An intuitive hiring principle is that a company's extraordinary outcome starts with its intake.
This is easier said than done: the "best companies to work for" spend considerable time and resources refining and evolving their hiring capability precisely because of its criticality. These companies become hiring experts with an incredibly positive approach.
Anything less than being an expert is avocational, casual, or amateur. This is a fine attitude for a hobby - as an approach to hiring it is incredibly negative.
As a Founder CEO or hiring manager in a growth-stage company, you don't need to compete to be on a best company list -- you are competing to ensure that your startup has a future. There are few decisions as important as deciding who to include in the team. How can you accomplish this with anything less than full, positive expertise?
Adopt the Candidate's View
One way to determine if your hiring is positive or negative is to adopt the perspective of a candidate moving through the process. Here are some key steps to consider:
- Negative: You are not treated as a prospective stakeholder. Mistreating candidates (besides being simply wrong) harms a company's reputation in the market, discourages employees from making referrals, and sends a signal that people are disposable.
- Positive: You participate in a process that allows both parties the opportunity to fully evaluate and interview the other. Each exchange usually ends with you wanting to continue; whatever the outcome, you feel the process was professional and fair.
- Negative: You feel a lack of structure and intent. Communication is sporadic or delayed; the process drags on; interviews are too brief or lack substance; multiple interviewers asking the same kinds of questions, etc. An alarm should sound when an interviewer opens with, "Have I seen your resume?"
- Positive: You know which step is next, when, and what, if anything, to prepare. Interviews feel structured and focused on a topic. At the end of each step, the follow-up is clear.
- Negative: You meet with uneven or dysfunctional interviewers. Someone is arrogant (on a power trip), uncomfortable (insecure or unsure), unqualified (not good at interviewing), or inexperienced (not trained or practiced.) The meetings are excruciating, and certainly won't generate good hiring decisions.
- Positive: Your interviewers treat you as a qualified professional. They know that the company has goals to meet and problems to solve - and they need help doing this. They don't expect you to decipher a secret code of the hiring process, but treat the meeting as a scenario of actually working together.
- Negative: You are asked questions that are narrow, unclear, at the wrong level, or an ambush masquerading as a well-intentioned query. An interviewer starts by asking you about the company: "What do we do?" (This is a useless test. A much better question is, "At this stage, what do you know about our business model and what do you want to learn?"
- Positive: You are asked concrete questions about how you and the role align, and discuss the immediate and longer-term needs of the business. There is an actual conversation, not the interviewer following a check-list and finishing with, "We're almost out of time - do you have any questions for me?"
Interviewing Experienced People for Growth
- Negative: You are an experienced person pursuing a role to help with a growth phase, and are interviewed by a much more junior person who clearly is not used to doing this. He or she talks about the tactical/transactional - and when you try to connect these to a strategic/growth level, you are rebuffed.
- Positive: You are interviewed by an early-stage executive (who may be inexperienced) who discusses the context of the planned growth; what needs to change and how; and the reasons for now needing new, more experienced people in the business. This exec demonstrates leadership and a commitment to the shared purpose.
Consequences of Inexpert Hiring
A fair degree of ad-hoc hiring is tolerable when a company is a handful of people around a large table.
However, once you have several tables, traction, funding, and double-digit growth expectations, the approach must shift quickly from a purely transactional mindset to balancing the tactical with the strategic - and how to ensure that all the individual transactions align with the growth plan.
Growth companies need to hire more for tomorrow than today, and risk a serious downside if they don't choose to evolve their recruiting by becoming positive hiring experts.
The consequences of the wrong choice are severe.