The Importance of Hiring Well

Today I  take on the topic of hiring well. It’s a topic rife with hidden complexities and uncertainty, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a small business or a billion dollar corporation: you need to have employees, and that means you have to find them and hire them.  If you’re large then most likely you have a department dedicated to the process of recruiting, screening, testing, and ushering candidates through to either acceptance or the front lobby.  Most small businesses don’t have that luxury; the task probably falls on your shoulders.

While hiring can be daunting regardless of size, industry, or function, it’s particularly tough when you’re trying to hire marketing or sales staff.  Why?  If you’re looking to hire someone technical, there’s a high likelihood you won’t understand two out of every three things the candidate is saying.  Most non-technical folks will find someone who does speak the candidate’s “language” and rely on that person’s assessment to determine suitability—or pretend to get it and see what happens.  When you’re hiring marketing sales staff, however, interviewers (even technical ones) suddenly become experts.  So you talk a bit about work experience, check out how well he or she is dressed, maybe even ask toss out some marketing-techie words like “demand creation”, “bounce rates” or “conversions”.  With sales staff interviews things get even mushier, and often sink down to gut feel.

Most of you reading this (I hope) are shaking your heads and exclaiming “I’d never do that!!” but the fact is, in most smaller businesses where owners and managers wear lots of hats, we often do.  It’s unfortunate but true that most business people stink at hiring and they fall back to factors not always connected to the job itself, and measuring a candidate’s personal attributes against their own foibles. That creates a hidden set of assessments: Am I intimidated by him? Would she or he give me trouble or happily take orders? Would he try and take my job? Do I like her smile? Does he seem like a good guy?  While nearly everyone who hires people thinks about some of these at some point in the process (unless you’re seriously enlightened or extraordinarily over-confident) they don’t really get you to whether or not the person can do the job for which you’re hiring.  The very real risk is that you wind up looking for someone who will do what you want your vision of the job to be without fuss, and that can be limiting to both the company and the employee.

To hire better requires some effort and a modicum of maturity to keep personal biases at bay: draw up a job description for the role, let others in the business provide some insight (watching, of course, for other agendas that may creep in) but come to a clear understanding of what the person will be doing or managing.  Then as you are interviewing, assess the candidate against that role.  Ask questions that let them demonstrate their knowledge and problem solving skills.  Give them a challenge.  A marketer will want to explain how to generate leads, improve market presence, handle a PR challenge.  A sales rep will jump at the chance to talk you through how he would sell something to a skeptical prospect.  As they do, pay attention and most important, take notes!  Write on the resume or a pad but mark your thoughts at the time or just after a meeting is done.  Before the next candidate.  Before your day to day tasks consume you again.

Just as important as capturing impressions (and the same goes for anyone else on your team who is interviewing the candidate) is reminding yourself that you’re hiring someone to manage a role or perform a set of tasks.  It will be their challenge to achieve the goals that are set out within whatever parameters are laid down by you and the business, but part of their success or failure should not be tied to how you would do the job.  Sales people have distinctive styles even if they are all hired with similar characteristics.  Writers have differing ways to get a message across with clarity.  Software developers can be easily identified by how they write their code.  As you’re deciding if the person sitting in front of you, hoping for a chance to work for you is a good fit for the business, work hard to look past your own personal biases and consider the candidate in the broader sense of their possible contribution.

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