Have you ever hired someone and then regretted it? Of course you have--it's happened to every leader. And every time it happens, you wonder if you can avoid ever having it happen again.
You can, with a few precautions and careful questions, according to Ratmir Timashev, CEO of backup software startup Veeam. Having survived a few bad hires, he's developed a process for determining which candidates will work out well and which likely won't.
Here's how he does it:
1. Use blind references.
"Blind" references are people who've worked with a candidate in the past but are not on the list of references he or she provides. In today's world, social media, Internet searches, and trade groups make it easier than ever to track down people who knew a candidate in the past and ask for information about a former employee's strengths and weaknesses. The practice remains controversial, although Netflix CEO Reed Hastings claims he depends on it. So does Timashev. "The most important thing during the hiring process is blind references," he declares.
If you're going to contact blind references, it's a good idea to let the candidate know that's what you're planning--those who've done their homework will likely already know if this is something you usually do. You should also avoid contacting candidates' current employers unless you have their permission to do so.
2. Pay close attention to what candidates ask during an interview.
""At my first startup, I hired the wrong SVP of sales," Timashev recalls. "The guy was asking for many perks--car, housing, memberships, and time off for other board of director duties--during package negotiations."
That should have been a red flag, he says now. "He came from a large corporate environment where he could hide, and he was not planning to work hard for us." After 15 months on the job, the new SVP had produced no significant deals, only repeated promises of great things to come, and Timashev let him go.
3. Look for the specific experience you need.
If you're hiring someone whom you plan to train, then personality, attitude, and intelligence are the key qualities to look for. But if you want someone to arrive already knowing how to do an important job, then make sure that candidate has done it before. Avoid job-seekers who haven't "been there, done that," Timashev says.
4. Ask how they will duplicate past successes at your company.
"We want the people who've been successful, but maybe have made mistakes along the way and can help us avoid them," Timashev says. "If you're not making mistakes, you're not working hard enough and not taking risks--but you need to learn from them and not make the same ones twice. When we're hiring we look for people who can clearly explain why they were successful and how they can repeat that process here." Don't hire someone who can't provide an articulate answer to that question, he cautions.
5. Check for cultural fit.
One of the things that made the perk-loving SVP such a bad fit for Timashev's first startup is that the SVP had spent his whole career at large corporations and wasn't used to the hard work and team effort that are common at a startup. Hire a bad cultural fit and your new employee will likely demoralize the rest of your team until he or she leaves--which may not be long.
To avoid this problem, once you've determined that a candidate can do the job well, follow up by having your other team members conduct cultural interviews. Their evaluations should help you know whether the candidate will make an effective--or disruptive--member of your team.