This did not start out as a blog post.

It started out as a response to a comment made on a blog that I frequent -- a business blog focused on venture capital, technology, entrepreneurism and innovation where I sometimes find opportunity to offer insight from my experience as a recruiter.

In this particular instance, the comment stream shifted to hiring and the following statement was made about predicting how a hire will work out, which motivated me to chime in: "You will still never really know until that person gets behind the wheel of their role."

Here is how I responded:

To some extent, what you've said is true, but you can definitely minimize the negative surprises both for the company and for the new hire.

Granted, most of my experience in recent years is with senior level or executive hiring, but here are a few tips that I think can translate into most professional level roles:

Go with the old adage that the past is the best predictor of the future. So this makes it even more imperative that interviewing must be behavioral.

Look for people who have made mistakes and have learned from them -- and don't repeat them. The higher the level of responsibility the more important this is. If someone hasn't had a significant failure then assume it is yet to come and realize that it could happen at your company. Doesn't mean that it will, but well...that's the gamble. If they haven't processed and learned from past failures or mistakes -- and made behavioral changes as a result, there is a strong possibility this will be repeated.

Understand motivations and how the person makes choices and decisions. For instance, what has been the reason behind job changes -- why left? what attracted?

Focus more on the person than on knowledge and skills. I'm not saying that knowledge and skills are unimportant, but, the package they come in is infinitely more important. For instance, do the person's workplace values match those of the organization? When they look into the future, what do they want out of life and their career? What choices and decisions have they made to support this? What goals have they set and accomplished?

When talking about past accomplishments, look not only at what was accomplished, but how it was accomplished and how much direct influence the individual actually had on the results produced. Accomplishments can be deceiving without some context.

Look for patterns. Patterns are there. Look for patterns. Patterns are there. Patterns repeat.

Stay objective and be fearless in the discovery process. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself -- mind the little checks that you get. Never fall in love with a candidate.

No candidate is perfect, so know what your non-negotiables are, where you are willing to make trade-offs and make them with your eyes wide open.

When you do references, ask pointed questions and pay as much attention to what the reference doesn't say as to what s/he does say.

This is not exhaustive, but get the general idea?

Lastly, what I think it is important to note is that a lot of bad hires result not so much from hiring the wrong person but from hiring for the wrong organization or even the wrong job. In other words, make sure you have a realistic and honest understanding of the environment and the job you are hiring for. Make certain that you are hiring for the organization that actually "is" rather than the one that is in your mind or that you want it to be. I don't mean that you should not hire for the company you are becoming -- bridging the gap between the present and the future is what a lot of startup hiring is all about. But, before you hire make sure that your current team feels that they can be blatantly honest and seek their feedback and input as to what your environment is like and what it takes to succeed there.

As I'm writing this, I'm thinking about more entrepreneurial companies where precedent is limited and there are few, if any, systems around hiring.

Also, I am becoming more enamored with formal assessment -- but not as the final word.


I didn't initially write this post for an audience of recruiters or HR professionals, but thought it might be of value to my colleagues in this arena. Most of what I know (and am still learning) about recruiting and hiring, I've learned from colleagues in the recruitment industry. If this post sparks any thoughts, I'd welcome your comments.

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