Hiring is one of the most important things to do well in any business.
It doesn’t matter if your organization is large or small, high growth or stable, bad hiring can have majorly negative impacts on your team, your customers, and your bottom line. This isn’t a new concept and the studies done around the cost of poor hiring are extensive and readily available.
Companies have gone to amazing lengths to prevent poor hiring. I’ve seen everything from personality assessments to massive panels to extensive interview loops to crazy, knock you off-balance interview questions. One debate that inevitably comes up when defining hiring criteria are the things that make someone appear to be an ‘obvious’ fit:
- Do they have experience in your industry?
- Have they performed similar duties before?
- Do they have a history of success?
These things are great, but you can’t always find them. Sadly, you also can’t always believe them. What if LinkedIn had an ‘employer verified’ check mark? Even if it was just for start dates, end dates, and job titles, what percentage of profiles would register some change instantly?
I’m not trying to turn everyone into a cynic. Experience matters, and you can’t argue that; my point is that experience is only part of the story, and there are other factors to consider. That’s why I came up with a short list of things that I love about the people I love to work with. I think if you keep an eye out for these factors, you’ll start finding more people that you love to work with.
Does everyone you work with need to have an impressive IQ or need to be able to compete for a Jeopardy title? No, they do not. They do need to be able to complete a job though, and you should hope that they will also bring a perspective that can help make your organization better. When I think about intelligence, I don’t think about degrees or Wonderlic scores; I think about curiosity and resourcefulness.
Curiosity is one of the single most important traits to look for in my humble opinion. Doesn’t matter if you are hiring a CEO, developer, marketer, sales person, customer service agent, a management consultant, analyst, assistant, or office manager. No matter what role you are trying to fill, the person filling it will be faced with a challenge of some kind that needs to be solved. The best way they can do that is to understand the things they are working on and how they affect the audience they are working to serve. The easiest way to assess this in an interview is by the questions people ask. First, do they ask any questions? Second, and most importantly, are they conversational? Can they layer questions or only recite a list of questions?
There are so many resources and tools available to people to be able to take their execution, and even their own development, into their own hands — yet, so many times I’ve seen people hesitate to handle things autonomously; even things that could have been answered by a quick google search end up causing delays or take up additional time from others. I understand that people often consider respecting a chain of command, but at a minimum I’d like to see people come with a solution to the problem in mind as opposed to just bringing the problem to be solved. Resourcefulness is understanding the intent behind what you’re trying to accomplish or what your customer needs and leveraging the available tools to make it happen. One way to check for this in an interview is to ask the candidate about a time they faced a difficult challenge and ask how they worked through it — what tools did they use and who did they ask for help?
Carol Dweck is a psychology professor who has published a sizeable collection of work on the concept of mindset, which I find very interesting. In her work, Dweck writes, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” Yes, please. Someone with a fixed mindset is more likely to believe that people inherently either ‘have it’ or don’t.
There are two things that really jump out at me within the growth mindset: love of learning and resilience.
Early on in my leadership career I had a 1:1 with a senior leader who asked what I needed help with. I told them that I felt things were going well, but that for some members of my team I was having a hard time diagnosing the gaps I should be coaching them on. Their advice was actually to leverage the team member more. They explained that if we had done a good job hiring, our people should have self-awareness enough to know what they needed to improve on and they should be willing to commit to improving it. They suggested that if I was having a hard time spotting things I should simply try asking the employee where they wanted to improve, and then help them develop a plan of attack for how to get better at it. Self-awareness and a love for learning are very typically found in close proximity to one another. In an interview, try asking about things that they are actively trying to get better at, something they are currently learning about, what’s the last book they read recently, etc.
People with a growth mindset also tend to be more resilient, in my experience. I can tell you that it’s something almost every leader of people would like to have more of on their team. Work is hard — that is why people are willing to pay for it. Some days are harder than others, and when you surround yourself with resilient people, you find less negativity and more encouragement. I remember as a kid, one of the most popular proverbs in our family was ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. When you’re in an interview, ask about a big disappointment or a time when the candidate felt defeated, and how they responded and overcame that defeat. Their approach to admitting to, handling, and learning from failure will tell you a lot about them.
Capitalism is not exactly designed around selflessness, but I still believe this concept is important in two ways. First, you want people that are going to be able to zoom out a little bit and look at the bigger picture. People who are more selfless will be able to remove themselves from the equation and consider a situation without being totally biased by what is most important to them personally. People who are more selfish will angle every argument toward the outcome that best suits themselves. This can be really exhausting as a leader, and can have adverse effects on your team culture. To gauge this in an interview, consider asking about a time when a decision didn’t go their way, ask why they think that decision was made, and how they felt about it.
The other part of this is teamwork. Operating in a team based environment is much easier when your team can work together and help each other. In order for that to happen, you have to hire people who are willing to field questions from peers and who are open to sharing their best practices, tips, and tricks. When you interview, ask about a time when they received help from a team member, or about the last time they helped a team member with something.
The consequences of getting this wrong are clear, and while there may not be a silver bullet ensuring that you never make a poor hiring decision again, my hope is that these traits and some of the simple ways to validate them throughout the interview process may help you to avoid it more often.