5 Tips to hire great people

I am always amazed at how many companies really make a mess of hiring people.

What should be an opportunity to engage energetic and passionate people wanting to find an outlet for their professional talents instead becomes a meaningless game, usually won by diligent CV writing artistes willing to play the tedious charade of the recruitment process, or those with the means to pay someone to do it for them. 

The CV checking process will sift out the worst candidates, the inarticulate, the bad spellers and those too lazy to actually tell you that they can do what you are asking for … but it doesn’t help you in finding and hiring great people. It will never help you find those truly exceptional people that can drive your business forward, be a A+ contributor and most importantly make your company a great place to spend a great deal of your life.

Why is this?

Why does the hiring process find it hard to identify brilliant people?

To understand this we need to look at how people are hired in most companies.

The whole process starts with a ridiculously overstated and irrelevant job description. This usually bears little resemblance to the actual role. It sets a bar so high that few who actually do the job in the company today could apply for it. Hiring managers ask for every technology, skill and experience they can think of rarely considering whether this is really needed, or more importantly whether it is physically possible within the constraints of time and space to acquire these skills [and if it was, whether that person would take a role paying what you are paying].

Next comes the CV sift.

You now reject any candidate telling the whole truth (because we know that the job description is almost always unattainable) and instead find the candidate who lists the most skills they can physically fit on paper and can best panel beat their previous job experience (whatever it was) into what you are  asking for. At this point, a sanity check would help [is this realistic for someone age 22], but instead hiring managers start getting excited about how they can hire great talent at the low rates they are paying.

And then we move to the interviewSmart managers and HR departments know that much of the CV will be ‘polished’, so they adopt ‘competency questions‘. Instead of asking for an explanation of what is written on the CV (knowing it may be untrue and impossible to verify), they look for insight from previous employment … 

Can you tell me what you were proudest of?

What was your most challenging task?

How to you manage conflict?

Managers think they are finding the best candidate by doing this. What they are doing is finding the candidate best able to demonstrate their mastery of memorising stock answers from the interviewees bible. If this is what you want then fine, but don’t think a great answer means a great hire. It means a practiced interviewee. Nothing more.

Competency questions will provide additional information than just asking about what they did between 2008 and 2009, but in many cases will simply reinforce biases. This may help you identify a cultural fit (because they are like you), but not a great hire.

And then the final steps …

Intelligence and left field questions: such as ‘how many golfballs could you fit in a Boeing 747‘. Useful perhaps if you want to sell 747s to Nike or Calloway, but otherwise of limited use in assessing the fit for most roles. These questions say more about the arrogance of the interviewer. Instead ask ‘real world questions’, whether about the role of about life. These are the really hard ones and will tell you a lot about the candidate.

Personality tests : These have the same problems as competency questions. A few minutes researching your company and some time practicing these online will help capable candidates deliver an ENTP or INFJ result as needed.

References. Useless. The only value is identifying those applicants with no friends, no contacts or no money (to buy them). You would never list a poor reference, and most employers are too frightened of the legal consequences of a negative reply, so you risk wrongly interpreting a response such as ‘we cannot provide references’ anyway.

So if the old style processes are broken what can companies do to find the right people?

5 Tips to hire great people

  1. Define what outcome you want, don’t only focus on the skills you think you need. Beware of long lists of skills and experiences. Keep it short, focused and open. Allow the candidate to shape the application if you can. Allow passion and energy to shine through. Ask yourself whether your process would allow a great candidate to be identified. A less defined role means more potential applicants, but also a better chance of finding a brilliant hire.
  2. As far as possible allow the applicant to demonstrate their ideas and value throughout the application process. When you meet and interview people, don’t be afraid to challenge the candidate. Put them on the spot. A great candidate will love this because it is an opportunity for them to shine, to show you what they can do and tell you why you should hire them.
  3. Keep an open mind and be aware of your biases. Would a 30 year old who has travelled around the world and volunteered be more valuable than a 22 year old ‘never worked’ Ivy League graduate? What you hire someone in their 40s who was changing careers and wanted a chance? Would you hire someone in their 60s who wanted a new start? Constantly think about who you are hiring for – you? your company? for your customers? What matters most? Remember diversity means you are reflecting the real world.
  4. Be respectful. Applying for roles takes time. Attending interviews costs money. ALWAYS respect this. Thank candidates who apply. All of them. This is a cost of business. Don’t be cheap. Never use ‘if you don’t hear from us’ in applications. Show respect. Only advertise for roles you are going to hire for. Don’t lie, don’t cut the salary to a lower level, don’t  promise what isn’t there. If you want to have an extensive process, then consider paying expenses for candidates as they progress. This cost is a fraction of the cost of picking the wrong person, and a tiny fraction of the cost of firing a bad candidate.
  5. Remember that hiring is a two way process. Never forget this. Great candidates are always interviewing you. Average candidates want a job. Great candidates want a company worthy of their time and efforts. Keep checking that you are answering questions that they may have. Before making the job offer, allow the new hire to spend some time in the company with people in a similar role to what you want to hire them for. Allow the candidate to ask questions to those in role, perhaps over lunch or a coffee without you being there. You want the candidate to know the reality of the job and willingly sign up to this. If you don’t, then you are simply a holding place until they move.

None of this is a recipe for success, and there are whole books dedicated to this, but getting the basics right, showing respect, being honest are great starting points.

And one final tip you should follow if you pick just one.

Hire passion

Work has days when everything goes wrong, clients cancel, projects fail and delivery is missed. When the chips are down you want to be with someone who stands with you, holds out a hand and starts to fix things, not someone who tells everyone what is wrong. Think carefully about how you identify that person, because when it really matters, character is what counts, make sure you are looking for that. 

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2 thoughts on “5 Tips to hire great people

  1. Roy Sharples

    The conventional interview process is for people who know nothing about people, and are fundamentally applying a lazy selection process to add more bricks into the corporate wall. If you preach formality, you kill individuality and creativity, ultimately never get the optimal value from your human assets. You have to be intuitive enough to quickly size someone up for who they are (their core values and how they look at the world), what they are capable of (their core competencies and their desire to grow and learn) and achievement (ability to get results). But ultimately, their ability to hustle and gun-sling on the spot!

    Reply
  2. Gary Burt Post author

    I completely agree Roy, but the lack of this is the reason we have so much mediocrity – there is simply no passion. I think companies fail to separate ‘who you are’ [character] from ‘what you do’ [skills] – and ultimately put these together and focus just on the skills. I care about your character, I care about your integrity, your honesty and your passion – regardless of how well you can actually do your job. To me personally, these core values absolutely matter – but relatively few job descriptions even mention them.

    Skills I can train, but if you don’t have integrity and courage, I can’t help you.

    I see a big difference in the US here with many startup companies doing what you and I propose … but only until companies mature. Once they peak, they flip to caring less about people and 100% about skills. So they gain stability and consistency, but lose innovation, creativity and fun. Ironically, they are then locking into that model – so the seeds of long term decline are being sown.

    Reply

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