Even in today’s tough economy, capital is accessible, opportunities are abundant, and ideas and strategies are copied by the competition as soon as they are developed. If a company is to differentiate itself from the competition, it must be prepared to win the human resources war.To get started, you must develop a recruiting team. Get your best to hire the best. Identify your top performers and incorporate them into your recruiting process. Each member of the team should have a specific responsibility. Your employees with tenure, for example, should be able to convey to the applicant the challenges and rewards of working for your company. Be creative. Evaluate your budget and determine your limits. Make a list of your perks, compensation, and benefits. Shop the competition. What makes your company stand out? Know and understand the strengths and weaknesses. Be prepared to explain future growth and advancement potential. Turn your weaknesses into challenges. Remember: High performers like a challenge and they like to solve problems.Once your team is developed, make a list of questions that will identify the kind of skills, experiences, and values that you are trying to identify in a candidate. In addition to a job description and salary requirement, it’s a good idea to have a clear definition of the type of personality that works well in your office environment. For example, incorporate questions that assess teamwork, work ethic, and customer service. If you are uncertain about determining a candidate’s value system, ask for their definition (i.e. define professionalism, leadership, and attitude, etc.).Once the team has selected the list of questions, determine the number of steps the process will involve. Be consistent and planned. Avoid asking the candidate the same questions multiple times by different team members. Instead, divide and conquer. Have each member ask six (6) to 10 questions to ensure all your concerns are addressed. Be thorough, but prompt. Even in a soft market, the life span of an active candidate can literally be hours, so when you find one, move quickly. Remember, a well-managed and timely process is a huge selling point for high performers.To save time, have a pre-screen process. Phone interview your prospective candidates for 30 to 45 minutes to determine if they fit. Explain your time frame and process. Let the candidate know the number of interviews the process requires. Focus on their basic skill set. Address compensation, expectations, and candidates’ experience level. During the pre-screen, it’s a good idea to try and understand why and what the candidate is looking for in a new career. Make sure you are as good a fit for them as they are for you. Convey enthusiasm and energy.If they pass the pre-screen, invite the person to spend a day with the company. Take some time to review the pre-screen and share the results with the team. Devise an interview strategy based on your needs and those of the candidates. Prepare each member for an all-out sales blitz. Sell, sell, sell. Interview but don’t interrogate. Investigate but don’t offend.During the final interview, be prepared to once again explain the exact duties of the position. Discuss your expectations. Clarify any questions you might have of the candidate and try and address all of the candidate’s concerns. Discuss compensation and benefits. Make it a point to mention future growth and advancement.Finally, check references and make a fair offer. Once again, be timely. Attempt to check references and make an offer within 48 hours of the last interview. Keep in mind, that a timely process will send a message to the candidate that you are sure about them and that you run a well-managed company.Acquiring good talent may appear time consuming while requiring a great deal of effort. It is. Interviewing is awkward and it requires practice. Planning is the key to the interview process and recruiting is critical to the success and survival of any company in the 21st century. So get started and implement a process today. If economic and population trends continue – Baby Boomers are retiring, and there are not enough Generation-Xers to fill the void – the most critical and scarce corporate resource over the next 20 years will be talent.Joe L. Flores, Certified Personnel Consultant, ([email protected]) is a senior associate of Liberty Executive Search, Houston, which specializes in the real estate industry.