Employing good people is hard, but, says David Mansfield, visiting professor at Cass Business School, without too much effort, there’s a lot more companies can do to make better hiring decisions.

“We find it really hard to employ good people” Well how many times have you heard that, or probably said it yourself? Even worse, you think you’ve hired the right guy only to find they don’t work out.

The industrial revolution is a long way behind us and the UK is now, primarily, a service based economy. Substituting a manufacturing industry for people based companies has made the recruitment of smart people a top priority for most organisations.

The good news is, without too much effort, there’s a lot more companies can do to make better hiring decisions. Reviewing existing processes can really pay dividends, if improvements are properly applied. And it’s not just about recruiting the right people, it’s ensuring they stay motivated and grow with the business.

So how might a company go about improving their chances of employing good people? It sounds obvious, but ensure your public face is making the right impression. If your on line presence isn’t up to scratch it will cost you quality candidates.

The second priority is being clear about what you want the person to do. Not just now, but in the future as well. If they’re going to progress and will need additional skills at a senior level, identify those now. Too many times I’ve worked with companies who’ve promoted an executive to partner and expected them to have skills they’ve never developed.

Job descriptions often fall way short of what’s required. A revamp of something drawn up some time ago, or more likely the work of someone in HR, abundant with platitudes and corporate speak. It really is very important to be precise about the skills and experience that match the job requirement.

Companies struggle to find “really good” people because they don’t spend anywhere near enough time considering what they really need. Knowing the right person when you see them is not a successful strategy.

The next stage is as critical as the first two and is often where hiring mistakes are frequently made. If you were buying a company you wouldn’t take their word for the fact they say they are a great business, would you? Of course not. You’d do a considerable amount of due diligence, to ensure you weren’t being sold a pup. But when hiring people there is a great propensity to rely on personal judgement and gut feel. Important of course, but only if supported by facts. And gathering facts about people can be tough, but not impossible.

When interviewing, I have a set of questions directly related to how I will judge that person’s performance. I provide examples of situations I know will confront them and ask how they will respond. I ask the candidate to provide me with examples of how they have managed similar situations. I require them to provide evidence to support their answers.

The important point is the emphasis is on them to provide the evidence, not for you to seek it out (although, of course, you’ll be doing your own due diligence). To supplement this, add to the process exercises very specific to the position. If the job requires them to write board papers, make them write one for you.

Take references, if not the current employer then the previous ones. It’s increasingly difficult these days, as people are frightened of being sued, but people will be helpful if not bound by a corporate policy of silence.

And take professional outside help to provide independent assessment. Personally, I favour psychometric testing to reveal traits such as energy levels, problem solving and other important areas not always apparent at interview.

I recently discussed this approach with a company that have a poor record of attracting the right people and then keeping them. Until now, the company took the view that you can’t question and challenge senior candidates, because they’re above it and would be offended. They’re not the only company I know to take this approach.

They ask each partner to interview the candidate, have dinner or lunch a couple of times and then make the hire. Unsurprisingly, it’s not particularly successful. They’re going to try a different way now, I’ll let you know how it goes.

By David Mansfield, founder of The Drive Partnership and visiting professor at Cass Business School