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Hiring Only the Best? Big Mistake

Don't be fooled: The best person for the job is not always the one with the hottest skills or the biggest reputation.

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As your company grows beyond your initial start-up team, nothing should be more obvious than that you should always hire the best person you can afford. Being able to recruit a big-name player validates your company's promise in the eyes of the world. And besides, the company is your baby, and no sales all-star or programming genius is too good for your baby. Right?

Well, no. Hiring top people with no consideration for anything but their rock-star status can actually impede  your company's growth. Think of it as putting together a band. By focusing strictly on top skills and expertise, you risk of putting together the equivalent of a band full of lead singers. You could end up with personality clashes and teams that don't work well together. In addition, if your best players are not aligned with your company's culture, they'll be less engaged with customers and more likely to leave--and to leave you with an unstable workplace and a talent vacuum where they used to be.

So, hard as it may be to turn down a rock-star if you can get one, you shouldn't be looking for the "best" developer, customer service rep, or purchasing manager. What you really want is the best such person who matches your work ethic and supports the culture you've built.  You don't want the best. You want the best fit.

Cultural values trump market value

At FreshBooks, skills are only half of what we hire for. In fact, if we had an official hiring algorithm, it would be 49% skills and 51% values. People can always learn new skills, but you you can't teach integrity or ethics.

One caution: Hiring based on cultural fit is different from hiring people who fit in. You should not be looking to build a team of clones where everyone shares the same political beliefs, likes the same sports team, or enjoys the same activities. The idea of culture fit runs much deeper: You want your new hires to support the core values your business is based on. At FreshBooks, we call that collection of core values PORCHFEST. That stands for Passion, Ownership, Results, Change,  Honesty, Fun, Empathy, Striving, and Trust.

Trust your gut

Hiring for fit takes discipline. You're in the job market because you need to be: Maybe you need to add another developer to meet a client deadline or an account manager to handle a big new account, and so when you find a  candidate who looks great on paper, it's very tempting to make the offer.

Before you do that, though, stop and listen to your gut. Ask yourself: Does this person share our values? Is he someone I want to spend time with? Is she passionate about what she does? Can I communicate with him? If you have any doubts, even if you can't put your finger on the specifics, keep looking.

Don't be a slave to the job description

If a candidate's personality matters as much to you as his or her skills--and it should--then you should find yourself frequently hiring outside the box. For example, we've found that theater majors make great customer service agents, since they're typically empathetic, expressive, and open to coaching. But had we insisted on the standard three years' experience in customer service, we might never have found them.

Remember that the business you're building is made up of people, not resumes. To assemble the team that will grow your company, you need to hire more than just top skills. You need to hire trust, strong communication, and, above all, shared values. Hire for fit and teach the rest.

This piece was written by David Wexler, Freshbooks' vice president of human relations.

Last updated: Apr 8, 2013




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