An increasing number of senior managers and executives are intimately involved in the recruitment, interviewing and hiring of their staff, whereas in the past they may had the assistance of an HR professional. Without receiving training on how to hire well, they are left to their own devices, often with expensive and disastrous outcomes. Senior management can certainly use some hiring tips to lessen the likelihood of a bad hire.
The time it takes to screen applicants’ resumes and interview them can be excessive if the specific targets of the hire are not spelled out ahead of time. In a number of cases I have seen, a hiring manager will approach resume screening and interviewing the same way we sometimes approach a buffet: try a bunch of items, with the hopes that one will appeal to you, and at that point, discover what we are looking for. What I would suggest is to decide what you want before looking. Searching for something that you cannot define and articulate will, of course, make finding it pretty tough. Time is money, and the time it takes to screen 50 resumes and conduct 10 interviews only to then discover that these applicants are not what you want would be a waste.
The absence of specific hiring criteria can also result in management using what is often referred to as “a gut feeling” when hiring staff. The problem with this “gut feeling” is that it is subject to bias and error. Despite the musings of Malcolm Gladwell in his best selling book “Blink”, snap judgments of people have been shown to be rife with inaccuracies. For example, we are inclined to positively evaluate people we like and negatively evaluate those we don’t like. This bias toward those we are fond of is sometimes so strong that it can cause us to overlook more important competencies. Our “liking” of a person is not based on an objective assessment of their knowledge, skills and abilities, it is purely emotional.
The cost of a purely emotional decision in a hiring scenario can be very costly if we discover later that these competencies are not there and we have to terminate them – a severance package, hiring and training another person, not to mention the time/money spent getting the initial applicant on board. This can also be costly in terms of your own reputation.
One VP I worked with went through at least 6 administrative assistants in one year, with each one either leaving or getting laid off, largely because they could not get along with him. In the end, this inability to hold on to staff was viewed by his boss as management incompetence. After some work with this VP, his boss and the HR department, we discovered that the real incompetence was in the hiring process – the HR department was doing all the hiring, never involving the VP in the process. In doing so HR used their own hiring criteria. They did not take into account the realities of what skills were required to work with this VP. The VP never discussed these specific needs with HR, and HR never asked. And while the two blamed each other for the bad hires, the reality was that the organization as a whole was loosing. Once the specific hiring criteria were discussed and articulated by the VP, the HR department was able to get someone on board that was a better fit.
The notion of “fit” is the most crucial for senior managers taking part in the recruitment of their staff. But fit is often misunderstood. Fit is not just about having the right education and experience, nor is it purely about a manager’s “gut feeling”. Senior management needs to ask themselves questions like “What are the takeaways from education/experience that will be applicable to this job?” and “What sort of social and emotional skills will enable someone to manage the pace, scope and relationships in this job?” Asking these sorts of questions and devising interview or other techniques to screen for them will help management articulate exactly what they are looking for.