Ask Sheila C. Johnson
Q What can I do to distinguish between job applicants who sound good in interviews and those who will really do a good job?
The first thing you have to realize is that if you trust your gut alone, you'll make a lot of mistakes. Even if you get a recommendation from a trusted friend or colleague, the person you hire may not fit well in your culture. I've probably made more than 50 hiring mistakes in my time as entrepreneur, and they have happened at every venture I've been involved in. At BET, we hired an extremely well-credentialed CFO who embezzled almost $2 million and ultimately ended up in jail. At Salamander Hospitality, which owns and develops hotels and resorts, I hired a full-time consultant who was recommended by a friend. It didn't work at all. Actually, he wasn't even qualified. He sent us in some wildly wrong directions, and a few million dollars later, it was a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
About two years ago, I decided that I would do everything I needed to do to ensure that I get the right people. I now use a headhunting firm to recruit every senior level employee. It's expensive -- we pay about $100,000 a year. And it can sometimes take six months to find the right person. But in the long run, it pays off. We do our best to hire slowly and fire quickly.
My headhunting firm also administers personality tests to all of our job candidates, not just the top ones. This has been crucial for us. The firm gives applicants tests like the DISC assessment, which measures personality type, and the PIAV test, which looks at the different ways employees deal with stress. This really helps filter out all the people who interview well but don't perform. When I first started using these tests, I even gave them to my current employees. They worked so well that our headhunters spotted one human resources employee at Salamander whose testing indicated she would be better suited for another department. She now works for my foundation, and she's much happier.
Psychological testing isn't enough, however. Whomever you hire, especially for a senior position, make sure you investigate, investigate, investigate. At Salamander, I use an investigation firm that can go and dig up everything on a candidate all the way back to kindergarten. It tells you a lot about someone if he or she has ever skipped paying taxes. Keep an eye out for employees who have had any kind of financial trouble, even if it's small. Those are the type of people who, in my experience, end up being subpar -- or worse, end up stealing from you.
As an entrepreneur, you have to realize that you're going to make mistakes hiring. But I know the money I spend on the hiring process is going to come back to me when I find employees who are the right fit. In this economy, you can't afford to hire people who aren't pulling their weight.