Hiring the right people

hiring the right people

Hiring the right people is more important than having the right strategy.

When I took my first job in the corporate world, I was eager to learn the secrets of success of large corporations. I learned one ‘secret’ that stuck with me throughout my career and that I never questioned.

It said that every organization needed to begin by defining its purpose. Once it knew its purpose, it needed to design an organizational structure that would enable it to achieve its purpose. Once the organizational structure was in place, the enterprise would hire to the chart. In no case was it acceptable to hire someone just because she was a prima donna if you didn’t know where she would fit into the organization.

Once the enterprise had designed its organizational structure, Human Resources would go to great lengths to draft job descriptions, develop selection criteria, and then filter candidates against those criteria.

I just finished reading the remarkable book, Good to Great by Jim Collins. Unlike other scholars, Jim did not start his study of corporations that had made the transition from being good companies to being great companies by forming an hypothesis. Instead, he let the research data speak for itself. He learned from the data even when it ran contrary to his preconceived notions. This is the source of counterintuitive wisdom.

One of his findings is startling. He found that great companies hire the right people first and then figure out where to slot them into the organization later. This is the very antithesis of the truths we hear from Human Resources! As a consequence, it is vital for companies to treat their organization charts as suggestions only. They should not be worshipped.

I’m sure everyone has HR horror stories to tell, so I hope you will indulge me if I tell you a couple of my own.

The first occurred while the ink was still wet on my Master’s degree in Computer Science from one of the world’s 25 leading universities. Eager to start my career, I applied for a position in the IT department at Air Canada. I made the mistake of applying through Human Resources. The HR officer told me that if I wanted to proceed with my application, I would need to take a test to assess my aptitude for programming. I quickly pointed that I had eight years successful experience in the discipline and an advanced degree as well, just to drive the point home. Nonplussed, she would not budge. It was a requirement and there was no way to escape it. It didn’t take me long to realize that a company that was this rigid would be no place for me to ply my craft.

The second story deals with staffing a project management position with the City of Vancouver when it was implementing its first library IT system. My hiring manager and I agreed on a starting salary. He told me he would advise HR or our agreement. I was to contact HR on Monday, make the necessary arrangements, and start the following Monday. I was stunned when HR refused to honour our agreement and offered me a couple thousand less – take it or leave it. I left it. The City hired another manager, the project failed, and the City lost $2 million and thousands of hours of management time. That is not to say that the project would not have failed had I been at the helm. One will never now. But at least I felt the need to ask the question.

My real point here is that we need to seriously question the guidelines HR offers. HR practices often jeopardize the success of their host organizations. Whenever there is a conflict between HR and real-world experience or common sense, go with the latter.

Real-world data shows that great organizations hire the best talent they can find and restructure the organization to leverage their strengths. Good organizations hire to their charts.

3 Questions to Ask when Interviewing Potential Hires

In this job market, when companies have open Teleprospecting positions (or any open positions, for that matter) they tend to receive a large number of resumes.  The position is open for a reason and any delay in filling it may delay sales funnel growth.  That is why companies feel compelled to get the hiring done fast. In an effort to fill the position quickly, some resume screening occurs and viable candidates are brought in for in-person interviews.  Several key people are asked to interview each candidate to review their skills and to see if they would be a fit for the company.  These interviews happen within the same day. I call this the “Interview Shuffle”.

During the interview shuffle, Teleprospecting candidates meet with several people from marketing and sales.  In some cases, candidates will have a final interview with the CMO, CSO and even the CEO.  Depending on the number of people required to do the interviews, the actual time each member of the interview team spends per candidate may be only 30-45 minutes, at the most.

These are the 3 reasons why I advise my clients against using this method to interview candidates:

1. Who is this person?

In 30-45 minutes it is difficult to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the position or the company.  A series of questions are asked and people who are good at interviewing may wow each interviewer.  When a decision is based on this first series of interviews, I have seen that the hiring manager regrets their decision within the first 3-6 months because the candidate isn’t performing as well as was hoped. Bring the candidate in at least 2-3 times.  Ask the candidate a few of the same questions that were asked during the first interview.  Are their answers generally the same?  Or are their answers significantly different?  Plan the questions that the interview team will ask each candidate.  Make sure that the bulk of the questions are “situational” questions.  Ask questions that require specifics for how the candidate performs their job.  For example:

Question: Give me an example of a typical day at your current job.

Good answer: “I get into the office around 7 am and take a quick look at my activities that I have set up for the day. If there is a company that I need to research, I will take a moment and Google the company before I make the call.”

Bad answer: “Well, in this job, I guess most people start early after they get their coffee and then they start making calls.”

Situational interviewing takes time.  It is the best interview format to uncover if the candidate knows their stuff.  This interview process might take 90 minutes or more for each interview team member to complete.  The time will be well spent because the information uncovered will help you to make a more informed decision.

2. What is the commitment level?

When a candidate is interviewed by the interview team on the same day, there is no way to tell how committed the candidate is to the position or the company.  When candidates are asked to return for additional interviews, the hiring manager has an opportunity to verify continued interest.  Determining commitment level is another reason why the candidate should come back to the office 2-3 times. By doing this, you will see how committed the candidate is and it gives you more than one day to determine if they are the best candidate for the job.  Are they professional and appropriately dressed each time? Do they exhibit a continued level of enthusiasm?  Do they ask additional and interesting questions about your company with each subsequent interview?  If not, the candidate may not be right for the job or your company.

3. What does the interview team think?

There is a Chinese proverb that says “Don’t be over self-confident with your first impressions of people”.   There are many people who are very good at interviewing.  Sometimes these people are great on the job and sometimes they aren’t.  I do believe that managers should trust their gut if they don’t feel good about a candidate.  However, I think that a hiring manager should give themselves some time to see if their first “good” impression sticks.  This can’t be done in 1 day. Bring the candidate back.  Circle back to the interview team to see if they too continue to feel good about the candidate.

The Interview Shuffle enables companies to get their open positions filled quickly.  From my experience, however, this hiring method costs companies time, wastes resources and inhibits a company from meeting objectives.  Too often the wrong candidates are selected and the position is open again within a few months.

I recommend that you have the hiring manager conduct the first interview; taking time to ask situational questions to determine fit. Candidates who pass this first interview should be asked to meet with the interview team and the hiring manager a few more times and over a period of 8-10 days.  This will give everyone time to get a good sense of the person.  If you rush the hiring process you might regret your choice later on. Take a few weeks to get a sense of the person so that you will not have to repeat the interview process again in a few months.