San Diego (Sept. 29, 2003) -- The key to employee retention is to hire right in the first place, according to a human resources expert.

"It's expensive and it's time consuming, but the payoff is there," said Karen Cole of Glenn M. Gelman & Associates in Santa Ana, Calif., during a conference for women in accounting. Cole noted a Society of Human Resource Managers survey that showed that the cost of hiring a non-exempt employee runs from $26,000 to $70,000. For exempt employees, the cost is up to $24,000.

One of the keys to hiring right, Cole said, is to know exactly what you're looking for. Start with creating an accurate job description, that not only includes the knowledge and skills necessary to do the job, but what she called the "human factors" -- the personality traits needed to do the job well, such as being detail-oriented or a team player. "Look at the best person in your firm in that position," Cole said. "You want to 'clone' them. What traits do they have?"

After reviewing resumes, Cole recommended doing a telephone screening interview before bringing candidates in face-to-face. "Find out if the commute is okay for them, ask what their salary requirements are," she said. "Don't just listen for the information -- listen for the ambition, for the enthusiasm."

After a face-to-face interview, Cole stressed the importance of other pre-employment screening, which she noted many companies neglect, such as checking past employment, criminal background and DMV checks, credit checks, and medical or drug tests. However, she noted companies must be careful to follow legal guidelines and must be cautious in how they use the results of the tests.

Cole added that employee retention begins immediately after hire. Companies should make new employees feel welcome with a good new hire orientation. "Make them feel that they're part of the firm right away," she said. "Have their desk set up, their business cards ready, and their phone and computer all set up with their name on their office when they come in."

-- Melissa Klein

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