The smaller your company, the more hiring the right people matters. (Granted making the right hiring decisions is important no matter what size your organization, but when there are only three employees and one is a disaster…)
Everyone makes hiring mistakes, but here are five that you might be making without even knowing it:
1. You focus solely on skills and ignore attitude. Experience, knowledge, and skill are irrelevant if not put to use. According to a 2009 study, just over 10% of new hires fail within the first eighteen months of employment because they lack technical skills. Skills can be trained, but enthusiasm, interpersonal skills, and work ethic are almost impossible to pass on to others.
The fix: Hire for skills and attitude – and often just for attitude, depending on the nature of the job. A candidate who is lacking a few specific skills could be a candidate that with training becomes a superstar, but a candidate who is an interpersonal skills disaster is one you will always regret hiring.
2. You hire family and friends of current employees. While the morning meeting at some successful businesses looks a lot like a family reunion, your interest in helping out an employee’s family member won’t always align with your need to hire a great employee. Plus, the odds of interpersonal conflicts typically doubles since issues can arise both in and outside of work.
The fix: Ensure family members don’t work in the same department or functional area. Do a thorough job of evaluating the candidate and his or her references. And establish and follow an overall hiring policy regarding friends and family; that’s the cleanest solution if only because you will never appear to favor one employee’s request to interview a friend over another.
3. You sell instead of being sold. All small business owners need employees who want to work for them, so you’ll definitely want to describe a few of the positives of your opening. But you shouldn’t sell too hard: Good candidates already know your company is a good fit because they’ve done a little homework. Plus you run the risk of creating expectations you can’t meet.
The fix: Discuss the opening, discuss your business, and answer any questions. Be honest and open. Just don’t sell. Great candidates can spot a great opportunity. You want employees who want to work for you – not employees you had to convince.
4. You ignore your instincts. Formal and comprehensive hiring processes should help you identify the right candidate. But don’t ignore your intuition; always weigh your impressions against objective data. The more interviews you conduct – and the more people you hire – the more you’ll learn to pick up on troubling signals.
The fix: Let your experience and intuition inform your hiring decisions. If your gut is telling you something’s wrong, ask more questions. Check references. Sense-check those impressions; a classic test is the “receptionist test,” where you ask how the candidate acted while waiting for his or her interview. Find out how they treated the receptionist, what they did while they waited, what they read… occasionally you can identify a significant difference between what the candidate presented to you and how they act when they feel they aren’t under scrutiny.
5. You think you can change the spots on a leopard.** Wishing and hoping won’t matter: The salesman with a proven track record of landing clients and a documented history of making life miserable for administrative and support staffs will not become a shining light of interpersonal behavior once he’s hired. And the recent grad that doesn’t wake up until the sun goes down won’t instantly embrace a 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. work schedule. Some people work and interact a certain way, and you simply can’t change them. (And sometimes you shouldn’t even try.)
The fix: One, decide up front you’re willing to accept the total package. You may decide you can live with the diva behavior of a sales superstar. You may decide a terrific coder can work nights instead of days. If you’re willing to compromise – and know you can commit to making that compromise – go for it. Otherwise hire someone else.
** Years ago, a friend and his then-wife went to a marriage counselor. During the first session the counselor asked her to describe my friend’s faults. She listed a few and my friend interrupted her, saying, “Wait. How important are those issues to you?”
“Very important,” she answered. “Those are things that have to change.”
He stood up and walked to the door. “Good luck with that,” he said. “Can’t change the spots on a leopard. No reason to even try.”
And he wonders why it’s been fifteen years and he’s still single.