an edited excerpt from our talk.

Jere Cowden

How does Cowden interview?
Usually the individuals we hire aren’t strangers to the organization. We keep a list of known talent who we think are compatible to our firm, which improves our success rate.

One thing I’ve learned is to have multiple people involved. If you’re sitting in a room with two or three people, it’s more like a real office environment. You can get a better feel for how somebody reacts to different circumstances.

We also do personality testing and put together, for lack of a better term, a psychological profile. We try to figure out what the person is like under pressure. I’ve worked with people who are pretty much the same no matter what the situation and some who become totally different when faced with a problem.

How do you gauge culture fit?
Often you just feel it. One thing that is critical is getting people to understand the culture before they come here. I try to get them in situations where they interact with other people here.

And we encourage them to probe. What’s a typical day like? What’s the boss like? What’s it like on a bad day?

Tell me about a hire that failed.
The worst hire of my life was when I hired someone and they were in the office for 20 minutes, and they started to create friction — egging on people to express their frustrations and then leaking that out. They were basically trying to create little power camps.

I tried to work with that individual for three to four months to save them. But it just took the organization further down. That’s one of the things I hear about from a lot of my peers: We’re way too slow to fire.

Readers, ever had a regrettable hire? How did you handle it? How do you try to ensure you find the right people first time around?

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        • 2:03 pm November 9, 2007
        • Bennie Felts of Felts & Associates Consulting Group, LLC wrote :

        I found this posting and podcast very interesting. We often overlook the importance of our hiring practices and fail to fully engage others in the process of selection.

        Cultural fit is extremely critical in today's team oriented environment. Being able to introduce the candidate to the organization’s culture cuts two ways: the candidate needs to recognize whether or not they will enjoy working there while, at the same time, organizational stakeholders must also enjoy the presence of other workers.

        Podcasting of interviews is a good approach to getting others involved on a limited basis as long as enough exposure has been realized to enable a realistic evaluation.


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