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Finding Good Job Candidates for Emergency Management

Some Holdeman advice.

Have you been disappointed by the quality and quantity of people who are applying for your open positions in emergency management?

It can happen. I’ve seen multiple advertisements for the same position when people have come in, been interviewed and none were hired.

What got me thinking about the topic was this article: “Why nobody wants to join the Army this year.” You can be happy that you are not a military recruiter—especially in the Army. One of their responses has been to lower their standards. For the first time I can recall, they are now accepting non-high school graduates. I recall hearing a Marine colonel say that only about 27 percent of all males ages 18-27 met the basic requirements to become a Marine because of physical, mental or moral issues disqualifying them.

Then there was my blog post from a few days back, “Wow! Eight Emergency Management Jobs.” It appears that emergency management has joined the rest of the professions in lacking qualified candidates for the jobs they have.

It was not that many years ago when fire and police departments had rosters hundreds of people long on a wait list to test to join those disciplines. I’ve been told that today those lists are not that extensive, if they exist at all.

Given that you might not be getting all the candidates you hoped for, here’s my advice on hiring:

  1. First of all, my worst decisions have been on the hiring front. So learn from my experience.
  2. The phrase “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush” should be ignored. You do not want to spend your time getting rid of someone after you hired them.
  3. Make sure they can write. We do a lot of writing in emergency management and you don’t want to be trying to teach “Composition 101” for your newest hire.
  4. You can check references, but I always asked references if they could refer me to someone else who would know them well.
  5. I always asked a final question of references: “Is there anything about this person, their character, personality and ability to do the job, that I should know about?”
  6. My gut has been a good indicator. Sometimes I’ve let my brain overrule my gut to my detriment.
  7. Promote from within. If you have qualified staff who can move on up, choose them first. Keep them working for you.
  8. Don’t assume that the candidates of today have the same life goals as you. Generations do change. In the Army article above you see them casting about for the right message. Service, patriotism, college funding, home loans, pay ...
  9. Use the probationary period. Counsel those who look iffy and see if they can respond. If not, pull the plug on them in that probationary period. Then go fish!

You and the rest of your staff deserve great co-workers. Work hard to find them. The culture of an organization can be quickly polluted by hiring the wrong person.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.