How to Hire and How to Fire

Gary Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Edith J. Baerwald Professor & Division Chief, Behavioral Science and Social Work Department of Community & Preventive Medicine

In the Pre-Employment Phase

What are the assessment tools for predicting future job performance and how valid are they? How do you develop a structured assessment process that works to satisfy your needs and to increase the accuracy of decision-making? These tools and processes can help create a sense of fairness in your work culture.

Recruitment Phase

The recruitment phase is the time in which you screen applicants to provide a group of qualified acceptable candidates. Don't let pressure from how fast you need someone, obscure your consideration of the qualities that are necessary to perform the job adequately. It's critical to spend time up front to analyze the job.


Assessment should be based on multiple factors such as motivation, skills, knowledge and fit with the working group.

Assessment tools have validity by linking with job performance. Assessments should be fair and perceived as such.

Often letters of recommendation are not helpful since people are loath to put negative information in writing. Test of skills in learning and thinking and specific skills are among the few tests that may predict the success of the applicant. The purpose of the assessment process is to protect the organization from subjective decisions. Must relate hiring/not hiring to the job itself. Don't get sidetracked — if you like a person, take them out for coffee, but don't hire them unless they fit the job!

Assessment Factors

Assessment factors include technical competencies, cognitive skills, emotional intelligence* and team fit. Since few personality tests can predict job performance, it is better to do a "behavioral interview". You want to test mental ability and the knowledge needed to do the job, the presence of interpersonal skills to get things done with other people and having the right attitudes interests and motivations. You must develop a hierarchy of the top few elements that are the most important job requirements.

Behavioral Interviewing

In order to develop a behavioral interview, identify the essential job elements and the proficiency with which they had been performed previously.

Focus on the competencies required to fulfill the elements of the job and develop a set of questions or tasks based on these competencies; test these with at least three people to see the quality of the responses you get. If you conduct skills testing (such as problem-solving situations, typing and computer skills, reviewing a financial statement), be sure to give them to each candidate consistently.

Ask questions that test behaviors of the applicant in "real job" situations.

  • Have you encountered a situation like this?
  • How did you handle it?
  • Can you think of another way to achieve a positive result?
  • Can you tell me about a situation that challenged you?
  • How did you handle it?
  • How would you handle it differently today?

Design questions that provide you with an understanding of behavioral response of the applicant in:

  • Technical areas of work
  • Interpersonal areas of work
  • Cognitive capacities related to the job
  • Motivation, energy and performance


There is an initial 3-6month probationary period. You are responsible to help prepare new employees to do their job well which means that you need to provide feedback and coaching during this period. If you have any doubts about the person's success, do not pass or extend probation. This is the only time you can terminate the employee without cause. Make the decision, not an explanation. Say something like, "We don't think it's a good fit." Then wish them well.

Documentation is Required for Termination after Probation

You must first meet with your employee and warn them and indicate your dissatisfaction and goals for improvement. This must be followed with written documentation. If this is not effective in correcting the problem, you must set-up a second counseling and follow with written documentation. A final warning is followed by a discharge. Human resources can help you work out this very painful process and can help in counseling the employee for different work. HR has a role in protecting the organization (and therefore you too).

In this process you must be concerned with what is the past record of the employee, do you have all the facts, has the employee had a fair chance to improve. In particular you must provide early enough warning to the employee of the seriousness of his or her behavior so that they can attempt to improve.

Checklist for Corrective Action

What action was taken in similar cases? What will be the effect of your action on the group? Are you going to handle this by yourself? What other possible actions are there?

Finally —— Conduct a Termination Meeting

In order to be fair to the employee and to minimize the reasons for litigation, put the person at ease and set the stage to announce the decision. Explain the separation benefits but give the employee an opportunity to respond. Offer support and review work transition. Introduce re-employment consultant, available through HR.

Expertise Available at Mout Sinai

  • Bill Innes for most HR issues
  • Jeff Cohen for Labor Relations
  • Jane Maksoud for extreme situations
  • Gary Rosenberg for informal consultation

(Edited by Sandra Masur and Kathryn Kaplan. 01/04)

*Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ -- by Daniel Goleman

(Also see Employment Interviews from Bill Innes, Human Resources)

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