It’s all about people.
We know the key to success is having great people. It’s great people who build great technology; it’s great people who inspire others to do their best work; it’s great people who make a great company.
Consequently, hiring right is one of the most crucial tasks we have. Think of the potential if we got really good at hiring.
Unfortunately we don’t focus enough on hiring and we therefore don’t do a very good job at it. Peter Drucker and others have pegged hiring success at 50 percent. Imagine what productivity would be unleashed and how great our teams would be if we got success 90 percent at the time? There’s very little else that could provide the same kind of return.
Additionally, getting this so wrong comes at a huge cost. According to the book “Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, the average hiring mistake costs 15 times an employee’s base salary in hard costs and productivity loss. That means one hiring blunder on an employee who earns $100,000 annually will cost a company $1.5 million or more. Make 10 of those mistakes a year, and you are out $15 million annually.
The problem is for many of us, hiring doesn’t come naturally. We don’t get tons of practice at it. Unless you’re staffing a new team, the average manager will only need to make a few hires a year. But instead of only thinking about hiring when it’s urgent — when there’s a current position to fill — we should think about hiring continually. Like anything we want to excel at, we must work to build this muscle in advance of needing it. Instead of delegating hiring to the HR department, and waiting for them to bring us candidates, we must see HR as an enabler and own the responsibility for finding great talent.
This is one of the best ways to advance your career; building this skill will be a better advantage than most anything else. But being good at hiring isn’t enough — you have to be great at it. Here are the tips that I use.
- Recruit constantly. Source talent before you have an opening. Don’t wait until a role needs to be filled before recruiting. Build relationships with the most talented people, and stay in touch with them. As a general rule, I had 1-2 “ready-now” recruits who I could woo for any critical position that worked for me.
- Go with what you know. Often, the sweet spot for getting good recruits is from an “A” player whom I have had the pleasure to work with before. I always start by asking people I know for recommendations. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised when they suggest that they would like to be considered. That’s an awesome thing; if you worked well together before, you will work well together again. I also ask every great candidate — even those who aren’t interested — for referrals to others.
- Consider the track record. Look at the candidate’s history. How often did they get promoted? What challenges did they accept? Seeing progression in every job is a good indicator of success; seeing it across a couple of different companies is even better. I’m looking for success over a long period of time. I want to work with the individuals who got straight As in school and did ballet, the ones who had paper routes, the ones who got a scholarship to college and excelled while there. But it’s not perfection I’m looking for, or even the balanced resume. I’m looking for drive. Someone who struggled in school (but who build several successful ventures while there) might be my perfect candidate.
- Appreciate someone who doesn’t take no for an answer. Some people see barriers; others see opportunities. The best employees are the ones who are scrappy and have grit.
- Don’t fall for big names. I place more emphasis on what people have done than where they went to school. Similarly, just because somebody works for a great company doesn’t mean that they are great or a great fit for you. There’s a big difference from being on the bus at a great company and being the person who is driving the bus.
- Screen for self-awareness. How well does the candidate know him or herself? His or her abilities? Weaknesses? I always say to applicants, “In six months we’ll know each other really well. So tell me upfront where you will excel and tell me where you could do better.” I’ve had people who tell me, “You’ll think I’m perfect.” That’s not what I want to hear. I want them to tell me the truth. If they are honest, I give huge credit. We all have flaws; I’m testing for a willingness to be forthcoming.
- Get lots of outside validation. Obviously you will get references but go beyond checking the references the candidate gave you. Obviously, if you call a reference they gave you and it doesn’t glow, that’s a big red flag.
- Prize a person with a following. Never underestimate the power of someone’s recruitment ability. Great people know other great people and a key lieutenant or some fabulous classmates might soon be clamoring to come to your company.
- Sell but don’t oversell. Be welcoming. The hottest talent has multiple options regarding where to go. A well-known and respected candidate can get multiple job offers. Don’t be intimidated to make an offer to someone with other opportunities, make yourself stand out enough to attract him or her. At the same time, don’t oversell. The worst thing you can do is oversell someone on joining your team only to have them feel manipulated — and surprised with the role — once they sign on to the job. By being transparent about both opportunities and expectations, you’ll also get a much better sense of whether or not the candidate knows what they’re stepping into.
- Trust your gut. You’re likely giving this person a lot of responsibility. How are you feeling about that? Would you want to give them your toughest task, or would you be worried? Measure your trust meter. It should be high, and if it’s not, explore why. Doing so will illuminate the issues and concerns you have.