Hiring the Best People; There May Be No Foolproof System When It Comes to Hiring New Employees, but Three Publishing Companies Have Established Techniques to Improve the Odds

Article excerpt

"The most important thing we do," says a publishing company executive, "is hire good people." The president of another publishing house states, "I don't think there's anything more critical to our success than the people we hire. The only way our company can grow is if we find people who can grow, too."

Finding people with the right personality characteristics to grow in their jobs is crucial, they contend.

Yet these same executives freely admit that there's no foolproof system for 100 percent success in hiring the right editors, ad salespeople, production staff and circulation clerks--those indispensable people who make a publishing operation go. Nonetheless, the managers who seem to beat the odds when it comes to making good choices are those who have taken the time to develop a system for thoughtfully and objectively evaluating candidates.

Three cases in point are Cahners Publishing Co., Cardiff Publishing Co., Inc., and Hart Publications, Inc. of the London-based Reed Publishing Group, Cahners Publishing Co. is the largest trade publisher in the United States, putting out 31 trade and business magazines with titles such as Modern Materials Handling, Design News, Restaurants & Institutions and Mini-Micro Systems. Headquartered in Newton, Massachusetts, with offices in Des Plaines, Illinois, New York City, and Denver, Colorado, the publishing giant has found that "nothing is more costly than making a bad hiring decision," according to Harvey Wigder, vicre president of Cahners' Human Resources Department.

"If you think of someone who joins us in his or her twenties and works until retirement, Cahners is making a multi-million-dollar decision in terms of salary, benefits, training and so on." If the person doesn't work out, Wigder adds, Cahners stands to lose a great deal--not only in terms of money from salary and productivity losses, but also in terms of damage to the morale of both the staff and the individual.

To avoid these situations as often as possible, cahners uses a variety of selection strategies. For example, in 1984 the company formed the Human Resources Department, which Wigder heads, to assist Cahners' managers in the hiring process. One of the first things the new department instituted was a search procedure--an ongoing effort to be aware of available talent for the many positions at Cahners.

"Through our network of contacts, we have names of people inside and outside of Cahners who could be potential candidates if a position opens up. Some of these people might not even be actively looking, but we've identified them as capable individuals we would be interested in in the future," Wigder explains.

Wigder explains that his background is in the insurance and banking industries, where the organizations are usually large and have well-established procedures managers must follow when hiring. At Cahners, in contrast, each magazine is a profit center. This means each publisher has the authority to hire his or her own staff. The publisher is free to consult with the Human Resources Department, but is not required to use it.

The key to good selection, Wigder feels, is to take your time. "When a company is hiring, it has the advantage because the applicants want the job. The manager should feel free to take all the time he or she needs to make sure the organization and the candidate are making a good fit."

Pinpointing key characteristics

In terms of specific publishing jobs, Cahners has found that looking for particular characteristics for particular jobs is important.

* Executives/managers: Wigder says the intelligence, a desire for excellence and "solid human values" are crucial at the executive level. "We're a people business," he maintains, "and our executives should be sensitive to the human side as well as the business side of our work."

In terms of management characteristics in general, the test battery used at Cahners identifies people who show the ability to be quick learners, who have a good understanding of the needs of people as well as the requirements of various rasks, and who are generally independent and confident in their approach. …