A wise person once said, “You must judge people, because the wrong man can kill you.” Hyperbole aside, the meaning is well met. You really want to get to know someone before you enter a relationship with them, be it as their supervisor, their subordinate, or sometimes even their provider.
In each of these scenarios you want to view the process as a sharply narrowing funnel, where subsequent stages are reached only if the lower-cost, earlier stages check out. Today I’m going to look at hiring employees, and later I’ll share some thoughts about picking the right boss and customers (yes, sometimes you get to choose).
Hiring employees is easy if you go about it right, but it can go horribly wrong and consume a lot of time if you put the cart before the horse. Here are the steps I recommend:
- Say in your job posting what you’re actually looking for.
- For instance, if you really won’t consider someone without a certain degree, don’t pretend to be more open-minded than you are. Say so. Just be careful that you don’t overspecify (this applies especially to corporate HR departments using bots to screen 25,000 resumes to zero).
- The goal here is to have a large number of people self-select out of the process, before you even know about it.
- Caveat: If you have more than 15 employees, it is illegal to inquire about the following:
- Race, gender, religion, family status, disabilities, and
- Ethnic background, and
- Country of origin (ask if they’re authorized to work in the US instead), per http://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/2000e-16.htm
- Sexual orientation, per http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employment_Non-Discrimination_Act
- Military service, per http://fhp.osd.mil/pdfs/userra.pdf
- Marital status, per http://www.unmarriedamerica.org/ms-statutes.htm
- Age, depending on whether they’re a contractor or not:
- If you treat everyone equally, you can ask about height, weight, club membership, or being a minor, per http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/childlbr.htm
- Caveat: If you have more than 50 employees and government contracts greater than $50,000, you also need an affirmative action plan.
- For most professional jobs, take both resumes and cover letters.
- Read them in small batches so you get into the mindset.
- Fill out a score sheet of your own design with each one.
- If they scored too low to be viable, make a note and put their materials aside.
- Use the telephone.
- Use email to invite high scorers to a low-key phone call. “Would you be available for a chat sometime Friday afternoon?”
- Beforehand, create a prompt sheet to remind you which key areas you want to hit upon.
- When the time comes, call them from a quiet place. “Hi, this is So-and-So from Acme Co. calling for What’s-Your-Name.”
- Small talk goes a long way towards getting the conversation going smoothly. Prepare to talk about something banal, like the weather, just to get them going. Ask them how their day’s been going so far.
- If the interview starts out shakey, try to keep them talking for at least 15 minutes. Especially with inexperienced hires, sometimes people need a lot of time to get their best foot forward.
- Ask open-ended questions from your prompt sheet, trying to fit them naturally into a conversation, rather than announcing stiffly that you “will now proceed to question three.”
- If your phone call reveals problems, make a note and put their materials aside.
- If their job is very technical, have a technical person speak with them a second time.
- Give up to an hour, if need be. Have the technical person use their own prompt sheet to hit all the key areas.
- If the technical call reveals problems, make a note and put their materials aside.
- Assuming the phone calls went well, arrange an on-site.
- These are hugely expensive. You’ll spend a couple of hours with them, give them a tour, and interrupt their day, yours, and your coworkers’. Do this only if you expect it will work out.
- Use the time on-site to test what they’re going to be doing. Ask them to prepare a presentation in advance, or draft something in CAD the day-of, or talk about accounting. Ask them to do anything within reason that will give you an idea of whether they’ll work well.
- Debrief with the team soon afterwards. Invite all employees who met the interviewee to the same debrief, regardless of their position in the company.
- As the hiring supervisor or HR person who brought them in, you’re probably still in favor of their getting an offer. Tell the group if this is no longer the case, and why.
- Assuming you’re still in favor, you must play Devil’s Advocate to ferret out the reasons why this person won’t work for the rest of the team.
- Communicate quickly.
- The best folks don’t wait around. If you want to give an offer, don’t wait, give an offer.
- If you’ve decided they’re not a fit, wait a day to give it due consideration and then say so in so many words. Don’t offer suggestions for improvement unless they ask.
- Keep records.
- If, heavens forbid, your hiring practices are called into question, you want to be able to pull up a document indicating that you’ve done nothing immoral or illegal.
- Review how many folks you screened at each step, and whether there were any expensive surprises toward the end of the process. Try to avoid those by rewriting the prompt sheets for next time.
You can adapt this process to suit your own business. And remember that the goal in this rigor is ultimately to save yourself time by weeding out candidates who won’t do and by getting quickly and fairly to the next great addition to your team.
For further reading, I recommend:
- Endurance, Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. A short section describes how Shackleton could size someone up after a few minutes, and the rest of the traumatic voyage proves that some people like Shackleton are superlatively good judges of character. For the rest of us, let’s use the funnel process.
- Winning by Jack Welch, for the “four E’s and a P” metric used to evaluate future leaders.