Hiring Well is More Important Than Ever

March 7, 2015

It used to be when hiring someone you needed to determine whether the person could do the job (skills and experience) and whether he or she wants to do the job (motivation). But that didn’t always result in getting the best people.

We now know there’s a lot more required to succeed in today’s workplace than your expertise and attitude. Experience, knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes are all important yet not easily distilled from current resumes, job applications, interviews and reference checks.

Most companies are looking for a particular set of skills and experience to fill a given need at the current time. But how can companies ensure whether a candidate can do the critical thinking necessary to resolve tomorrow’s challenges?

The white collar workplace has changed a lot in the last twenty years. It’s a lot less formal and much more collaborative. There are more demands, but also more freedom for how and where the work gets done. And technology has dramatically accelerated the pace of change.

Communication skills, critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, creativity, emotional intelligence and the ability to continue learning are all critical to success. But these abilities are not easily distilled in the usual way we go about securing the right people.

Seek to understand which interpersonal behaviors will complement or combust in your existing culture. Determine whether a given candidate is right for the organization, but also whether the organization is right for him or her.

In How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, the Google executive authors explain how in the Internet Century the best method for hiring people is not the model used in corporate America, but in academia. Universities rarely lay off professors because they invest so much time in getting the right faculty by using committees.

Google doesn’t leave hiring people to the hiring manager, but instead charge this to more objective peer-based committees to determine whether the candidate is ultimately the right fit for the role and for the company.

In order to hire a “smart creative” at Google, everything about each candidate must be contained in a packet that committee members can digest in a matter of 120 seconds. Along with a resume and other documents, this packet contains reviewer comments and the “yea” or “nay” decision from the four to five Googlers who interviewed the person.

At Google, finding the right people is everyone’s job. Recruiters are there to manage the process, but every employee is responsible for recruiting.

Google’s Hiring Dos and Don’ts

  • Hire people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are.
  • Don’t hire people you can’t learn from or be challenged by.
  • Hire people who will add value to the product and our culture.
  • Don’t hire people who won’t contribute well to both.
  • Hire people who get things done.
  • Don’t hire people who just think about problems.
  • Hire people who are enthusiastic, self-motivated, and passionate.
  • Don’t hire people who just want a job.
  • Hire people who inspire and work well with others.
  • Don’t hire people who prefer to work alone.
  • Hire people who will grow with your team and with the company.
  • Don’t hire people with narrow skill sets or interests.
  • Hire people who are well rounded, with unique interests and talents.
  • Don’t hire people who only live to work.
  • Hire people who are ethical and who communicate openly.
  • Don’t hire people who are political or manipulative.
  • Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate.
  • Don’t settle for anything less.

A lot more should be done on the front end to clearly define what you’re looking for, so take the time to determine the ideal traits for the position. And widen the net beyond the usual channels to enable the candidate to find you.

“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently told the audience at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “It’s a pretty good test and I think this rule has served me well.”

Experience, knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes are all important and it is therefore vital to critically assess how the candidate measures up in each of these. And don’t restrict finding the best people to human resources or recruiters. Make hiring well the most important element in your organization to achieve optimal success.

photo credit: Needle In A Haystack via photopin (license)

Knowing Your Weaknesses Makes You Strong

June 1, 2013

“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.” – Cha’n Master Fuchan Yuan

In a recent Wall Street Journal article Famous Job Interviews Through the Ages, Joe Queenan states that asking job applicants what their weaknesses are is a stupid question.

“This is a rude, intrusive question, and nobody should be required to answer it,” Queenan says. “It is a trick question designed to put the applicant at a disadvantage.”

Although Queenan’s article is meant to poke fun at how famous historical figures would answer many of today’s standard interview questions, it’s clear that he seriously thinks there is no value in questions such as the above.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Open ended questions like what are your weaknesses can indicate a level of self-awareness, which I believe is very important. Being able to articulate your mistakes and failures demonstrates that you may have learned something from them rather than simply been successful at hiding them.

As any journalist knows, there is an art to asking questions that get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes direct questions are best and sometimes it’s better to take a more nuanced approach. Regardless, if you want to really judge whether someone is up to the task at hand, you should ask open-ended questions that enable the candidate to reveal who they are.

Leaders who know their strengths and weaknesses and can articulate them to others effectively demonstrates the self-awareness necessary to lead others. This ability also indicates a certain amount of humility and perhaps this is something missing in our leaders more than any other trait.

Queenen goes on, “ . . . the presumption that people have weaknesses is un-American. It is defeatist and sad. The whole point of being American is to feel invincible, that one is incapable of being improved upon.”

This reminds me of the U.S. education system compared with others around the world. While our students are no longer among the strongest in mathematics and other disciplines, we remain highest in our confidence.

Can this confidence and feeling of invincibility therefore override our weaknesses? I suggest it cannot and we would be foolish to think it can.

While I am all for building confidence in ourselves, I think doing this at the expense of acknowledging our weaknesses can be problematic. It can also lead us into trouble because we end up hiring the wrong people, listening to the wrong pundits, and following the wrong leaders.

Think of the overly confident CEO who takes a company down the wrong path leading to bankruptcy and lay-offs. Or a President of the country who takes our soldiers into harm’s way in wars he is confident about.

While focusing on weaknesses too much will never get anyone hired, those who are aware of their own weaknesses are more likely to deal with them. A CEO would hire others with strengths to complement his or her own competency. A President could include expert advisors capable of telling the leader of the free world when he or she is mistaken.

Any employee worth hiring should be aware of and capable of articulating their weaknesses. As much as we all want to hire confident employees, don’t minimize the importance of humility in them. Employees who are aware of and can articulate their weaknesses are stronger employees.