By: Jeff Haden
No business can afford to make hiring mistakes–especially the mistakes that come up again and again.
Hiring the right people is critical for any business, and that’s especially true for a small company with relatively few employees.
Bringing in the wrong person not only not only wastes time and money, it also creates a ripple of negativity that impacts every other employee–and therefore your business.
Here are six reasons why you wind up with the wrong candidate:
1. You ignore the total package.
Every employee has to follow company rules and guidelines, whether formal or unwritten. Still, some people can’t… or just won’t.
The skilled engineer with an incredible track record of designing new products while berating support and admin staffs won’t immediately turn over a new interpersonal leaf just because you hired him. The programmer who only works Selene hours as if she’ll melt in sunlight won’t magically transform into a standard-issue 9-to-5er.
For some people, the work, and how they perform that work, is what matters most–not the job. Don’t assume you can change them. You won’t.
Instead: One, decide you’ll accept the total package and all that comes with it. If you desperately need engineering skills you might decide to live with the proven engineering superstar’s diva behavior. In the same way, letting a vampire-style programmer work nights may be fine even if everyone else works normal hours and communication will be less than optimal.
Always assume that if compromises need to be made then you will need to be the one who makes them. If you aren’t willing to accommodate or compromise, pass.
2. You hire for skills and ignore attitude.
Skills and knowledge are worthless when they aren’t put to use. Experience, no matter how vast, is useless when it is not shared with others.
Think of it this way: The smaller your business the more likely you are to be an expert in your field; transferring those skills to others is relatively easy. But you can’t train enthusiasm, a solid work ethic, and great interpersonal skills–and those traits can matter a lot more than any skills a candidate brings.
According to one study, only 11% of the new hires that failed in the first 18 months failed due to deficiencies in technical skills. The vast majority failed due to problems with motivation, willingness to be coached, temperament, and emotional intelligence.
Instead: When in doubt, hire for attitude. You can train almost any skill, but it’s nearly impossible to train attitude. See the candidate who lacks certain hard skills as a cause for concern, but see the candidate who lacks interpersonal skills and enthusiasm as a giant red flag.
3. You sell your business too hard.
You absolutely need employees who want to work for you. But never try too hard to sell a candidate on your company.
Good candidates have done their homework. They know whether your company is a good fit for them.
Plus, selling too hard skews the employee/employer relationship from the start. An employee grateful for an opportunity approaches her first days at work much differently than an employee who feels she is doing you a favor by joining your team. (Best case: You and the new employee form a mutual admiration society.)
Instead: Describe the position, describe your company, answer questions, be factual and forthright, let your natural enthusiasm show through, and let the candidate make an informed decision.
Never sell too hard, even if you’re desperate. Trust that the right candidate will recognize the right opportunity.
4. You reflexively hire friends and family.
Sure, some successful businesses look like an ongoing family reunion.
Still, be careful. Some employees will naturally overstate a family member’s qualifications when they make a recommendation. The employee’s heart may be in the right place, but their desire to help out a family member doesn’t always align with your need to hire great employees.
Plus friends and family see each other outside of work, too, increasing the chances of interpersonal conflicts. In extreme cases, especially in small companies, your company could turn into an episode of Survivor. Three relatives working in your six-person business may end up wielding more effective power than you do.
Instead: Either set up an appropriate policy, like “no family members in the same department,” or do an incredibly thorough job of evaluating the candidate.
In fact, do both: Establishing and following a policy is the cleanest solution, if only because you will never appear to favor one employee’s request to interview a friend over another.
5. Ignoring gut feel.
Nothing beats a formal, comprehensive hiring process–except, sometimes, a little dose of gut feel and intuition.
Always weigh impressions against qualitative considerations. And feel free to run little “tests.” I always took supervisor candidates on a tour of our manufacturing areas. Sometimes an employee would stop me to ask a question. I always took the time to get involved because employee needs always come first. Any candidate–especially one who wanted a job leading people–that seemed irritated or frustrated by the interruption was a cause for concern.
The same was true if an employee was struggling to keep up on a production line. I naturally pitched in while still talking to the candidate. Most job seekers would also pitch in, some self-consciously in an obvious attempt to impress, others naturally and without affect. (It’s easy to tell the people who automatically help out from those who do so only because you are watching.)
Instead: Let your experience and intuition inform your hiring decisions.
And don’t be afraid to conduct your own tests. A classic is the waiter test: How someone interacts with a person in a position to serve them is often a good indication of how they will interact with your employees. Courtesy and respect should be granted to all, regardless of position, social standing, etc.
You should know the intangible qualities you want in your employees. Determine a few simple ways to see if a candidate has or lacks those qualities.
6. You take the wrong chance.
There are two kinds of chances you can take on a potential employee.
There are the good chances: taking a shot on a candidate you feel has more potential than her previous employer let her show; taking a shot on a candidate who has few of the skills but all of the attitude; taking a chance on a candidate you feel certain brings the enthusiasm, drive, and spirit your team desperately needs–those are good chances to take.
Then there are the bad chances: the candidate with a history of attendance problems who you hope will suddenly develop a strong work ethic; the candidate who left each of his last three jobs within weeks because “all my bosses were jerks;” the candidate who has no experience in your industry and only wants to talk about how quickly and often she can get promoted.
Why do you take bad chances? You’re desperate. Or you’re lazy. Or you have “better things to do.” Or you figure a bad apple won’t spoil the bunch for very long because your turnover is already high.
Instead: No matter how hard they try, everyone makes hiring mistakes. Don’t take bad chances–those almost always turn out poorly.
Take good chances. Good chances often turn out to be your most inspired hires–and your best employees.