How to Avoid America’s Biggest Hiring Mistake

Nov 8, 2012

One of my frustrations with the recently completed political campaigns was the implication that if we elected Candidate A, our business problems would be solved. You and I know that’s not true; an organization determines its own fate. We have the ability to navigate towards success — especially if you’re a recruiter or hiring manager.

Here’s a mistake holding back many businesses: recruiters and hiring managers overemphasize industry experience and immediately dismiss candidates who do not have specific job-related experience. That might be fine if you’re hiring a doctor or a mechanic. But for most jobs in the business or non-profit sectors, it’s not the right tactic.

Companies miss out on candidates who, if taught the necessary skills, could be excellent employees. It’s unwise to base your conclusions solely on a candidate’s résumé or LinkedIn profile. Always be on the lookout for people who have the personality and character that can advance your organization.

I’m known in some HR circles as the author of a hiring book, but my full-time job is president of a publishing company. A little over two years ago our operations manager resigned, and the first person I called and asked to consider the position was someone who had zero publishing experience. I knew he possessed excellent critical thinking and people management skills based on this real-life experience he and I shared.

I had crossed paths with Kyle off-and-on over the years in recreational basketball leagues. When a neighbor of mine told my wife about shoddy treatment she received from a local fitness center (where Kyle worked as a manager), I gave him a call.

Kyle promptly responded to my voice mail. He immediately called me back and asked several detailed questions.

That same day he called my neighbor and invited her back to the fitness center for a personal discussion with him. Kyle called me after his meeting with my neighbor to thank me again and give me an update. She was signing a year-long contract with them, all in part to Kyle’s fast thinking and personal attention. A few days later I received a thank you letter from Kyle with a gift certificate to his fitness center.

That happened a few months before our ops manager position opened up, so the example was fresh in my mind. In the nearly two years Kyle has been on our team, he has excelled. Yes, he had to learn the ins and outs of publishing and still has knowledge to gain, but we’re happy to pay that price. His annual review is coming up soon, and here’s some feedback I’ve received from Kyle’s co-workers:

  • “His word is good: When Kyle tells you something, you know it will happen, and you’ll get an update on how things are going/went. He tracks you down and gives you the update and checks to make sure the results are what we needed.”
  • “Every time I go to Kyle with a question or issue, he works hard to answer and resolve it as soon as possible. He communicates well, always remains calm, and is always working in earnest to help those around him.”
  • “Kyle’s humility was the foundation for building a relationship with me. He has never been the big shot trying to tell vs. ask, he admits his shortcomings, regularly gives credit, and always thinks of others first. I have developed a great respect for him as a person and manager.”
  • “I think Kyle is one of the more amazing people at this company. His capacity to understand an issue and/or take on a problem seems almost endless.”

My company has found these eight questions reveal aspects of a candidate’s character and decision-making skills:

  1. Give me an example of a time when you had to do the hard thing or have a difficult conversation. Here are some examples: telling someone “no”; selling someone on doing things your way; managing someone’s expectations.
  2. Tell me about a problem you’ve had with someone you encountered on a regular basis. How did you solve it?
  3. Not everyone immediately agrees with our decisions. Tell me about a decision you made and how you gained acceptance from others.
  4. Give an example of something you accomplished that others around you said couldn’t be done and how you got it done.
  5. Can you tell me a couple of examples of systems or processes you installed that didn’t exist in the company before you worked there? How did you ensure those systems didn’t erode? How did you make sure they operated successfully for years?
  6. Can you give me an example of a time when you had to solve a really complex problem that required multiple steps across weeks or months?
  7. Tell me about a time you dealt with an angry or frustrated customer.
  8. What are the top three lessons you’ve learned in your professional life?

Keep in mind those questions won’t help a lick if your hiring gyroscope isn’t aligned correctly. Don’t focus only on experience in your industry. Instead, hold out to hire candidates with the right character traits and sound decision-making abilities.

Happy hiring!

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