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  1. Seven ways to help you decide between two superstar candidates

    May 3, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Every so often, a hiring manager will have the problem of deciding between two great candidates. It seems like a great problem to have, but what if you get it wrong? What if the candidate you choose doesn’t work out, and leaves after a couple of months? 

    Choosing between two equally qualified candidates who have impressed in their interviews and whose references are impeccable is difficult. Once you have made absolutely sure that both have the skills necessary to do the job through testing and a structured interview, there are a few more things about each candidate to consider. Here are our best tips to help you make the decision.
    1. Consider cultural fit, based on shared values, motivation and drivers. Read all about this in our shared articles, Recruiting for cultural fit and How to spot the right cultural fit in a job interview.
    2. Look to the future. One candidate may have skills or experience that are not essential to this position, but could allow them to add value later as they move up in the organisation. A candidate who has travelled extensively, for example, may one day be the right person to work in an overseas office.
    3. Consider the team they will work with. Looking at the team’s culture, work style preferences and balance of skills and attitudes can help you to decide which candidate will do better in the team. Does the team need rounding out with a more diverse group of people? Or will a person with the same traits as the existing team do better?
    4. Get back to basics. Ask yourself, ‘What is the number one priority in making this hire?’ After so many interviews, reference checks, skills test results and deliberations, it is easy to forget this most fundamental question. Step back and see if contemplating this makes the decision clearer.
    5. Have another conversation with their referees. Be really awake to their tone of voice and degree of enthusiasm, and aware of what they might not be saying, or be slightly hesitant about.
    6. Invite the candidates to spend a few hours with the prospective team, and get the team’s feedback. This is sometimes known as the ‘beer test’, but you can equally well have lunch together or even have them spend some time working in the team so that you can each assess the others’ working style. If both candidates have made it this far in the hiring process, they are most likely keen to take the position. What will it take to attract hem to the organisation? Have you already dealt with the question of pay, or will that make your decision for you? Is the start date critical, and if so, is one candidate available sooner than the other? Have you checked that both are qualified to work in Australia?

    Finally, it may be down to gut feel. When you have done the science of recruitment, it comes to the art – what your instinct tells you about the two candidates after you have weighed skills, fit, and practical details of the offer. Given that you have two great candidates, it’s likely you will end up with a successful hire. Just don’t take too long in your decision, or somebody else might snap them up!

  2. How to use psychological testing to screen out toxic workers during the hiring process

    April 26, 2016 by Alison Hill

    From sexual harassment, drug abuse and workplace violence to bullying, rudeness and undermining others, there is a spectrum of dangerous employees, from absolutely toxic to mildly poisonous.

    Luckily, toxic people in the workplace are comparatively rare – only about three to five per cent were identified as toxic in a study by hiring software company Cornerstone OnDemand. But their effect is much larger. Toxic behaviour is contagious, and makes others more likely to behave in undesirable ways. It makes good co-workers resign and costs companies financially.

    The experts are unanimous: the best way to deal with toxic employees is not to hire them in the first place. The financial costs – not to mention the social and personal costs – are simply too high. A rigorous hiring process using experienced professionals will weed out toxic people most of the time.

    Psychological tests are an important part of the hiring process, along with structured interviews and thorough reference checks. Although they are used mainly to test for specific traits that predict success in a particular job, tests also help to weed out toxic people.

    ‘Psychological assessment is one of the best tools available to select people with a combination of traits and help organisations reduce the risk of hiring toxic people’, explains Steven Booker, Challenge Consulting’s Principal Psychologist. ‘The tests should be well designed and have built-in lie detectors, and must be used together with a competency-based structured interview’.

    In a structured interview, each candidate is asked the same questions in the same order, so that they can be compared objectively against set criteria for the job. Interviewers ask competency-based questions to probe how a candidate has responded to a particular situation, based on real-life examples. This gives the candidate the opportunity to explain the reasons for decisions, how they implemented them and what the results were.

    There is a range of psychological tests available, from short true-or-false quizzes to intense investigations that take many hours to complete. The good ones will allow the tester to identify the personality traits that will make success in a particular job most likely and show up the traits, or combination of traits, that ring warning bells for toxicity.

    One test asks candidates to answer yes or no to 299 different statement, such as ‘You like to entertain guests,’ or ‘It bothers you to have people watch you work.’ The answers are then scored on 10 personality dimensions, such as general activity, restraint, and emotional stability. Another rates 16 personality traits, such as sensitivity and agreeableness, in a 10-minute test. Many tests can found online.

    But beware of finding an online personality quiz and giving it to candidates to complete. Dr Arthur H Brayfield, Executive Officer of the American Psychological Association, said that testing ‘…puts a premium upon clinical judgment and professional skill and knowledge and requires the best available knowledge of the situation in which the individual applicant or employee is to perform’.

    Make sure that any test is administered by a qualified and experienced organisational psychologist. It’s possible to cheat (although the best tests have built in ‘lie-detectors’) and if anybody will be able to game a personality test, it’s the toxic person who has no fear of others, is cold-blooded and over-confident. Evidence shows that subjects of personality tests will try to give the ‘correct’ answer rather than an honest one.  A trained professional will be able to spot the anomalies and compare the tests with the interview results and reference checks to gain a whole picture of the candidate.

    The costs of making the mistake of hiring a toxic person are too large to leave the process to chance or intuition. Evidence shows us that psychological testing, together with the structured competency-based interview, offers employers the best chance of spotting the toxic employee before they wreak havoc and reveal their true cost.

  3. Not quite toxic but a little bit poisonous: How to deal with difficult people at work

    April 19, 2016 by Alison Hill


    With any luck, your company has a robust hiring process and has managed to follow the first rule for working with toxic people: don’t hire them in the first place. But if they haven’t, or if you have to work with somebody who is difficult but not instantly recognisable as a toxic personality, here are some ways to smooth the journey.

    You’re likely to feel bewildered, used and manipulated by a co-worker at some time in your career. It may be a manager who expects you to work overtime or at weekends with no warning to complete a project – and who then takes the credit for it on Monday morning. It may be a colleague who belittles you in a team meeting by betraying something you told them in confidence, or who gossips about others in a way that is uncomfortable and makes you wonder what they say about you behind your back.

    These people are not diagnosable psychopaths or sociopaths for the most part, although they might display some of the characteristics used in psychiatric diagnoses.

    Steven Booker, Challenge Consulting’s Principal Psychologist explains that there are differing levels of toxic behaviour: ‘Extremely psychopathic or narcissistic people are often unable to get or hold onto long-term employment  because their extreme selfishness, lack of empathy, intolerance, anger and aggression are incompatible with the strongly team and values-oriented culture of most employers’, he says. ‘However, there are a group of people that we might call “subclinical psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists” whose personalities are no so extreme that although they can be quite selfish, aggressive or toxic, they are still able to be effective in some organisations, especially those that have a culture which values only results without any emphasis on values, teamwork and having empathy for clients, staff and customers. These people can often be misperceived as successful and high functioning because of their confidence, cold-blooded nature and lack of fear’, Booker says. ‘The real challenge when recruiting is to identify people with the drive, ambition, confidence and competitiveness to get strong results while also ensuring that they have sufficient empathy and care for others to be able to work as part of an effective team. Psychological assessment is one of the best tools available to select people with this combination of traits and help organisations reduce the risk of hiring toxic people.’

    According to business journalist Gregory Bresiger, the difficult people most commonly found in the workplace are these:

    • Gossipmongers: They spread fear by spouting hearsay.
    • Bullies: These employees repeatedly put others down by verbally humiliating them.
    • Saboteurs: These are people trying to gain an advantage by hurting fellow workers.
    • Spotlight stealers: They take credit for others’ work and hoard the limelight in team projects.

    Dealing with difficult people takes special skills. Luckily, some of these can be learned. Here are a few ideas that work.

    1. Know yourself. Know what presses your buttons. When you are going to be in a situation with the difficult person, such as a one-on-one meeting or a project planning session, prepare by focusing on what is important to you and the outcome you want. What would be unacceptable? Then think about what the difficult person might say or do, and plan how you might react.
    2. Take a step back. When a person is being difficult, it is easy to either give in or get angry. I remember working with somebody who would persist with an idea long after everybody in the team had already nixed it. More than once, the rest of the team gave in and let her run a project her way – often with the predictable negative outcome. On one occasion a team member got visibly angry. If only we’d known better. Removing ourselves from the situation – either by mentally taking a time out or by actually adjourning the meeting – and looking at the dispute objectively to plan a rational response would have been more productive and more likely to lead to the outcome we wanted.
    3. Let them experience victory. Many difficult people like to win, and to feel they ‘have the last word’ on an issue. You can refuse to give in to them while simultaneously helping them to save face and preserve their dignity. William Ury, author of the influential 1991 book Getting past no: Negotiating with difficult people, calls this ‘building a golden bridge’. As Ury says, ‘if you want him to acknowledge your point, acknowledge his first.’ Helping a difficult person to save face and feel they are getting their own way, at least some of the time, can help to neutralise their effect.


  4. It’s better for your organisation to dump a toxic worker than employ a superstar

    April 12, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Every company has experienced a toxic worker. Recently in Sydney, an employee of a signage manufacturer shot three customers, killing one of them, and then turned the gun on himself. There had been a dispute over an order that had been paid for but not delivered. Back in 2008, an 18-year-old apprentice engineer killed himself after months of violent bullying, including being burnt with a welding torch and having his mistakes displayed on a chart for his co-workers to see.

    These are extreme examples, but we all know of cases where rumour-mongers, insulting bosses, extreme cynics, or those who habitually turn up late and leave early damage organisations. Toxic employees not only destroy morale and hurt the performance and reputation of an organisation, but can also cost it huge amounts in legal and other fees and lost productivity.

    How do we deal with toxic people in the workplace? And, more importantly, how do we avoid hiring them in the first place? Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll address these questions.

    As Michael Housman and Dylan Minor have pointed out in their paper produced for Harvard Business School, Toxic Workers, there has been a strong focus on discovering and developing top performers – or ‘superstars’ – but less attention has been paid to those who harm organisational performance. They define a toxic worker as one who, ‘engages in behaviour that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people’.

    Employing toxic workers does more harm to a company than the good done when the company recruits superstars, Housman and Minor found. They analysed data from 50,000 employees at 11 companies, examining what set apart the truly toxic from the rest – those who were so toxic they were fired for their behaviour. Avoiding a toxic worker saved the organisation an average of over US$12,000, while hiring a star saved a little over US$5,000 – and that was before any costs of litigation or other penalties.

    Here are some of the surprising findings of the Toxic Workers study.

    1. Toxic workers tend to be more productive in terms of quantity of output. They deliver on numbers, but display the wrong values. These people tend to stay put in the organisation as their productivity seems to outweigh their toxic characteristics. Mangers may even overlook their unethical behaviour as they are more productive than the average worker. Housman and Minor give the example of a rogue trader in an investment bank who is making huge profits for the firm, who might look away when the trader is found to be overstepping legal boundaries.
    2. Toxic workers have higher than normal self-regard, and less ‘other-regardingness’. The researchers found that, ‘those who show little concern for another’s interests are less likely to refrain from damaging others and their property’. These people overestimated their skills and abilities as compared to their actual results in a skills test. The research showed that overconfident people are more likely to take unreasonable – and unethical – risks. So your negative gut feel about the co-worker who big-notes themselves may well be true.
    3. Toxic workers are more likely to claim that rules should be followed. While this sounds counterintuitive, the research showed that, ‘those who claim the rules should be followed are more Machiavellian in nature, purporting to embrace whatever rules, characteristics, or beliefs that they believe are most likely to obtain them a job’. A question in their job interview asked if they agreed that rules should always be followed. Those who were fired for toxic behaviour were found to have answered yes more often than others.
    4. Toxic workers induce others to be toxic. The study found that environment played an important role in determining whether a person who had many toxic traits actually behaved in a toxic way it the workplace. Luckily, it seems that a combination of personal characteristics and environmental factors is necessary for somebody to become a toxic worker. Housman and Minor concluded that, ‘managing toxic workers is not simply a matter of screening them out of the firm, but also of minding the work environment’.

    In coming weeks we will look at minding the work environment for conditions that allow toxic workers to flourish, and screening out toxic workers during the hiring process. We’d love to hear your experiences of toxic workers and how you managed or avoided them.


  5. What are second interviews really all about?

    April 5, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Joy! Your recruitment process is at second interview stage. For job seekers, this means you’re a big step closer to landing the position. If you’re a manager, you’ll soon have a new team member on board and your team working at full strength again. It’s time to celebrate, and also to take a deep breath and look at what the second interview is really all about.

    Somewhere around 20% to 50% of candidates who are interviewed are offered a second interview. The second round is a chance for the line manager and senior staff to meet candidates and to ask further questions. Candidates may meet those who’ll be supervising them and working closely with them, and should be able to see where they would be working and meet prospective colleagues.

    A word of warning: the person who gets a second interview has not got the job yet. Job seekers should not be complacent, and interviewers should be careful of giving the impression that the second interview is a mere formality.

    Jonathan Foxley, Recruitment Manager at Challenge Consulting, explains: ‘Quite often people get ahead of themselves thinking they have it in the bag and that they made a good impression first time round, and that is why they’ve been called back.’ This is particularly the case with those with less experience at interviewing, he says. ‘Often they have impressed, and are eighty per cent of the way there. But then they throw it away by being too sure of themselves and leaving a bad impression second time around.’

    If you’re a line manager, you may not have been at the first interview.  You may have been called in to give a second opinion, and feel apprehensive if you are not an experienced interviewer. Preparing yourself and knowing how the interview will be structured will help your decision making. This is your chance to meet and engage with the person you might work closely with.

    • Find out who else will be present. Will there be one or two interviewers, or a panel? What will the role of each interviewer be?
    • If you are new to interviewing, read our Interviewer tips for success.
    • Make sure you are briefed in depth about how candidates went at the first interview. Find out what issues should be followed up, such as any apparent skills weaknesses or lack of knowledge. As the person who knows the job best, do you have specific questions or concerns for each candidate to address?
    • Ask questions that address realistic scenarios in your team. If you ask a competency-based question, you may want to base it on an actual scenario in your team. Make it closely related to the work the person will be expected to do. Ask technical questions if you have concerns about skill levels.
    • Ask strengths-based questions that will highlight what aspects of the work the candidate loves, as this will give you insight into how the person might fit into your team. Strengths-based questions are a good way to get around candidates giving prepared, formulaic responses, and give you better insight into how the person might perform in your team.
    • Find out if there will be psychometric testing of candidates and make sure you are given the results.

    If you’ve been called in for a second interview, here are some things you should know.

    • Ask who will be in the interview, what their roles are, and what the format of the interview will be. Remember that some of the people in this round might not be experienced interviewers.
    • You are likely to be interviewed by a person you will actually be working for, and the questions will be more closely related to the work you will be expected to do.
    • You may also be interviewed by more senior employees: your manager’s manger, for example, or even the head of the company in a smaller business.
    • The first interviewer will have briefed the second on any points from your first interview that should be followed up, particularly any areas they are concerned about. Think about parts of the interview than didn’t go so well, and prepare to be asked further questions about them.
    • Think about how the interviewer seemed to respond to you in the first interview. If anything made them look uneasy, you can be sure it will come up again in this interview, so be prepared.
    • The second interview is your chance to ask really good, probing questions. Think about new information you can bring or issues you did not have the chance to raise in the first interview.
    • Research the company even more thoroughly before going in for the second time. Find the interviewer’s profile on LinkedIn and take a look at the company’s profile on Glassdoor. Research the industry if you haven’t already been working in the area.
    • You may be invited on a tour of the organisation’s premises If you’re not, it’s okay to ask to be shown around and to meet employees.
    • You may be asked to take psychometric tests or other assessment tests at this stage. Again, ask if this is the case before you go to the interview, and allow enough time so that you are not stressed about how long the interview and testing may run for.

  6. What’s the point of psychometric testing?

    March 29, 2016 by Alison Hill

    You’ve probably done an online personality and/or ability test before – who can resist being able to find out how ‘agreeable’ you are, or what your Myers-Briggs type is? Of course you want to know if you have a better vocabulary than the 64% of graduates that can’t spell properly! You may also have taken a test as part of a team building exercise or development program. Now you can expect to come across psychometric tests as a standard part of the hiring process.

    UK company Psychometric Success reports that psychometric testing is used by over 80% of Fortune 500 companies in the US and by over 75% of the Times Top 100 companies in the UK. In Australia, Human Resources Director magazine reports that about 40% of recruiters and employers ask job applicants to sit psychometric tests, and it seems that they are becoming more widespread.

    Part of the testing process measures skills and aptitudes, or cognitive ability, while the other aspect assesses personality. Personality tests are used to assess such things as interpersonal style, adaptability, coping skills, emotional intelligence, values and motivations, and honesty. You can read more about them at Challenge Consulting.

    Steven Booker, Principal Consultant of People Services at Challenge Consulting, says that while recruitment is not an exact science, ‘psychological tests  are the most scientific tool we have for predicting how a person will perform in a job and how much they will enjoy it. Further, he says that ability (work-related IQ) testing has the highest ability to predict job performance out of all recruitment methods, including interviews.  Tests of cognitive ability correlate strongly with performance (0.5 correlation coefficient, where 0.5 is considered a strong correlation), while an unstructured interview has very low predictive value. In a situation where a wrong hire costs organisations dearly, the return on investment for psychometric testing is huge, he points out. ‘Testing doubles the accuracy of recruitment.’

    Challenge People Services consultants are often asked, ‘What’s the point of psychometric testing? Surely a smart candidate will work out the “right” answers and tell the recruiter or employer what they want to hear?’ While that is possible with poorly designed tests that are not well administered, the right test given in the right way will enhance the recruitment process. Properly formulated tests have a built-in ways of finding attempts at deception, and anybody identified as trying to ‘impression manage’ (i.e. fake) the profile is unlikely to be assessed as suitable for a role, particularly if it requires honest and integrity as most roles do.

    Additionally, personality testing is used partly to look for the right fit between the candidate and the organisation. ‘Faking it’ is hard if the candidate doesn’t know what the organisation is looking for. It’s also counterproductive. It’s in nobody’s long-term interest for somebody to pretend to be an extroverted person, for example, when they are not, and for them to then struggle – and ultimately fail – in a sales role that requires a lot of interaction with customers.

    Booker says most employers are worried about the time psychometric testing might take. ‘The vast majority of testing takes between one and three hours’, he says. So they need not be concerned that the candidates will be subject to hours of rigorous exams, followed by weeks of waiting for results, as many employers express concern that they are putting the candidate through an unpleasant rigmarole. ‘Once they are asked to undergo testing, a candidate usually guesses that they are being seriously considered for the role’, says Booker. He explains that the tests are best administered supervised, accompanied by a discussion with the candidate at which they can give and receive feedback about the outcome.

    Remember, psychometric tests are only one part of the recruitment process, and other information, such as a structured interview and what your references say about you, provide important information too. A good recruiter or hiring manager will look at every piece of information about a candidate and consider the place of each in informing their hiring decision. However, if you want to double the accuracy of your recruitment process, consider using psychological assessment.

  7. How to ace an interview

    March 22, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Interviews are at the core of the hiring process. Whether you are the candidate or the interviewer, preparation is everything.

    You’re excited, a bit nervous, and concerned to make the right impression. Here are our tips for getting ready to ace that first interview.


    Interviewing people for a role in your team is exciting, and rather daunting at the same time. You’ve narrowed down your list of prospects, or your recruiter has presented you with suitable candidates, and now you are faced with making a choice that will have a significant impact on you and your team for the foreseeable future.

    You have the hiring managers’ list of standard questions from HR, but you want to dig deeper than that. You want more than their rehearsed responses to the most commonly asked questions. The key is research and thorough preparation.

    The practicalities are often overlooked when you are preparing to interview. Have you booked a suitable meeting room? Have you told the candidates which entrance to use, and how to find your idiosyncratically numbered office?

    Here are some other practical matters to see to:

    • Let your reception staff know when candidates will be arriving so that they can greet them and perhaps gather some first impressions.
    • Don’t schedule appointments so close together that candidates meet in the waiting area.
    • Tell candidates where they can park or where the train and bus stations are relative to your premise.
    • Allow enough time between interviews to compare notes with others on the interview panel.
    • Be prepared to hold interviews out of regular hours for candidates who cannot take time out from their present jobs.

    Now that you have the nuts and bolts out of the way, what about your preparation for the time you will spend with the candidate? Here are ways to get yourself in the right frame of mind.

    Be clear on your goals for each interview – what do you want to assess in each candidate? What will help you decide if the person is the right fit for your team?

    If you decide to hold a group interview, select the interview panel, ideally including a person from the organisation’s HR department.

    Thoroughly brief everybody who will conduct the interviews. Send them the candidates’ resumes, cover letters and a job description, and tell them your goals for the process. Decide who will ask which questions.

    Read each candidate’s resume thoroughly, and prepare specific questions for each candidate, addressing their background, skills and behaviour.

    Find a common interest or a shared experience, and use it to open the conversation and set the candidate at ease. Creating rapport in this way will relax them – and you.

    For an average first round interview, you will need about five prepared questions. Remember to listen more than you talk. Explain the role and the company briefly at the start, and leave room for the conversation to evolve naturally – you’re not running an inquisition!

    Tell the candidates who will be involved in the interview, and their role in the company and the decision-making process.  Remember to send them a job description in time for them to prepare themselves for the interview. Letting the candidate know how you are approaching the hiring process will put them at ease. A relaxed candidate is more likely to reveal their ‘true self’ and perform better, allowing you to better assess their true potential.


    When it comes to advice for candidates who are being interviewed, our consultants at Challenge are unanimous about three things:

    • Know your resume inside out. An interviewer will ask you questions on your experience. Identify your most valuable skills and incorporate them into your answers.
    • Research the company – SEEK, Glassdoor and the organisation’s website are great places to start. You should also find out about your interviewer on LinkedIn.
    • Prepare some good, relevant questions to ask your interviewer. These might include, ‘What will my KPIs be, and how do you measure them?’ ‘How can I expect to progress in this role?’ and questions about the organisation’s internal culture (check their vision and mission statements for clues).

    These days most interviews will have at least some behavioural questions, so be ready for them.  ‘Have a library of examples at the ready to answer competency based questions’, says Daniele Fischl, Consultant at Challenge. ‘Know your KPIs and how you have performed against them. Identify your unique selling point for this role.’

    ‘Always dress as you would if you were going to work for the organisation you’re interviewing for’, advises Samantha Gates, Graduate Consultant at Challenge. ‘Make sure you’re well-groomed and look polished.  First impressions always count, so why not make the best first impression you can.’ We’ve written about dressing for work here.

    Challenge’s consultants also point out what not to do.  ‘Never ask about salary or bonus schemes in the first interview. This first interview is all about determining your fit for the position and company’, warns Samantha Gates, Graduate Consultant at Challenge.

    Other no-no’s include checking your mobile (turn it off!) appearing arrogant, and arriving more than 10 minutes early. Of course you shouldn’t be late either – check your route and transport well in advance. Fischl advises doing a dry run if you can.

    Her final words of advice: Be polite to everyone you met going in and out of the building. You never know who you are travelling in a lift with and the receptionist is often asked what their first impressions were.

    And good luck. We’d love to hear your interview stories and tips; leave them in the comments section below.



  8. Busting some myths about reference checking

    March 15, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Reference checking is sometimes seen as a marginal part of the hiring process by both the candidate and the hiring manager. After all, referees are the last item on a resume, and checking references is the last step before making an offer – how important can it be?

    The reality is that proper reference checking can lower the cost of hiring by minimising the changes of making a wrong hire, as well as confirming that the candidate is the right fit for your organisation and that their skills and attributes are suited to the role.

    Reference checks are used to make sure that prospective employers have accurate information about a candidate’s work history, skills and personal attributes. While it’s true that a referee is unlikely to give a bad reference, a good recruiter is able to tune into what is not being said. ‘You need to be a detective’, says Melissa Lombardo, Senior Consultant at Challenge Consulting, ‘and ask the same question again in different ways’.  The referee’s tone of voice is the biggest clue, she explains, which is why a phone call works better than email. ‘If they are hesitant, you can hear it, and in the same way if they are really enthusiastic it comes across in their tone.’


    Here are some of the commonly held assumptions about reference checking, and why they are wrong.

    I can’t give my current manager as a reference because I don’t want them to know I’m looking for a new position.
    This misconception is totally understandable. Remember, the reference check is the last step before you are made an offer, so by this stage you are pretty likely to be offered the role. The most reliable reference comes from the person to whom you currently report, but you can nominate others, such as a sports coach, somebody you interned for or a tutor, Lombardo suggests – particularly if you are new to the workforce.

    The candidate chooses their own referee, so a referee will say only good things.
    This is true to an extent, but a good recruiter will be able to ask probing questions to assess if the candidate is right for the role. ‘We also ask the candidate if we may speak to a more senior person in the organisation’, says Lombardo. Speaking to the manager’s manager can overcome the issue of a personal issue between the direct manager and the candidate.

    The reason I’m leaving is because I don’t get on with my manager, so I can’t nominate them as a referee.
    Often people leave a manger, rather than a company, it’s true. But a good recruiter will see through this and delve deeper to find out your competencies. ‘We ask to speak to the manager’s manger, or the HR manager’, says Lombardo. ‘We’ll ask if they would work with the person again. How they answer tells us a lot about the candidate.’

    If a referee says something negative about me, I have no chance of getting the role.
    ‘It’s quite rare for a reference check to be bad news for a candidate’, says Lombardo. ‘If a referee raises a potential problem, it may be in an area not relevant to the new role. We flag it with the client, but often they find it irrelevant’.

    If the person nominates me as their referee, I have to give the information.
    There is no obligation to agree to provide a reference. ‘If you feel you’re not an appropriate referee, tell the candidate’, says Lombardo. ‘The reference must be meaningful. If you didn’t supervise the person, of feel you’re not appropriate for any reason, say so’. You must not give a reference that is misleading, deceptive or defamatory.



    Make sure the reference is legitimate.
    Call a landline if at all possible. ‘You want to hear them answer with the name of the organisation’, says Lombardo.  ‘If you have only a mobile number, ask for a work email address to send a confirmation of your call to.’ Fake references are rare, but they happen.  A 2012 survey by Balance Recruitment revealed 4% of employees have used a fake referee. Check that the company is real, and that the candidate has worked there. ‘If we only have a mobile number, we ask for a company address to follow up by email’, explains Lombardo. ‘We also look up the referee’s profile on LinkedIn.’

    Have a template for checking references.
    There are many examples of reference checking templates online. Use them to ask and record the answers to competency-based questions. Be careful not to ask anything that could be construed as discriminatory, such as relationship status, age, disability, or whether the candidate has children or is of a particular ethnicity. Keep a record, as the candidate is entitled to ask to see their references.

    You must have the candidate’s permission to call a referee.
    Confirm this with them right before you do the check. This also allows them to let the referee know they should expect your call.

    Some companies have a ‘no references’ policy.
    If a manger tells you they are unable to give a reference, this may be a blanket policy. Check whether this is the case before assuming they are simply unwilling to discuss the candidate.

    Not all managers are great communicators.
    ‘If all you get are yes and no answers, this doesn’t mean the referee is being evasive,’ says Lombardo. They may just not be experienced at acting as a referee. 



    Choose your referees wisely.
    They should be able to confirm your suitability for the role, as well as your employment and responsibilities, strengths and development areas.

    Prepare your referee.
    Let them know you are nominating them as your referee before you mass on their details. It is not in your interest for them to get an unexpected phone call! Tell them about the job some detail, particularly about the skills and competencies required, and suggest they think of some examples of how you have demonstrated them. It’s really helpful to a recruiter if you can line up a time that they are available. ‘Sometimes it takes us weeks to contact a referee’, says Lombardo.  ‘If you can give us times to call your referee it cuts out a lot of frustration’.

    Set your social media pages to private if you have any concerns.
    Both recruiters and employers can, and probably will, run an online search. Make sure you would be happy for a prospective employer to see your groups, interests and what you got up to last weekend.

    Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and professional.
    ‘Use a professional photograph’, says Lombardo. ‘First impressions count’. So don’t use the one of you with Fluffy the dog, no matter how charming, and don’t post a blurred selfie.



  9. From pocket money to retirement income: how women are systematically paid less (and what you can do about it)

    March 8, 2016 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    Happy International Women’s Day. As it turns out, it could be a lot happier for women in the workforce.

    It starts young – inequality applies even to girls’ weekly pocket money, as reported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ Gender Pay Gap over the Life Cycle report. Apparently girls start out with 11% less pocket money than boys and this continues with women graduates with a bachelor’s degree earning $1.5 million less over a lifetime than men with the equivalent qualifications.

    A report by Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency released last week, Gender Equity Insights 2016: Inside Australia’s Gender Pay Gap, outlines the following:

    • Women key management personnel (KMP) working full-time earn on average $100,000 a year less than male KMPs.
    • Gender pay gaps lead to significant earnings shortfalls for women across their careers. Women moving through managerial positions at the same pace as men, working full-time and reaching a KMP role in their tenth year, earn $600,000 less.
    • Male managers working in female-dominated organisations can expect to earn considerably more than their female colleagues.
    • More women on boards is associated with significant reductions in gender pay gaps.
    • Part-time roles are dominated by women and are significantly lower paid (on a full-time equivalent basis) than full-time roles.
    • Men consistently earn more additional remuneration than women. The average male ‘bonus’ premium is almost 8 percentage points for full-time workers, and is highest in the financial and insurance services industry, at 15 percentage points.


    Is it simply a case of gender pay gap = direct discrimination? The gap can be explained in part by differences in how men and women work, the industries they work in and their level of skills and experience. My own experience in publishing, a vastly female-dominated industry, is that average pay is low and many people work part-time and on short-term contracts.  The same goes for teaching and nursing, both overwhelmingly female dominated. The report tells us that a startling 75% of part-time workers are female.

    But the gender pay gap can also indicate more subtle bias within workplaces, where preferential treatment is given to certain workers for career advancement and pay. The report notes,

    ‘Gender pay gaps can be a sign of both direct and indirect biases, both of which are problematic for a number of reasons. They signal inequity in a society that has been built on the concept of a ‘fair go’. They result in poorer outcomes for women in terms of economic and personal freedoms. They impair and stunt economic growth for nations looking to remain competitive on a global scale. Furthermore, they represent a lost opportunity in human capital investment and potential.’

    So what can the average manager do?

    Employers generally don’t intend to pay men and women differently. Gender pay gaps are not good for staff attraction, retention or engagement. We know that gender equality is better for both individual performance and company productivity. But perhaps unintended biases are creeping into hiring, pay, promotion and performance decisions. A payroll analysis can uncover this.

    The Workplace Gender Equality Agency and the Australian Institute of Management have produced a Manager briefing, Gender pay equity guide for managers, outlining steps that can be taken at each stage of the employment cycle to address unconscious biases and practices in the recruitment, promotion, performance and remuneration stages.


    Identifying the causes of gender pay gaps: Some quick tips for managers

    • Check your job descriptions. Are women doing similar jobs to men but with different job titles and pay?
    • Analyse starting rates in your team. Are these monitored by gender? If an employee starts on a higher rate, is this based on evidence and recorded, with reasons?
    • Compare the organisation’s pay rates to market rates. Are variations applied consistently? Or do lower rates favour roles dominated by women?
    • Check superannuation rates. Is the rate of employer-paid super consistent across levels? Are all employees, including those on parental leave, treated in the same way?
    • Investigate bonuses and discretionary pay. Is one gender more likely to be in roles that attract bonus payments? Is discretionary pay more likely to be paid in a traditionally ‘male’ role?

    Managers can show leadership on gender pay issues and are well placed to develop a plan to address them. It begins with finding and analysing the data, and then addressing the gaps and their causes. As the Manager briefing points out, ‘the removal of bias in pay and performance decisions requires a medium to long term strategy and cultural change’.

    Be in it.

  10. Job description, job brief, job ad: what’s the difference?

    February 16, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Your employer has done some reorganisation and you’ve been promoted. You’re heading up a brand-new team and look set for an exciting few months ahead. One of the first tasks you’re asked to do as a new line manager is to recruit a team member. ‘Write a job description and a brief for the recruiter’, HR tells you. ‘And have a go at a job ad. We’re so busy, it will really help. Thanks.’

    Can’t they just give a rough job description to the recruiter and let them work it out? Cut it down a bit for the ad? Welcome to Lesson 1 in building a star team: getting these three distinct documents right so that you can make the best hire.

    So let’s take a look at how to write a job description that attracts the right candidates. In the next few weeks, we’ll look at how to create a job brief for a recruiter and what to put in a job ad.

    What is a job description for?

    A job description is a hard-working document. It does exactly what its title says – and then some. As well as describing the skills and competencies needed to do the job, a comprehensive job description also:

    • Describes where the job sits in the organisation’s hierarchy
    • Forms the basis for the employment contract
    • Is an important performance management tool
    • Forms the basis for your brief to your recruitment consultant
    • Forms the basis for a job advertisement
    • Is a reference in case of a job dispute

    Step-by-step guide to writing a job description

    1. Choose a self-explanatory job title that truly reflects the role

    A good title is clear and simple, and accurately reflects the duties to be performed. It also reflects the job’s place in the corporate hierarchy. Choose a title that allows for comparison with similar positions in your industry. Vague descriptions mean you will be inundated unqualified responses; while a job title that is too specific may mean very good candidates rule themselves out. Finally, remember that when job seekers search online, job titles are the most common key words, so make your job easy to find.

    1. Outline the purpose of the role

    This should be a brief summary of the general nature of the job – why it exists and what the incumbent should accomplish. It is also helpful to the candidate to outline the experience required for the role. A descriptor such as entry level, mid-career or executive can be helpful without expressing experience in a definite number of years.

    1. List the duties and responsibilities

    This is the most important part of a well-crafted job description. Rather than making a long list of every possible task involved, list them from most important and time-consuming to least, keeping the list as short as you can. Using headings followed by examples of the tasks is a good way to keep the list both concise and descriptive. For example:

    Answer the telephone
    Greet callers in a friendly tone and redirect calls accurately and promptly.

    Around 10-12 tasks is a good number to aim for. Many organisations like to include the phrase ‘other duties as assigned by [supervisor or reporting manager]’.

    1. List the skills and competencies needed

    Skills are what the candidate can do, based on education or experience, while competencies are traits or attributes. HTML coding is a skill; communicating with people at all levels is a competency. If particular minimum qualifications, certification, licences or memberships are a requirement of the job, list them here. If specialised experience is needed, it should be spelled out.

    1. Relationship to other positions in the organisation/reporting lines

    Both reporting lines and working relationships (‘dotted line’) should be included in this section. The reporting lines should be really clear. Some organisations even include their organisational chart. Clarifying reporting lines gives a picture of who the position reports to and whether anybody reports to them, allowing candidates to see how the position fits into the organisation. ‘Dotted line’ relationships allow the candidate to see who they will work closely with, as opposed to reporting to.

    1. Salary and other conditions

    Usually salary is expressed as a range and with reference to other positions in the organisation. If there are conditions such as shift work or frequent travel these should be included here.

    How to go about the technical business of writing

    The skill in writing a good job description is striking a balance between being too vague and too precise – too vague and you will attract unqualified candidates (and your description will not meet its other, non-recruitment purposes either); too specific and you will cause good candidates to exclude themselves.

    Pay attention to structuring and formatting your content clearly and concisely. Using a template can help (see below).

    Cut out any insider language that is used only in your organisation or industry and that might serve to exclude well-suited candidates.

    Write in straightforward language, describing each responsibility in a way that means they can be measured. Start each task description with a verb, making it clear what the candidate is expected to DO.

    Write in a way that reflects the organisation’s culture is helpful if you can pull it off. A job description in a conservative financial environment will be written in formal and impersonal language, while a description for a start-up populated with Millennials might be informal and stress the experimental and collaborative nature of the workplace.

    When you have completed the writing process, proofread the document to check for spelling and grammar mistakes, and for sense. Read it aloud to a co-worker if possible.

    Using a template

    One of the hardest parts of creating a job description is sitting in front of a blank document, often accompanied by a blank mind!  There are many good reasons to use a template to guide you, and that is one.  A template can help you to think systematically – this is one occasion in which creative thinking is not necessarily a good thing. Other benefits of using a well-designed template are:

    • It is easier to achieve consistency across the organisation’s job descriptions
    • Job descriptions are more likely to be complete and comprehensive when you are prompted to create each section
    • Quality standards are easier to enforce if writers have a template to guide them

     Checklist for compiling a job description

    Have you included?

    • Job title, department, reporting lines
    • Aim of the position
    • Prioritised list of the most important tasks and responsibilities
    • Skills and traits the ideal candidate will have
    • Level of education
    • Any other requirements such as licences or visa/citizenship requirements

    In the next blog post, we’ll look how to create a job brief for a recruiter.

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