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HIRING

How to Hire Great People--Every Time

Hiring doesn't have to be hit or miss. Treat the process as the most important strategic planning your company needs, and you'll get better results.
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The success of your business is in the hands of your people. They take hundreds--probably thousands--of individual actions on your behalf every day, and if the sum total of all those actions is a net positive, you win.

If the overall result is a net negative, you lose.

It follows, therefore, that one of the most important tasks of any leader is to ensure that the hiring process is in itself highly successful. After all, every new employee you bring in to the business either raises the competence of the organization as a whole (enabling you to grow and prosper) or lowers it (slowing the organization down and imperceptibly dragging it toward decline and failure).

And yet I see so many business leaders approach the hiring process with the same degree of amateurish clumsiness as a faded D-list celebrity on Dancing With the Stars.

If you want to hire great people every time, you need to drop the amateur-hour approach and address the hiring process with the same degree of fierce professionalism as you would the development of a strategic plan or the design of a new product or service.

Here's how to do just that:

1. Ditch the "secret sauce" mumbo jumbo. We've all read the magic questions so beloved of celebrity CEO's when they're asked about their hiring techniques: "I ask them what their spirit animal is," or "I look deep in their eyes and ask them to tell me a situation when..."

It's all baloney, and they know it. Hiring is a complicated business, made more complex by the fact that the person at the other side of the desk has read all that nonsense, too. You don't think any interviewee worth his or her salt hasn't got that stuff down? 

Answering your much-loved "curveball question" is a trivial irrelevancy at best and a complete red herring at worst. Do it if you must, but realize that it has little or nothing to do with whether the person across the desk from you is a great hire. 

2. Know precisely what you're looking for. What are the five key skills a successful candidate must have to succeed at this job? And what are the five key attitudes or behaviors that will enable him or her not just to succeed but to excel at it?

You need to know these key skills and behaviors, clearly and unambiguously. Talk to previous incumbents of the job, to their internal and external customers, and to their peers. Write the skills and behaviors down, and polish their definitions until they shine with clarity. 

Yes, this is hard work--much harder than wandering in to a job interview armed only with a fuzzy and incomplete understanding of the role and a couple of magic questions. But being prepared is vital if you are to stand any chance of consistently hiring great people.

3. Get proof that they have it. The hiring process (and yes, hiring should be a process, not an event) must have one purpose only: to prove to you, without a doubt, that the candidate you choose possesses the skills and behaviors needed in order to excel in the job for which you're hiring them.

This means that the process must include tests (Do they need to write code in PHP and jQuery? Give them some coding to do); role plays (Do they need to sell? Take them on a ride-along and watch them sell); simulations (Need to make snap decisions under pressure? Let's see them do it); and anything else necessary to give you the proof you need.

If your hiring process is still essentially a dialogue in which you lob vaguely associated questions at the candidate hoping that by the end of 45 minutes you'll have formed some hit-or-miss notion of the person's overall likelihood to succeed, your hiring success rate will be equally hit or miss.

4. Involve others. Later today or tomorrow, try parallel parking your car without using the rearview or wing mirrors. It'll take forever, your neck will be sore by the end of it, and you'll end up many feet from the curb. Having just one person make the hiring decision is just as inefficient.

To consistently hire great people, you need multiple perspectives. Use hiring panels of two or more people as much as possible, and during the hiring process expose the candidates to the other people they would most interact with. Use internal and external customers in particular. Think of the perspective that brings to the process.

Last updated: Aug 27, 2012

LES MCKEOWN | Columnist

Les McKeown is the president and CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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