Hiring is like meeting a new guy or girl you like for the first time. This wonderful person walks into your office and the two of you make a perfect connection right off the bat. You like the other person’s vibe, how the person looks, and he or she seems to fit all your necessary requirements. You know how many business owners and hiring managers say, “I just really like the candidate, I think he (or she) will do great!” (I am pretty sure you have all either said or heard someone say something exactly like this before.)
In relationships, it’s called the infatuation stage; in hiring, I call it the hiring by gut stage.
President George W. Bush put it an interesting spin on the expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” He may have misquoted the famous saying, but that’s what we are covering today: Most of us have been there and made that mistake. We fall in love with a candidate, think the person is great, and later learn our dream candidate was anything but. Bush unintentionally hit the nail on the head when he said, “… fool me, can’t get fooled again.” Well, many of us get fooled time and time again, so it may be time to start taking drastic measures to end the cycle.
“Hiring by gut” sounds great, but it is really an excuse for not taking the time to thoroughly investigate a candidate before hiring. Most candidates have more experience, training, and interviewing practice than most interviewers have interviewing. Recruiters can also be the most biased bunch around because they get paid when an executive uses their gut to hire a candidate who looks good on the surface. Recruiters and hiring managers need to look at what they are doing in more objective terms. But as an interviewer this can be a hard sell because there is a lot pressure when you are desperate to hire someone. Let’s explore a few of the most common reasons we get emotionally attached to candidates.
Most often, there is a sense of desperation. When you are shorthanded, all of us will do just about anything to alleviate the pain — even if it means putting the wrong person in place. Moreover, desperation clouds our judgment. When our pain reaches a certain threshold, we will do almost anything to stop it. The feeling that there are no better options, or that this is as good as it gets, overwhelms our thinking and we unconsciously lower our standards.
Most successful leaders are right more often than not; it’s hard to imagine them being able to get it so wrong when it comes to hiring. Most leaders are very competent and capable people who often excel in their own areas of expertise. This means they may be good judges of what great marketing material looks like, but that skill doesn’t directly translate to understanding what makes a great marketing person — and it definitely doesn’t translate to being a great interviewer or judge of character. The next time you are faced with the thought, “Oh, I’ve got this. It’s just like picking a new vendor or selling a new client on our services,” stop yourself and recognize the serious need to take a carefully thought out approach.
Most great leaders are impulsive, impatient, and poor listeners. This is a deadly combination for hiring. Think about what it takes to lead a team; quick decisions and risk taking are valuable and admirable assets to a strong leader. Again, these qualities don’t necessarily translate to making effective hiring decisions — in fact, they can cause leaders to make fatal mistakes. Interviewing takes a methodical, patient, and inquisitive approach to really find out what a candidate is all about. On the surface, you will only see the greatness of a candidate, but there is always a dark side lurking — you just have to find it. Once you know the good, the bad, and the ugly, can you then start making smart hiring decisions.
To fix these deficiencies, recognize why you make emotional hiring decisions. It may be for one of the reasons discussed above or it may be for some other reason. Either way, recognizing your own weaknesses is the first step to recovery. Here are some ways to address the three big ones:
When you are faced with a desperate need for a warm body, stop yourself and consider the short- and long-term consequences. If you hire someone right away, the pain begins to subside. Once you realize you’ve made a mistake, which will probably occur six months down the road, it’s too late to fix it. The damage is done. Time spent correcting mistakes made by the new person hurts, even though you may chalk them up to the learning curve. Eventually, you will be faced with the choice of letting that person go and starting all over again … or keeping the person and settling for mediocrity.
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So think it through. The short-term pain and strain on your team is well worth the wait; in fact, your team will respect you more for not rushing into a poor hire because they often feel the brunt of this coworker’s ineptitude and knack for problem generating. You may also consider using temporary workers while you find Mr. or Ms. Right; this can take the pressure off a bit and help you clarify your judgment.
Face the facts: You may not know it all. You may be an expert in your IT or marketing world, but those skills will not automatically make you a great interviewer or hiring manager. Admit this, go get help, and follow the advice you get. Practice interviewing, read some of the many books available out there, and lean on others in your organization who don’t have a dog in your race to hire someone.
Create a system — a plan of attack — that includes enough steps to distance yourself from the emotional connection you get when you meet someone you really like. This would include getting and listening to other people’s opinions about the candidate. Have multiple interviews and a “job shadow day” to get to know your potential new hire really well — and vice versa. Use the same objective interview questions for every candidate, no matter what. If you implement a process and stick with it, you will be able to compare your candidates to each another more objectively in each step.
Ultimately, we all deal with emotional connections with candidates. We are going to have to work with these people daily for a very long time, so it should feel right. But feeling right isn’t the whole story, so make sure your process gives you enough room to let your emotions settle in between steps in the selection process, and make sure to solicit and listen to other internal leaders’ opinions. Finally, be consistent in your process and with the questions you ask, because you will never be able to compare candidates objectively if they are not measured by the same criteria.
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