As I updated my Entrepreneurship 101 post, I re-read Hiring: No False Positives by Joe Kraus, and Hiring: False Positives and Negatives by Tim Converse, and I was struck by how challenging hiring is, even if you know what you are seeking. Hiring is the most important thing a company can do; the success of a company depends on the ability of its people to work effectively together.
Since I also have the Internet on my computer, I went poking around there for more advice on hiring. Here's some of what I found... note that I'm in full-on-remix-culture mode in the rest of this post, so the words you see come from the articles I'm quoting, not from me...
- The most important rule about interviewing: Make A Decision. At the conclusion of the interview, you have to be ready to make a sharp decision about the candidate. There are only two possible outcomes to this decision: Hire or No Hire. Turn to your computer and send immediate feedback to the recruiter. The subject line should be the name of the candidate. The first line of the email should be Hire or No Hire. Then you should spend about 2 paragraphs backing up your decision. There is no other possible answer. Never say, "Hire, but not in my group." Never say "Maybe, I can't tell." If you can't tell, that means No Hire. It's really easier than you'd think. Can't tell? Just say no! Similarly, if you are on the fence, that means No Hire. Never say, "Well, Hire, I guess, but I'm a little bit concerned about..." That's a No Hire as well... But how do you make this difficult decision? You just have to keep asking yourself during the interview: is this person smart? Does this person get things done? In order to be able to tell, you're going to have to ask the right questions.
- The initial few moments of an interview are the most crucial. As you meet the candidate and shake his or her hand, you'll gain a strong impression of his or her poise, confidence and enthusiasm (or lack thereof). Qualities to look for include good communication skills, a neat and clean appearance, and a friendly and enthusiastic manner. (See more.)
- Interviewing is about creating a dialog with the candidate. To get to know the candidate's talents and personality, you can't merely ask questions that have short factual answers. You have to find a way to engage a conversation. To stimulate dialog, you can ask the candidate to critique some technology. Note that good citizenship is probably more important than technical prowess, because if you have people with the right kind of attitude and demeanor, you can help them gain the technical knowledge and software development habits. But if you have people who lack humility and maturity, it can be extremely difficult to get them to cooperate in reaching a goal, no matter how bright they are or what they've accomplished in the past. (To that point, Doug Cutting "likes to ask people to describe a problem they encountered and tell how they solved it -- to tell a story.")
- Interviews are about the past: "So what was your biggest success? Your biggest challenge?" But things move fast today; the past is becoming less and less relevant. Companies need people who will contribute in the future. That's why some companies have stopped relying on traditional interviews. Interviews aren't good predictors of future performance. A better alternative is assessment over time. After all, if you've created a learning relationship with someone, you won't learn much in an interview that you don't know already. Which doesn't mean that you'll never be surprised once someone arrives. But my advice is to bring people in fast, pay close attention to their work, and deal with mistakes quickly.
- Always check references; whether a reference is forthcoming or reserved, you should pay attention to what's not being said. If a reference talks only about the person's punctuality, good attitude, and pleasing manner, be sure to ask if her intervention actually achieved the desired results. Ask as well if the job was accomplished at the negotiated price -- or whether any troubling cost overruns occurred.
- It is more important than ever to develop people into high performers. The recruiting function has to move to becoming a talent agency -- something it has not yet been. Talent agencies recognize talent and develop it for strategic purposes. We as recruiters need take our knowledge of what talent looks like and offer people who have it a chance to get the skills they need to get the jobs we have. Mostly this will apply to the current employee population, but it could apply to people outside as well. The only limits are our own vision and our ability to work the politics of our corporate environments.
- Too often hiring managers focus on a candidate's skills and qualifications rather than on who s/he is or her/his personality. Stock your interviewing arsenals with the types of questions that will help you identify if someone's personality and attitude is right for the position they're looking to fill. (There are good answers and bad answers to many common questions.)
- Never hire anyone who doesn't wear a watch. In the time-honored ritual, employers ask at interviews, "Where do you expect to be five years from now?" or "What are your strengths?", "Your weaknesses?" And, of course, each candidate responds with well-worn answers. They know the catechism. Instead, the next time you interview, ask the candidates, "What time do you have?" Of course most people wear a watch, but a surprising percentage (estimates range up to 14%) don't. If the candidate does not wear or carry one, it's a big and dangerous red flag. How will this candidate perform with deadlines, keep appointments, or finish tasks on time? suppose they must call a client at 2:24. Will 3:15 be okay?
- Don't ever, ever hire somebody just like yourself. Why not? Because from the beginning of time, executives have been unconsciously cloning themselves, stocking the shelves with vanilla young men from impressive schools. And what has happened to executives and companies that did that? As management guru Rosabeth Kanter observed, they often sink into the soft sand of irrelevance as the rough waters of current reality wash over them. Also, hire for attitude rather than skill. Teaching skills is a snap compared with doing attitude transplants. Among the qualities you'll want most is a fierce sense of optimism. On the other hand, never hire someone with good potential but questionable habits, thinking you can change him or her. As in choosing mates, what you see now is what you get forever.
- Hire the very best, act as if your life depended on every person you bring on your team, and put a ton of cycles into finding, referencing, recruiting, and retaining those people. Try to hire people better than you, always search, hire slow, fire quick, and work with people that can wear many hats. You can't always find the right person for the job and for existing relationships, and only a culture of diversity and tolerance can overcome this fact. There are moments for hiring people you trust, but you can't forget to forsee their role and its consequences. First hires are the top of a pyramid, the bottom slowly grows over the years, founders may leave, but always hire employees that can also manage growing teams.
Sometimes a GLAT is just a GLAT...