For many employers, America's robust economy is a mixed blessing. As the economy has grown, so have profits. But with unemployment at its lowest level in over two decades, finding enough employees to meet the increased demand is proving quite difficult for dealerships in some regions (Southeast, West Coast) and next to impossible in others (Northeast, Midwest).

Some dealers have taken a high tech approach to recruiting, using their website, the MonsterBoard and other Internet vehicles along with radio, TV and Cable system ads to attract applicants. Others continue to rely on more traditional avenues of applicant recruitment - classified advertising and contacting local colleges or business associates for leads.

As hard as recruiting applicants is in today's tight labor market, it is just one step (and not the first) in what should be a standardized, systematic hiring process. The more methodical and consistent your store's hiring process, the better your hiring results will be.

The first and perhaps most important step is to determine who and what you need. What types of behaviors does the job require? Would the ideal applicant be proactive or reactive? People-based or fact-based? Fast-paced and comfortable multi-tasking or patient and persistent? Independent and 'big picture' in nature or accommodating and detail-oriented? (Benchmarking, or creating a graph of the personality of the job helps determine the 'type' of person you need.)

Now that you've identified the type of person you need, there is one more important question you need to answer before you call the newspaper to place your ad: Is there anyone on staff who could be promoted into the job?

If not, we suggest you use any and all available recruitment avenues to generate a pool of applicants. The size of your pool, may in large part, depend more on what part of the country you are in than on the size of your classified ad or the copy in your MonsterBoard posting.

Now comes the hard part -deciding whom to hire. I suggest you use the candidate's resume or your company's standard employment application as your initial screening tool, immediately eliminating all candidates whose resumes or applications list four or more jobs in three years. They're job hoppers who will start thinking about leaving just about the time you get them trained.

Next, eliminate all applicants who sent sloppy, dirty or unclear resumes or resumes with typos, misspellings, gaps in employment or employment dates in years only. Also, immediately eliminate all candidates who are obviously not qualified. Time is money and you can't afford to waste either talking to applicants with little or no chance of succeeding in your job.

Also, to avoid playing an uncomfortable game of phone tag with candidates you know you aren't going to hire, we suggest you send them 'ding letters' the moment you reject them.

When you invite promising applicants in for an interview, ask them to arrive early so they can complete an independently validated employee selection tool to determine their "fit" in the job, at dealership and with their would-be peers and supervisor. Test every applicant on basic math, English and critical thinking so that you get an actual, objective measure of their skill level and know, up front, what type of training investment you could have to make.

Three of your dealership people should share interview responsibilities: one to verify that the behavior needed for the job is the applicant's natural behavior, another to determine why the candidate is available, and a third to explore his/her long term goals to ensure they are achievable with your company and consistent with its needs.

The key to effective interviewing is planning and consistency. That's why, before you talk to anyone, make a list of questions you ask each applicant. And, because you probably will not remember who said what, be sure to take good notes.

The hardest part of hiring a new employee is trying to figure out how to correctly weigh all the important information we gather via resume, selection tool, application, interview and overall candidate impression.

Take punctuality, for instance. If an applicant can't get to the interview on time, how important is that? It could be a sign of tardiness to come or mean he or she got into a wreck on the way to your office. Should you automatically reject promising candidates because they are late? With so few applicants today, can you really afford to?

Standardized candidate rating forms help answer just those type of questions. The forms list and weight each factor you need to consider when hiring.

For instance, obviously punctuality, appearance and confidence all impact an applicant's ability to do the job, but they are obviously not as important as the candidate's skills and knowledge, references and "fit" in your job, which, when combined, should account for 60% of your hiring decision.

Each factor - skills, references and profile results - should carry equal weight, approximately 20% of your final decision.

Accurately determining an applicant's skill and knowledge level before hiring is critical because it can save you thousands in training cost and lost time and keep you from hiring the "professional interviewee" who talks a good game but lacks the skills, knowledge and expertise needed to do the job.

That's why you should include some quite specific, technical questions in your interview. (If you are trying to fill a position you don't know much about, ask the departing employee or co-worker to help you write questions that will help indicate the candidate's true level of knowledge. (The less you know about the job, the more important it is for you to have an answer sheet.)

Hiring tool results account for 20% of your hiring decision. Because some people "test" better than others and most personality profiles are sensitive snapshots in time, none should ever be used as the sole determinant when making a hiring or firing decision.

Remember: even an employee selection tool that recommends an applicant cannot say whether or not the candidate has the education, skill, talent or experience to do the job, only that his or her natural behaviors are compatible with the requirements of the job. That's where careful checking of the candidate's references comes in.

Talking to one or two references, preferably the candidate's immediate supervisor, is the best, most accurate way to verify the applicant's resume and claimed experience, that the profile results match the employee they knew, and that the candidate normally demonstrated mature judgment and reliability.

How important, then, is the actual interview? Not as critical as you might think. We at Omina suggest a three-prong approach (past, present and future) and that each segment account for approximately 2.5% of your final decision.

We believe that the information and verification each interview segment produces is important, not whether the candidate wowed or amused you.

Sure, you want to know that the applicant knows how to dress for the workplace, speaks understandable English, and can look you in the eye while speaking. The more analytical, logical and skeptical the candidate is, the more reserved he or she is also likely to be, meaning that although all their answers will be thorough and technically correct, they are probably not as impressive or slick as more outgoing candidates' responses.

The legendary job interview, then, shouldn't be the make or break event that many employers and applicants believe it to be. Each of the three segments should be viewed more as a fact-finding mission than as "candidate show time."

By the way, although punctuality is important on the job, it isn't a make or break item in the interview, accounting for 2.5% of your decision. Appearance, confidence, general vitality, judgment, maturity and overall impression are roughly twice as important, each worth 5% when making your decision.

Like everything else these days, hiring good employees is complex and time consuming. Establishing a standardized selection process that is used every time and includes effective employee selection tools can help improve your company's hiring results. And with fewer applicants available anyway, today's smart companies can't afford to "throw back" candidates who aren't "perfect" but could be workable.

Comparing apples to apples helps prevent that.

Mary Ruth Austin is with the Omnia Group, an employee selection tool and management consulting firm based in Tampa, FL, and at 1-800-525-7117.