When you're hiring a new employee, focusing on evaluating the “total candidate” is the last thing you should do.


Think about your hiring process. You work hard to find and select the right candidate. Not only do you evaluate skills and experience, you ask a lot of questions to determine if the candidate possesses qualities like attention to detail, interpersonal skills, leadership ability, problem-solving skills, etc.

Your process is exhaustive and, well, exhausting.

Still, while many of the people you hire turn out to be good employees, sadly few of them turn out to be what you really need: great employees.

Why? You took the job description approach to hiring.

Think about most job descriptions. They list a wide variety of qualifications the employee should possess. Typically, attributes like “self motivated,” “able to work with minimal supervision,” “able to prioritize and handle multiple tasks,” and “able to work well alone or as a member of a team,” are included.

So what do you do? You evaluate candidates with those requirements in mind. The candidate that ticks the most boxes is usually selected—and you hire good when you need great.

Now think about the great employees you know. Some are well rounded, some are not, but all have at least at least one incredible skill. They do at least one thing, one critical thing, so well that people are willing—even happy—to overlook some of their deficiencies. They may not “take a collaborative approach to problem solving,” but boy do they make your fulfillment facility sing.

In short, a great employee has what you really need. All other attributes on the job description, while important, still pale in comparison.

Next time you hire an employee, set the job description aside and take this approach instead.

1. Determine what you really need. Forget about finding a “well-rounded employee” (whatever that is). If you could only pick one or two attributes, what are the most important skills or qualities you need?

Keep in mind those attributes will often change depending on your current needs and the skills your other employees possess. Ignore the job description. Get a blank piece of paper and write down what you really need the employee you hire to do.

2. Decide what you really don’t need. When you’re ticking off boxes on a list of qualifications it’s easy to forget that you simply can’t live with some attributes, regardless of how solid the candidate otherwise appears. Complete this sentence about a theoretical employee: "I don't care how great she is, I would still let her go because she ________." Those are your no-go attributes. Never lose sight of them.

3. Do a first pass. Set aside any candidate that doesn’t have what you really need. Don’t be tempted by the, “Wow, she really has a wide range of skills,” candidate. If she doesn’t bring the one or two attributes you really need, she’ll be a good employee, but she’s not likely to be great.

4. Conduct highly focused interviews. Spend 10 percent of your time assessing general qualities and 90 percent of your time ensuring the candidate truly has what you need. Dig in. Ask for examples. Ask lots of follow-up questions. Write everything down.

Then check references and use your notes to help you ask specific questions. Sure, some companies won’t provide any information, but many—especially small businesses—will. (Many will say they are not allowed to give out information about previous employees. When that happens, say, “I understand. I’m just really worried I might a mistake. Can you just say, if you were me, whether you would hire him?” You'll be surprised by how many people will want to help you out with a whispered "yes" or "no.")

Then, if two or three candidates are still in the hunt...

5. Assess the “total employee.” If a few candidates appear relatively equal in terms of what you really need, then decide which one best meets your other, more subjective criteria. Conduct a second interview if necessary. Or let other employees interview the remaining candidates.

At this point you can afford to evaluate “nice to have” qualities because you’ve done everything possible to identify candidates that have the attributes you truly need.