If you’ve tried it all when hiring and are still coming up short, then give these high ROI tips a try. Don’t focus on the latest fad questions or meaningless reference checks, instead avoid these common mistakes and focus on quick wins.
Avoid the most common mistakes leaders make when hiring and you will save a ton of time. I’ve made these mistakes in the past, often because I fell into the routine hiring process that everyone does.
Bad Job Description
By only listing the technical requirements of the position you’ll set yourself up for failure. Instead, start with your company’s “why” and what you’re trying to accomplish. No, you don’t need to be on a quest to save the world or have a trendy mission statement, but you do need to sell the best candidates on your company. You’re not trying to attract just anyone—you need to sell to that one great person you want to join the team. Talk about your history. Talk about the future. Talk about the role that this person will play. If you’re having trouble thinking of your “why,” then take some time to clarify it for yourself and your current team. We’ve written about the power of vision and values (link). Kate Riley put together a nice article with some good examples.
Staying Too Optimistic
As an entrepreneur, you’re optimistic by nature. In fact, it’s necessary. Try and stay objective during the interview. Don’t get caught up in what you want the candidate to be or give them the benefit of the doubt. I might sound cynical, but it can help you can avoid a smooth talker. After you have finished an interview, think about all the ways in which it might fail. Even the best candidate won’t be fail-proof, but if red flags keep popping up beyond your comfort level, then it’s likely time to reconsider. It is amazing how easy it is to overlook red flags in the name of optimism.
Depending on References
Don’t depend too heavily on the reference. Reference checks are a good idea, and someone with no references is a huge red flag. But why would candidates list a reference that would say anything bad about them? References don’t want to say anything overly critical of the candidate for fear of damaging him or her. Their feedback should be taken with a grain of salt. Instead, treat the reference as a sign of burned bridges. Beyond that, investigate what the candidate has actually delivered.
Avoid The Halo Effect
A halo effect is when a positive trait about someone leads to assumptions about positive traits in other areas. For example, you might assume that someone who is good looking and a smooth talker can work well with others, when in reality he’s a horrible team player. (There is an in-depth HBR article that expands this topic further.) I have been guilty of this as I am sure most people have—it’s human nature. Avoid getting caught up in the halo effect by asking questions whose answers will reveal ways the candidate has displayed traits required for the role she will fill. If you need a team player, then ask her a question like, “What is the best team that you have been on and why?” You’ll be able to tell a lot by the way she talks about members of that team.
So once you know the mistakes to avoid, here are some tips to help get the most out of your next interview.
Ask your network
Most people check with their network before hiring, but making your request more personal can help it go much further (avoid the lazy LinkedIn update). Start by crafting your job description to include a company background and your “why.” Then post publicly to get easy likes from your network. When you write the email include a personalized message, a little background of the position, what it will mean for your company, and a link to the job posting. Make the person want to help you out (you’re selling to him, too). If he does introduce someone to you to, circle back to let him know how it went. You want to make sure he will help again the next time you reach out.
Give Them A Sample Project
Requiring a sample project doesn’t work for every position, but it can be a powerful demonstration of how someone would actually perform on the job. Can you give your candidates a small task based on work they would actually do? If you’re hiring a sales rep, could you ask candidates to develop a plan for approaching a market you’re interested in? You should pay for any sample projects. Paying makes both parties have skin in the game and shows the candidate that you are serious.
Check Their Career Goals
A common question to ask a candidate is, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” The answer shows you if they have aspirations for their career or not. Step up this question a bit and ask them where they want to go with their career and why. Why do they want to follow a certain path? Is it based on experience, skills, or assumptions? The answer helps you understand the candidates as people and make sure that, as an organization, you have a path for them. Starting day one, you have proper expectations and can put together a mutually beneficial plan. In his book The Alliance, Reid Hoffman calls these periods “tours of duty” — periods of time that accomplish the company goals and give the employee experience she wants to progress to her next step, either with your company or elsewhere.