Thoughtful Hiring

It seems simple, doesn’t it? You have a job opening, so you put out an ad, people come in response, and you pick the one you like best.  Easy-peasy.  Not so fast!  Anyone who has ever had to hire someone knows there’s a lot more to the process than casting a net and hauling in the candidates.  Putting aside the subject of how one even finds candidates these days for a later discussion, this week I want to focus on being thoughtful about candidate selection.

Depending, as ever, on the type of business you’re in, and the level of position for which you are hiring, you may have nothing more than a vague notion of the sort of person who might fit, or you may have an extremely detailed job specification that must be followed along with a set of hiring criteria that pre-screens the candidate pool.  Regardless of how much—or little–flexibility you have, however, it’s valuable to spend some time considering the attributes you believe you need to fill your open role. Does the position call for the need for an outgoing personality? Will the job be a stressful one at times?  Is decision-making, especially under pressure, a requirement? Does the position require independent thinking or working with little or no supervision? Thinking through these characteristics ahead of time form a foundation for the interview assessment that follows.

Of course demonstrated skill the role requires is a prerequisite for consideration.  You can’t very well hire someone for a bookkeeper position who doesn’t know accounting, or bring in someone who doesn’t know programming to be a software developer, but that’s just the “table stakes”.  What matters, often more, are the less tangible aspects of personality and, I believe, the capacity to grow.  For the former, finding a person whose behavior and personal attributes will mesh well and even enrich the organization is an important hiring consideration.

For the latter, I’ve learned over the years that it’s better to hire someone who I think has the ability and thirst to learn and expand their capabilities. Frankly, that’s as true for a restaurant server as it is for an entry level marketing person.  Doing your best work requires the willingness and ability to be curious and to absorb.  Yes, it’s a balance between finding someone who’s right for the current position and you believe can grow into a more senior role over time, and hiring someone who already thinks they’re ready for the CEO’s office, but for my part I lean toward the inquisitive and the ambitious.

One of the most often overlooked aspects of hiring is consideration of where the position you’re hiring for can take the person you hire.  Naturally we think first about our need for a person to fulfill our tasks with competence and at least a modicum of good cheer but a smart hiring manager will look at the role through the employee’s eyes too. Is there an opportunity to advance if desired? Are there ways to make more money? Will the job descend into monotony?  Of course this is all dependent on the type and level of job, but even for the most menial and unskilled of jobs, most people hope for an environment—people and place—that makes them feel like going to work each day.

I also urge you to take a little risk when you can.  Some of my best hires have been people who, while having less experience than others in the candidate pool, showed me a spark, some energy, a hunger to learn and grow.  If you’re a thoughtful manager then mentoring is, or should be, a part of your daily work.  Being a resource for a go-getter, helping to shape someone and see them grow is not just rewarding, but it’s great business too.  Yes, you have to be careful to distinguish between enthusiasm and foolhardiness on the one hand, and precociousness and impetuousness on the other.  It’s often worth the effort though.

Lastly, keep in mind that most managers are lousy interviewers.  As professional recruiters will tell you, there’s both art and science involved in getting the information you need from a candidate and more or less objectively assessing that information.  Few managers are trained in interviewing these days. Follow my advice above and you may have a smoother time of it.  Just one more thing I urge you to keep in mind:  please, don’t ever, ever, ever ask a candidate where they see themselves in 5 years!

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