This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 22, 1992

April 22, 1992 - assessment center

A library is good, or it isn't, based on two main elements. The first is its collection. The second is its staff.

Over the past year, the Douglas Public Library District has made great strides in improving its collection. But this week, I'd like to focus on library staff. I believe we employ some of the best people of any public library in the state, and I do enough traveling, and enough visiting of other libraries, to know what I'm talking about.

On one hand, I really can't claim much credit for that. I inherited the core of my staff. Most of the rest of them were picked by the branch managers.

On the other hand, I have hired two of the branch managers, and the process through which I hired the last one is what I want to talk about. With the able assistance of Leslie Haynes, our Personnel Manager (and another one of my picks), I think the library has hit upon the toughest, fairest approach to hiring that I've ever seen. And this applies to any business, I think.

Here's the problem: How do you get the best person for the job?

First, of course, you advertise. We placed an ad not only in the Denver papers, but in a library newsletter that gets nationwide distribution. I tried to make the ad a little out of the ordinary. I said that we were looking for someone with "big dreams" and "the organizational savvy to make them real."

I got 45 responses, from one end of the continental United States to the other. After reviewing the resumes with Leslie, I cut down the list to 11.

Next, Leslie and I figured out the kinds of things we were really looking for. Then Leslie set up phone interviews with the people who made it past the first cut.

Leslie and I worked out a series of questions. I called the candidates, and made notes on their answers. Each interview took at least 40 minutes.

Second cut: I narrowed it down to 4 people. Two of them, as it happened, lived within 50 miles of each other in Maryland. The other two lived within 20 miles of Castle Rock. I was confident that any one of them could do the job.

But who would do it best?

Leslie and I then spent a lot of time trying to come up with a means of getting the candidates to SHOW us how they would do the job, instead of just asking them how they would do.

What we developed is based on something called the "assessment center," which was originally developed to spot military leadership potential, then later was adapted to large corporations, and, curiously, hiring practices in fire departments.

Here's how it worked.

The four candidates arrived at the Philip S. Miller Library at 8 a.m. There, they were treated to some continental breakfast munchies, catered by Leslie. At 8:30, the four candidates sat down beside each other at a common table.

At another table, sat four other people and me. Each of the observers (two current branch managers, Leslie, and Beryl Jacobsen of CSU's Cooperative Extension Service), was assigned to observe one of the candidates.

Over the next six hours, each candidate had to: participate in a panel discussion with the other candidates; respond (in a real-life simulation) to someone who demanded the immediate removal of a library book (played to frightening perfection by Cindy Murphy, my Administrative Assistant); talk to one of our reference librarians and the head of our Technical Processing division; get a tour from the outgoing branch manager (Lynn Robertson); deal with a pile of papers that presented all kinds of imaginary (but probable) situations; go to lunch with all the other candidates and observers; then meet with me, Leslie, and Beryl for a half hour each, when they were encouraged to ask US some questions.

When it was all over, we pulled together all the observers and rated each of the candidates on each of the "exercises."

I was right. Any of the candidates could have done the job. But there was one who demonstrated a clear ability to BEST fulfill the needs of the job. Her name is Holly Deni, and she'll be starting as the branch manager of the Philip S. Miller Library on June 1.

Hiring the right person for the job is the most important decision any manager can make. In my judgment, the assessment center is the best approach you will find. Not only do you have an unusually comprehensive insight into how the person actually performs, but that person also gets a good glimpse of how YOU operate your business.

If you're interested in hearing more about the assessment center approach to hiring, give Leslie a call at 688-8752. She'll be happy to tell you more about it. She's available -- on library time -- to talk about our experiences, and about some of the strategies we found most effective.

Why use the assessment center? Simple. It works.

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