How to Hire a Key Employee

By Martin Zahra, Key Employee Search Consultant, Florasearch, Inc.

Hiring a key employee is one of the most daunting and important tasks an owner or manager faces. You can maximize your probability of success by following a simple interviewing, backgrounding and recruitment process.

Prepare a job description – What are the responsibilities and qualifications? Think it over, write it down, and keep it tight. A lazy job description creates a barrier to hiring, and your candidates may find it insurmountable.

Candidates – Candidates may come from job postings or networking. A professional search consultant may also be able to deliver “passive candidates” who wouldn’t have otherwise heard about your job.

Interview: overview – Your goal in an interview is to assess the candidate in terms of your hard-and-fast job requirements and your softer success factors. Together, these allow you to predict the candidate’s performance in the position.

Interview: job requirements – Geography, timing and compensation are the practical requirements for a person to do a job. Can the person do the job when and where it needs to be done, and can they do it within your budget?

Interview: success factors – Success factors are the subtler qualities that lend themselves to success in a position. Your job as a hiring manager is to predict how a person will perform in a position. Success factors are the data which allow you to make this prediction. A few sample factors include a candidate’s work experience, knowledge, relationships, ability to communicate, and P&L control. Write down the factors that will contribute to success in your position.

Interview: open-ended questions – The goal of the interview is to assess the candidate in terms of the position’s job requirements and success factors. After initial pleasantries, begin to ask open-ended questions designed to gather this information. Example questions include:

  • What are the most crucial things you have learned from your previous jobs?
  • What do you consider to be your three major work-related strengths?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why do you think you can do this job?

Post-call – As you end the call, give the candidate an indication of any possible next steps. Then, grade the candidate on each of your success factors and confirm that they meet your must-have job requirements.

References – As finalists emerge, check references with former employers.

Background – Run a full background check. The background check should square with all of your other information about the candidate. If it doesn’t, you need to ask why.

Hire – When the right person comes to the fore, hire them. Some companies keep the perfect candidate in limbo out of a misguided commitment to further job posting and interviewing. But, you cannot turn every stone in this world. When the right candidate is ready, make your decision and hire. If you don’t, someone else will.

 About the contributor: Martin Zahra is a key employee search consultant with Florasearch, Inc., which has helped companies in the horticulture industry hire key people since 1983. Martin is past Chair and current Vice Chair of the National Association of Executive Recruiters. He can be reached at