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Created on 27.02.2019

Making HR decisions with a steady hand

How can SMEs ensure they appoint the most suitable candidate for the position advertised? Kerstin Wenger, owner of Walmonag HR services in Visp, believes it is important to check whether the applicant will fit into the corporate culture, besides their professional and personal skills.

SMEs should heed their gut feeling when making hiring decisions. Our instincts are generally a really good indicator. However, structured job interviews should never be discarded in any hiring decision, even if you feel the desire to offer somebody the job on the spot as soon as you meet them. A structured procedure is vital to ensure that candidates are assessed according to the same criteria and can also be compared directly. Obtain references whenever possible as they are also helpful in making the right appointment.

The professional and personal abilities have to be taken into account as does the cultural fit, where the applicant’s compatibility with the corporate culture is assessed. The following list explains what these three criteria mean and which questions to ask to find out what you need to know. The skills to be assessed during the job interview and how rigorously the questioning should be always depends on the job advertised and the requirements profile. Some of the following evaluation criteria are suitable for almost all job profiles at employee level, while others are more suitable for middle and senior management. 

The image shows that professional skills, personal skills and cultural fit all play a role when selecting employees.
  • Professional competencies are all the skills and abilities an employee must possess in order to perform the tasks involved in the job independently and autonomously. They vary depending on the professional field and position. These are also referred to as hard skills.

    Examples of professional skills

    • Manual skills
    • Foreign languages
    • Accounting knowledge
    • Use of IT programs
    • Programming knowledge
    • Technical expertise
    • Spatial perception
    • Digital skills
    • Project management skills
    • Innovation orientation
    • Management skills such as target and results orientation or staff orientation

    Examples of superordinate professional competencies

    • Professional experience
    • Current specialist knowledge
    • Organizational skills
    • Ability to think and act in a structured way
    • Awareness of costs/benefits
    • Project management skills
    • Ability to think and act holistically
    • An entrepreneurial approach
    • Ability to weigh up priorities
    • Powers of comprehension

    Possible questions

    • What tasks have you carried out?
    • Which of the tasks indicated above were particularly important for you?
    • Which do you hope to build upon in future?
    • What were your working hours?
    • With whom have you worked predominantly?
    • Describe a typical day’s work.
    • Which tasks did you enjoy doing most?
    • What did you not like so much?
    • Which tasks took up the most time?
    • How do you usually approach a major task (organizational skills)?
    • How do you ensure that you complete your tasks on time (self-organization)?
    • Can you identify current and future problems (analytical thinking)?

    Tip: Ask candidates to demonstrate a sample of their work where appropriate.

  • Personal skills cover all personal and person-related competencies which influence the approach to work, to oneself and others. These are also known as soft skills: communication skills, reliability, commitment, ability to deal with conflict, willingness and ability to learn, dealing with stress, creativity, motivational skills, ability to listen, ability to integrate, personal flexibility, desire to manage, capacity for self-reflection, risk awareness, knowing one’s own limits, ability to deal with criticism, tolerance, resilience, determination, assertiveness, team player, empathy, decision-making ability and customer orientation etc.

    Possible questions

    • For what reasons have you failed to meet deadlines in the past? (reliability) and how did you deal with that (communication skills)?
    • Are you a team player (team skills)?
    • Which tasks do you appreciate tackling as part of a team and which do you prefer to work on alone (ability to cooperate)?
    • How do you deal with stress, pressure, criticism and problems (resilience)?
    • How do you deal with resistance from customers, employees and line managers etc. (communication skills, assertiveness)?
    • How well do you manage conflict? Are you able to cope with making unpopular decisions or representing positions which are disliked? How well can you deal with conflict (conflict management)?
    • Would others describe you as sociable?
    • How do you deal with stress, pressure, criticism and problems?
    • What do you do in your leisure time?

    Tip: the more you find out about the applicant’s previous experience and examples of it, the better you will be able to assess their social skills.

  • The term cultural fit refers to the compatibility between applicants and employers in relation to their approach and expectations. What is the use of an expert in a specialist field if they do not identify with the existing corporate culture? They don’t usually remain at the company for long.

    In contrast, applicants who impress not just with their skills and abilities, but also accept, exemplify and develop the established corporate culture are far more promising. Such employees are invaluable to companies which are heavily dependent on effective teamwork to achieve their business objectives.

    To ensure compatibility with the company’s culture, SMEs should address and define their own culture and which elements of it (such as management style, type of cooperation in the team and values and visions etc.) should be applied to recruitment decisions. Decide, for example, whether to adopt an authoritative or participative management style and which type of employee is compatible with your management style.

    Possible questions

    • Tell us something about yourself/how would you describe yourself?
    • Will you fit in to the company?
    • Why should you get the job?
    • What type of management style do you prefer?
    • What are your benchmarks? What really matters to you?

Checklists on the topic

About Kerstin Wenger

Portrait Kerstin Wenger

Kerstin Wenger is the owner of The link will open in a new window Walmonag HR services based in Visp, Upper Valais. Holding a federal diploma in HR management, she took over the company, which provides comprehensive recruitment services, from her father in 2011. Walmonag AG provides recruitment services, supplies temporary staff and handles the entire payroll process for customers. Since 2011, Kerstin Wenger has been a Board member at swissstaffing, the Swiss association for recruitment providers and is employed as an expert on the professional examination for HR professionals in discipline C, private recruitment services and contract staff.

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