When you're hiring, you're growing. That means business is good. It's easy to let that euphoria go to your head and, in a rush of enthusiasm, hire great people who, nevertheless, could be wrong for the job, or your business.
During my career, I've hired hundreds of people and fired a few too. Here are some of the most important insights I've gleaned the hard way:
1. Write up a job description that matters.
The best job descriptions don't just outline duties, responsibilities, and necessary skills. They also articulate how you want the work to be done, and the moral climate in which the company operates. If you're a fiercely competitive company that likes to pit teams against each other, say so. If customer or patient care is critical, don't assume that a candidate's empathy is a given. I'd say the how often matters more than the what but it's so hard to measure that most people prefer to ignore it. Do so at your peril.
2. Know the talent you already have.
Are you sure there isn't internal talent that might seize an open opportunity? Internal hires tend to do better than outsiders so if you promote from within you're likely to reduce your risk. You want to encourage the talent you already have so work hard to discover what you have before you go looking for more.
3. Align your values with your hiring process.
There's no point saying teamwork is important and then letting one person make the hiring decision. If you say you value instinct, then doing a wide array of personal and professional assessments probably isn't the way to go either. If you value creativity and risk-taking, don't set ridiculously hard problems that humiliate the people who can't solve them.
4. Use professional assessment tests for senior leaders.
Every HR professional I've spoken to argues that interviews don't work; everyone is so hopelessly biased that, however lengthy the interview process, results are just too subjective. So bring in a professional assessor who can match evaluations to the skills and qualities you are looking for. Using an outside assessor can save you from yourself because she won't be swayed by likeability.
5. Listen hard for dissenting voices.
If everyone loves your preferred candidate, something is wrong. No hire is perfect and there should be some dissenting voices around the table. What are the candidate's weaknesses? They may not be critical but they must exist and it's better to identify them (and figure out how to accommodate them) early.
6. Watch the salary negotiation like a hawk.
How people manage money will tell you a great deal about how they'll handle partners and customers. If you don't like what you see, pull the plug.
7. Start with a trial period.
I don't think you ever know anyone until you see them in action (and vice versa). So agree--for both your sakes--to a joint review after one to three months. Give very honest feedback and ask for it too. No new hire is ever as alert and insightful as at the beginning. Most companies lose all sense of how they come across to outsiders so this feedback is precious.
8. Assign mentors.
Most organizations are bad at explaining themselves. Each new hire should have someone she can turn to with questions. And, of course, this mentor should not be her boss. It's also important that everyone in your company is good at mentoring; if you're great with co-workers, you're more likely to be great with customers too. Mentoring new hires is excellent leadership training.
9. Never sell your organization.
Interviewing should be all about unfettered exploration, not persuasion. You shouldn't sell your company, and the candidates shouldn't sell themselves either. What you're after is an intelligent, adult discussion about what constitutes success within your company and within the candidate's professional and personal life. The stories have to be honest and fit.