Training & Education

Hiring the Right Way (Opinion)

The idea that you put together a job description and announcement, post it on the Internet and see who walks in the door is wrong.

It is said that wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes. My worst mistakes occurred when I hired the wrong person. I’ve become a bit wiser, a keener observer of the hiring processes and, I hope, a better practitioner.

I’ve watched people and organizations go through the hiring process, and they usually do one of two things: They either violate the standard of giving everyone a fair shot at the job, or they end up following required processes to the letter and not obtaining good candidates.

The first step in the hiring process is having a job description. To be fair to all potential applicants, it’s the hiring official’s responsibility to establish the job duties and qualifications needed. Telling a possible internal or external candidate to write the job description for you is not an option. It violates the fairness standard for others who will be competing. I’ve also seen instances, even recently, in which a job description was written for a specific internal candidate, highlighting that individual’s qualification and ones not commonly found within the professional field of emergency management. This violates every fairness standard I can think of.

The job description for emergency managers should be general. You need to be able to mix and match people and projects based on the individual skills and abilities each person brings to the table.

The idea that you put together a job description and announcement, post it on the Internet and see who walks in the door is wrong. Although this is part of the process for public agencies, there’s nothing preventing you from recruiting people you would like to see apply for the position. 

This is when having a network of contacts in the profession is extremely valuable. Agency policies may restrict you from showing the actual job posting materials to any individual, but there is nothing that restricts you from talking in generalities about the position. Ask friends and professional acquaintances if they know of good candidates for the position. Then go discuss the job with these potential candidates.

The next point is extremely critical. If you like the individual and think he or she would be a good candidate for the job, encourage the person to apply for the position. Before you end that discussion, you must communicate the following: “I think you would be great candidate for this position, but you are going to have to go through the hiring process and ‘win the job.’ It will be a fair and open competition, and I don’t know who else will be applying. I have also spoken with others and encouraged them to apply for this position.”

The ball is then in the individual’s court — he or she decides whether to fill out the application materials, prep a dynamite resumé and submit everything in a timely manner. When I’m done recruiting, I recuse myself from reviewing applications of those coming before the oral board. Typically I’ve had internal staff and individuals from outside agencies whose judgment I respect participate in interviewing candidates.

Each candidate in the final interview has the same shot at the job, which is easier to do if you haven’t made any promises.

In my experience, two factors determine what makes a good organization. First is the leadership provided to that organization, and second is the quality of the staff. If you are a supervisor, you are responsible for both of these success factors. Remember, it’s not just having people — it’s having the right people that makes the deciding difference.

Eric Holdeman is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management. His blog is located at


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