While there is no foolproof way to identify suitable team members, the best method is to involve the entire team in the interviewing process. Have every available team member interview every candidate. Then ask all of those who did the interviews to participate in the hiring decision. Not only will you make more informed judgments about the candidates, but the team members will have a stake in helping the new members fit in and become productive.
For recruiting from within the organization, the team members will likely know more about the candidates than you could possibly find out, so listen carefully to their comments. While they will be relatively relaxed in commenting about people from outside the organization, they will be less direct when discussing fellow employees. The best approach is to treat any hesitancy or uneasiness as a sign of potential problems. In addition to asking your team members, talk to the candidate's prior managers and associates. Previous managers from within your organization will generally be helpful. However, current managers are sometimes less honest, particularly if this is a troublesome employee who they are trying to get rid of.
For outside candidates, check every reference for signs of problems. Unfortunately, this is not foolproof. The only way to get honest references is by talking with previous coworkers. However, unless you know the references personally, most of them will be so concerned about possible litigation that they will not say anything negative. I have learned that the only way to detect potential problems is by the absence of strong positives. In this highly litigious world, you will rarely hear negative comments from any outside reference, even from someone you know.
My worst experience with a misleading reference was for a candidate who was highly recommended by someone I knew personally. After we had hired him, we found that he was almost impossible to work with. He insulted his teammates, made disparaging comments about their work, and refused to work cooperatively with anyone on the team. We were all surprised, since this behavior was totally different from what we had observed in the team interviews or learned from the references. While it took a while for this employee to do something so bizarre that we could dismiss him, he had learned to hide his flaws so well that they could not be discovered until after he had joined the group. In another case, in hiring an employee for a job that required a security clearance, a close friend gave the candidate a very strong reference without mentioning that he was a convicted felon. Needless to say, this made it hard to get the needed security clearance.
Difficult people are often very smart and have usually learned that they do not work well with other people. To get hired, many of these difficult people will be able to conceal their problems. While most people are straightforward and honest during interviews, some are not. For the most difficult people, interviewing is a highly intuitive process where you try to discover clues about how these people will behave on the team.
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