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5 Key Questions to Ask Before Filling That Open Position


So, you’ve lost or are about to lose a staff member. As the hiring supervisor and departmental leader, you must now determine the best strategy to fill the position. I can be a stressful time in the life of a supervisor. But, if handled properly, an employee departure can provide you with a great opportunity to assess your department’s operations and plan for future developments. However, to do so takes a bit of effort. Therein lies the rub. We are all very busy and the work does not stop because of the loss of a staff member. In fact, the burden on the rest of the department increases, sometimes dramatically, during this time. All factors that can dissuade one from taking the time and effort to properly plan, assess and adjust prior to filling the position. If you are serious about improving the effectiveness of your department, the temporary extra effort of proper position analysis will pay off in the end. So, if you are interested in being strategic and considering the long-term success of your team and organization, here are five key questions (as well as, the sub questions and actions steps they generate) to ask before you fill any open position.

The first and most important question you must ask is – Is the Job Description (JD) up-to-date and accurate? Providing employees with an accurate blueprint of the expectations for their Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA’s), work duties and behavioral expectations, is vital to setting them up for success. Unfortunately, many Job Descriptions are developed, filed away and pulled out when a new person is hired. Well, despite this common practice, workplaces are very dynamic. It is necessary for workplaces to change to meet the needs of the market, organizational growth, evolving customer needs, shareholder expectations, technology and any number of other factors that can impact a business. This means positions must adapt. Therefore, the job descriptions need to be a living, evolving documents. As one of the main written descriptors of position requirements and expectations, it is vital they are accurate.

The departure of an employee provides the perfect opportunity to assess the Job Description. Specifically, you will want to concentrate on the Essential Duties. The American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to set out a group of duties that are critical to the effective performance of the position, as defined by the employer. These preeminent tasks are categorized as the Essential Duties in the Job Description. The first step in checking the accuracy of the Job Description is to speak with the departing employee about the accuracy of their Job Description, most importantly the Essential Duties. If this is not possible, speak with others in you department and use your knowledge of the departing employees duties to inform your analysis. How much time is the employee spending on the Essential Duties? Are there any adjustments that need to be made? Are there any impacts on the rest of the department’s employees? Do other departmental JD duties need to be adjusted? All of these questions regarding your departmental Job Descriptions can help you determine their accuracy and make adjustments when necessary.

In addition to the accuracy of the Essential Duties, one should assess the effectiveness of the Essential Duties. Job Description effectiveness leads us to the second question to ask when an employee departs (or whenever assessing JD’s) - Is there a strong link between the essential duties of the position and the departments/organizational strategic objectives? This question is the key to determining the effectiveness of the Essential Duties in a JD. These duties should be at the heart of how this position accomplishes departmental objectives. Taking a long hard look at what you are doing as a department to contribute to the organization is a very big part of assessing Essential Duties. Determining if the effective accomplishment of the duties in the JD correlate to successful department performance a huge factor in having a robust, effective Job Description.

In addition to reviewing the Essential Duties, the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) section needs to be assessed to ensure they accurately reflect the requirements to effectively perform the position. So, the third question that needs to be asked is - Are the KSA requirements linked to successful accomplishment of the position’s essential duties and a cultural fit for behavioral expectations? There’s always the possibility that one someone started performing the job, that you discover a requirement that you didn’t initially or vice versa. Is there a new certification that has become a prerequisite? Is there a level of experience that you have found can replace an educational requirement? Have any of the changes you have made in your position analysis necessitated a change in KSA’s? Has an emphasis or redefinition of organizational culture placed an emphasis on an omitted or under considered KSA? Prior to hiring the new employee is the time you can make these changes to ensure the least amount of legal worry.

Once you have completed the Job Description Analysis and made the needed adjustments, the next question you must ask is - Is the position necessary? Always explore the possibility the department can get along without the position and what that would mean for your department. Are there redundancies and or overlapping responsibilities within the department that make the position unnecessary? Are there objectives unaddressed or under-served, if so, do you need to create a new position you instead of replacing the open position? Are there stated future objectives you need to prepare for now? Considering the necessity of the position might mean not hiring any position moving forward or creating a whole new position. Of course, you’ll want to consult with your supervisor when considering making these types of changes. You’ll also need the assistance of HR to determine if changes necessitate pay changes or to determining the pay grade of any new positions.

If, based on your analysis, you determine the open position needs to be filled or you need to create a new position, there is one final question to ask before you rush out and place that online ad or engage a outside recruitment assistance - Is there someone in-house that can potentially fill the open job? Filling a position is time-consuming and expensive; so, look in-house first. It can save you time, money and boost morale. Plus, given the work you have put into your position analysis, you are very familiar with what is needed to be successful in the position. This knowledge makes it easier to determine the apparent viability of potential internal candidates. Whether within your department or elsewhere in the company, it is always wise to consider hiring internally.

Performing a through position analysis can not only set your team up for success but set a solid foundation for the rest of your recruitment. Interview questions based on KSA’s with a proven link to the effective performance of Essential Duties and behavioral requirements help ensure you find the right candidate. Accurate and effective Job Descriptions also help employees understand what is expected and ensure that your team is performing duties that lead to the achievement of departmental objectives. Further, thorough analysis allows you to better understand what your employees are doing and how they contribute to overall organizational success. Proper position analysis can be time consuming at a time when time is at a premium, however, the long-term benefits far out-weigh the short-term inconveniences. Always take the time to be strategic and intentional with your efforts before posting every open position…you’ll be a better supervisor, select a better team and improve the organization because of your efforts.

You are now ready for the selection processes. Your next steps include creation of the selection tools and conducting a fair and effective process. Stay tuned for further instruction...


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