Great hires / bad hires: how to tell the difference BEFORE you make the offer

You hire someone. They don’t work out. They leave. What is it that you remember and say about them in the past tense? It’s rarely the fact that they didn’t know how to work the numbers, or that they couldn’t put the pieces of a widget together. No, it’s almost always their soft skills that generate conversation—their personality, character and values.

Two recent scenarios from my personal experience serve as good examples: A multi-generation family-run, team-oriented company in Michigan was about to hire a sales person who had all the skills needed to fill the role and an impressive track record. Before making the hire, they wisely chose to get an assessment of him. In an interview that was part of the assessment, the candidate went into a rage when questioned more deeply about his background. His temper was missed in the normal interview process. Discovering this major flaw before they made the mistake of hiring this key person saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Another company was not so careful and made a bad hire. This company had strong values: everyone counts; everyone is part of the team; decisions are made by consensus. When a candidate with a strong hierarchical bent was hired, he lasted just thirty days. The disruption was significant, as were the costs.

Go beyond the tactical

Most companies tend toward the tactical in their hiring practices, focusing on long lists of competencies, specific experience required and other hard skills. These are important, of course. Equally important is how the person you hire will fit into your culture, their soft skills. No one would list drama queen, insensitivity, trouble meeting deadlines or poor ethics as qualities they’d like to bring into their companies. But, by not checking out the soft skills, those are exactly the traits you risk hiring. You may also lose your A-players when you make bad hires; they don’t have to tolerate a difficult work environment. As many companies have experienced, the costs and other consequences of a bad hire can be extreme.

Begin with the end in mind
The solution? Begin with the end in mind. Start by thinking about the soft skills that will fit into your organization; then consider the hard skills necessary for the job. Culture, then candidate.

Your company’s values should serve as the foundation for hiring decisions: Who are your customers and how do you choose to serve them? What gives synergy to your teams? Who are the great hires in your organization and what about them helped them succeed in your culture? And what was it, specifically, that kept others from fitting in? These are things you need to understand even before you write the job description. And they tell you what to look for in the interview.

What is it you need to learn in order to understand a candidate’s culture fit? Following are some of the things you need to get to in the interview process and through assessment: How they treat other people on the team; how the people they work with will most likely relate to them; how their interpersonal skills will impact their performance and that of the team; what motivates them and what turns them off; how they process information; how well they communicate; how they react under pressure; how they demonstrate leadership—and how all of these things mesh with your culture. Understanding a candidate’s hard skills is definitely the easy part of the hiring process.

Take your time interviewing. Ask candidates about their previous job, what they liked and didn’t like, and then let them talk. Don’t be afraid of silence. Let the candidate fill the gaps. You’ll discover much of what you need to know. And as you interview and assess candidates, keep in mind that cultural fit can’t be developed.

As Jack Welch said, “You cannot have a black hole in your organization where a star should be.” A star for your company is someone with the hard skills to do the job and the personality, character and values that match your culture. Anything less is a high risk business decision.

Views: 86

Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on August 11, 2009 at 12:17pm
Great post! Also......take them bowling with several of the key team members (or something similar). That tends to show how they play in the pen! It's always telling.
Comment by Kathleen Quinn Votaw on August 11, 2009 at 12:20pm
Great idea, Peter! Thanks for your comment.
Comment by Tom Janz on August 11, 2009 at 1:31pm
Being in the assessment biz, of course I second Peter's comment on 'Great Post'. The problem with Peter's recommendation (which we would call an observed simulation) is that the time and cost involved means you can only take the top 1 or 2 candidates to that level. Fortunately, research proves that there are online assessments that uncover soft skill competencies more accurately, cost much less, and take none of your time (See Schmidt and Hunter, 1998, Psychological Bulletin for the cumulative knowledge of 85 years objective research on assessment). We are working to bring down costs to the lowest possible level while increasing the candidate brand experience, so that many more candidates can be assessed, resulting in more stars and achievers being placed -- with all the financial benefits you mentioned.
Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on August 11, 2009 at 4:06pm
I've done these type of activities in the past when hiring at the VP and Officer level and in addition to an assessment, it was always very telling. Typically we'd back away from Candidate #1 and go with #2 instead. Not all of the time, but some of the time. And although time consuming, it's far less expensive than making a bad hire and replacing someone at a high level in less than a year.
Comment by Kathleen Quinn Votaw on August 11, 2009 at 5:00pm
Great dialogue to all. Our firm partners with two select assessment providers to give the client another objective data point.

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