How to Hire Right

Posted On: August 20

This is a note I sent to the CEO of a small company with about a dozen employees. He had just lost one of his key players and was looking to hire someone to replace her, and add a new salesperson, so I sent him this note to give him my best advice on how to make sure that he hired the right person. Give it a read for my best advice on navigating the hiring process as well as a few actionable steps you can take immediately.

Scott, making the decision to bring in a new person onto the team in your company is an extremely important decision, especially with such a small team. Done correctly, the new hire could potentially bring in significant additional revenues, new customers, new partnerships and innovative new ideas that can help make your company much more successful. Done poorly, hiring the wrong person can be an extremely expensive mistake that could set you back months and potentially do long-term damage within your team and with your customers. Therefore, I’d like to give you a little bit of advice on what I feel are some essential ideas and tools around hiring right.

The first thing I’d like to share with you is that for your type of business, the quality of the people that you get and keep on your team will be the single most important factor in determining the long-term success of your business. There’s an old cliché that says that people are your most important asset, but that’s wrong. Your best people are your most important asset; your worst people are your biggest liability, so you need to be very careful and effective in how you go about hiring new employees.

Whenever I counsel a business owner about the hiring process, here are a few things that I strongly recommend they do:

Create a very specific list of the attributes, skills, talents and attitude you are looking for in the new hire. Make this list before you interview, attached to, emotionally connected to, or invested in any candidate. Write down the short list of things that the employee you are going to hire MUST possess. These are non-negotiable; it doesn’t matter how much you like the person, how cool you think they are, how great they seem … this is the short list of key skills/attributes that anyone who fills the job absolutely must demonstrate—PERIOD! Next, list several things that would be “nice to have:” items that are above and beyond the core but might be a bonus to your business. Lastly, jot down a few things that would be super nice to have but are totally icing on the cake. Now, when you interview someone, if they do not have everything on the list of key elements—do not hire them. Actually, I think it’s a good idea if you put a point scale next to each of the items, such as 10 points for all of the “must haves,” 5 points for the “nice to haves,” and 3 points for the “really super nifty to have.” Then, create a baseline score and if the person doesn’t score at least, let’s say a 70, on a 100-point scale—they do not come back for a second interview. I see a lot of business owners that meet a potential candidate, sort of click with them, really like them, and then overlook the fact that the person does not have even the most basic skills necessary to be highly successful at the position they are trying to fill. I do not want you to make that mistake, so creating this scorecard is a clear, specific and objective way to help hold yourself accountable for only hiring people that are truly qualified. The goal is to hire really great people that you like a lot, and who also have at least a minimum score of 70.

Read some books or get some training on interviewing techniques (my favorite book on this topic is, Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street). Most of the businesspeople I’ve come across are pathetic at doing a thorough job of asking superb interviewing questions and knowing what to look for in a candidate. The list you have created in step one will help you form an agenda for asking questions, but the key here is for the candidate to spend 90% of the time talking while the interviewer is taking exceedingly good notes, watching body language, and asking additional probing questions. Unfortunately, this is almost the exact opposite of the way most interviews go, with the business owner going on and on about how great their company is, how great their culture is, how great their products are… and not asking any focused questions that would truly let them understand whether the candidate is the right person for the job they’re trying to fill. Again, I don’t want you to make that mistake, so have a long list of excellent questions prepared before the candidate is sitting in front of you, and then use that list to guide the entire interviewing process.

I’m also a big fan of team interviewing, getting a candidate who has made it past the first round to spend some time with the people they will work for, the people that they will work with, and the people that will work for them—so you can get feedback from everyone on how they feel the candidate would fit into the culture. Important: Anyone who interviews them should have some level of training on how to conduct a professional interview. You want to make sure that they ask good questions, the right questions and nothing that would get your company into trouble.

I also think it’s a good idea to get them to take a few tests, possibly a skills test and a personality test like the Myers-Briggs or DISC profile to make sure that they truly do possess the skills they are advertising and that they will likely be a good fit for your culture. In addition, call every single reference and ask them a few questions about the candidate so you can get some additional feedback. Again, this is where some good interviewing training will come in handy, because there is an art to asking the right sort of questions to references, who are often reluctant to be totally honest about any negative issues with a candidate. If it is a senior position, I encourage you to do a great deal of due diligence, call every reference, call their former employers and get as much information as you possibly can about the candidate before you hire them. Hiring the right person for a key executive position can make a major positive impact on your business; hiring the wrong person can land you in bankruptcy court.

A few years ago, I attended a conference of 400+ CEOs on hiring, retaining, and growing top talent. After we came together, dozens of workshops, panel discussions and lots of dialogue, this esteemed group of senior leaders came up with two key ideas on hiring:

  1. Hire for attitude and aptitude—train for skills. As long as the person has the “must-have” skills for the job that you created in your list, and they show the ability to learn, always hire the person with best attitude. If someone has all the skills and a bad attitude, there is no book you can give them, no class you can send them to, no seminar they can attend that will turn a person who has a bad attitude into a positive and productive employee.
  2. Hire slow—fire fast. Even if you are in emergency mode and desperately need someone to fill a gap in your business, I urge you to take the time to find the right person and not just hire the first person that walks in the door (unless they truly are a great fit). Employee turnover is expensive. By the time you bring someone on board, train them up, fill out all the paperwork and get them in your system, you have invested a tremendous amount of time, energy, resources and money—if you have to terminate them, or they quit within a few weeks or months, it’s costly all the way around.

One last thing: a strategy I used when hiring key people for one of my businesses. When they’ve gone through all the steps above, the team loves them, the tests were all great and the references all checked out, I would tell the person that they were the candidate we wanted to hire, and I would give them the job offer with salary, benefits, vacation and everything else included in the position. However, I would tell them that they could not accept on the spot; they needed to go home and think about it, to talk to their husband, wife, or best friend. And then I would tell them this before they left my office: “Do not take this job if it is only about the money, the benefits and vacation—because I will figure that out very quickly and I will fire you as fast as I possibly can. On the other hand, if you love what our company stands for, if you think this is a great culture that you would fit into well, if you like the other people you’ve met and you’re truly excited about our products and services—then please take this job as it might be the last job you ever take and you will retire from here. But I’m deadly serious: If it’s just about having a “job” do not accept this offer because you will NOT last long.” Amazingly, after going through all the interviewing, passing all the tests, getting great reviews from all the references… 70% of the people did not accept the job. They were not really committed and were not truly excited; they were not honestly passionate about our business—they just wanted a job and could not make the commitment I was looking for. When I told one CEO about this practice of mine, he said to me, “It sounds like you’re running a cult.” After thinking about it for a minute or two I replied to him, “Yes, I am … it’s a cult of excellence … do you have a problem with that?” He quickly answered, “Nope, not at all—just checking!”

Scott, you have a great company with a fantastic culture, and anyone would be lucky to work with you and your team. I’m sure you’ll get plenty of people that apply for these jobs, but take your time, use the list, do the tests, do the team interviewing, check all the references—and only hire somebody who meets or exceeds all of the criteria you have laid out. Following all of these suggestions is time consuming, I fully admit that, but it is worth every single minute of it—I guarantee.

I hope you found this helpful, my friend. I wish you every possible success in bringing some superstars onto your team. Take good care – John

Hiring the right people is never easy, but with these actionable steps I hope that you can navigate the process. I hope you can take the following key steps back to your team to drastically improve the hiring process:

  • Create a skill scorecard with “must-have” skills earning 10 points, 5 points for “nice to have,” and 3 points for “really super nifty to have.” Only candidates that earn a score of at least 70 get a second interview and the rest are tossed.
  • Train a group of team members to be able to properly work through the interview questions with right questions.
  • Utilize all your resources like employer references, personality tests, and even your own employees to evaluate if they would fit into the culture of the company.
  • Ensure that your candidates desire the job for the commitment of the company and its growth, not just the money.

Best of luck in your hiring journey. – John

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