When the words “Employee Engagement” are spoken, most people think of current employees and some initiative, strategy, or survey. Companies want to make sure they increase talent retention because turnover is expensive. A part of what I do is based on employee engagement (along with culture & leadership development to make it sustainable). There is one other area where employee engagement must be front and center. Hiring.

When sorting through the never-ending sea of resumés that are flooding HR emails these days, finding a way to connect hiring with employee engagement could easily seem like a luxury. If you know what you’re looking for, the process can become much easier than setting up the all too familiar applicant assembly line.

It’s important for you to understand what makes an employee engaged. If you can’t answer that, then you will most likely be hiring on limited insight. How many times have you hired someone and in 6 months thought to yourself, “What were we thinking? How did we miss that?” You weren’t hiring for engagement. You most likely were hiring to fill a gap so the other folks in that department/team didn’t become frustrated from being overworked.

There is no magic elixir, but there are 4 key things to look for when hiring that will improve the chances of getting someone more likely to engage in their work and with others on their team.

Culture-fit – If you haven’t purposefully decided what your culture will be, this may be a bit of a stretch for you. Decide your culture before hiring. The rest of you know the culture you wish to develop/maintain. There are plenty of questions you can ask that will give insight into a persons perspective. These questions can help you understand if there will be a culture-fit for the prospect and the organization. Keep in mind each team has its own sub-culture as well. Be aware of this. Talk to the team leader to make sure you are clear.

Chemistry – This is not the same as culture-fit. We spend a significant part of our lives at work. Conflict resolution and workplace rivalries consume a ridiculous amount of time. There will always be disagreements, but when their is good chemistry among team members, these disagreements are usually dealt with quickly and maturely. Give the applicant some time to interact with others on their perspective team. It’s also a great way for the applicant to decide if it’s a good culture-fit for them and they feel there is chemistry as well.

Character – Many times someone’s resumé looks amazing and so they are the “perfect fit” for the job. They look like a rock star on paper, so you hire them. The unfortunate part is that they act like a rock star. They are demanding and many times believe they are above menial tasks because of their stupendous talents. This is a serious character issue that will cause even the best of teams to implode.

Competence – I purposefully put competence last on the list. Sure there has to be a base knowledge of what the applicant will do, but without the other three keys their competence is a paltry contribution. You would be well served to consider hiring someone slightly less qualified that fit your culture, has great chemistry with team members, and a solid character than to have someone exceptionally competent who is a lone wolf. People can be trained in competence. It’s a tough road, if not impossible, to train culture, chemistry, and character.

Often times the compliance portion of HR, which is almost always counter-productive for quality employee engagement, is typically an attempt to force culture-fit, chemistry, and character. I  bet if you went through the list of things mandated to employees in most compliance plans they could be categorized into the first 3 of these 4 keys, saving regulatory compliance issues mandated by law or industry oversight.

Employee engagement begins with hiring, not with your first employee engagement survey.