Leadership & The 10 Rules of Hiring

There is often nothing more stressful in leadership then the hiring experience. This is usually due to a lack of preparation, low-balling salaries and unrealistic expectations/timelines.

RULE 1: The first rule of hiring should be – “Don’t Panic“.

This is true, fear and panic often derail the hiring experience as leadership makes poor decisions based primarily on filling a role quickly instead of responsibly.

The truth is a quick hire may solve a few problems in the short term but it can kill you in the long term.

RULE 2: Take as long as you need to hire a good person into the role. There is no time limit.

In the meantime re-deploy responsibilities to the best you are able and make do. If you have to shelve certain functions and run the role on life-support until the new hire is selected.

RULE 3: Develop a THOROUGH and APPROPRIATE job description. NEVER hire a person without a very thorough job description. If the position is new make sure you go through a strategic visioning process to ensure the role is complete and dovetails into other roles in the organization without conflict.

Thorough does not mean make them do EVERYTHING. Make sure the description is focused.

If the vacancy arose as a result of a departure make sure you ask yourself first – is this an opportunity? By which I mean can the role be re-tooled, re-purposed, split into two etc. to the needs of the organization that have likely changed since the role was first created. You may find you do not need what you think you need.

RULE 4: Do not over-hire. By this I mean do not hire a Swiss army knife employee (hinted at in Rule 3). Many organizations think they can find some mythical chimera employee who has five radically different, conflicting skill-sets. These are VERY rare. You chances of finding one are low AND the chimera is generally not deep in any of their skills but rather shallow in many. This offsets the number of skills.

RULE 5: Personality first, skills second – ALWAYS. Having been through the hiring process countless times and worked with many other who have as well I can tell you the one regret that continues to rise to the top is from hiring a person based primarily on their skills rather than and often despite certain clear issues with personality.

Most of the skills you need can be learned/taught over a reasonable time. However it is VERY difficult for an asshole to unlearn being an asshole.

It doesn’t matter how many degrees they have, how many decades of experience, how many committees chaired etc. If they are a class A pain the neck RUN.

You can learn to discern most people’s personalities through a thorough interview, which brings us to our next rule.

RULE 6: Ask a lot of questions! For Heaven’s sake take the interview seriously. Avoid deciding based solely on a resume. You are bringing a person into the fold to join your team – making a bad choice at this stage can lead to catastrophic consequences for the organization.

Don’t ask Yes and No questions. Ask questions that require a thoughtful and detailed response. Provide hypothetical scenarios that require engagement. Do not avoid the tough questions. These things will help you better understand the person you are dealing with.

RULE 7: Be Honest. Do not hide potential problems in the organization for fear of losing a candidate. Be as honest and transparent as you can no matter how horrible the truth may be (“the last person in this role was eaten by the photocopier”). If the candidate is successful they will learn about your dysfunctions and will feel betrayed by the lack of honesty. This destroys trust and ultimately will lead to the person’s departure and reduced motivation and performance.

RULE 8: Pay them properly. Too many organizations (especially not-for-profits) think they can hire God’s nephew for $18,000 a year and expect them to perform all the duties of the CEO of Intel AND their executive assistant in a part-time role.

“We want you to raise $1 million a year AND make the board coffee and sandwiches when necessary”

Uh huh. Really? See Rules 3 and 4.

Rule 9: CHECK REFERENCES! I put this in all caps because it is shocking how many organizations fail to check references. Why? Why in the world would you not? Make sure you get employment references. Ask for the last two employers. This question alone can help weed out candidates. If there is a 13 year gap in employment references you need a good reason – ask.

When you are talking to previous employers focus on personality, working in a team and working with clients. Were they ever disciplined? If so why? Why did they leave? etc.

I feel so strongly about this I will say that you should NEVER hire a person if you have not checked their references.

Rule 10: Don’t Interview Alone. If you can, always have one or two additional people with you during the interview process. They don’t have to ask questions but they do have to provide you with insights afterwards.

If you are in a small organization bring a trusted mentor or peer in from outside. It’s ok to do this. You can also ask board members or other employees to assist.

Many a bad decision has been avoided due to the feedback received from others who have been invited into the process. It also ensures clarity if their is confusion about something said because you will have other witnesses to assist.

Final Thoughts: These are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a complete or comprehensive list. Consider this the foundation and feel free to adapt and develop it. If you do all of these things you stand a good chance of hiring the right person for the job.

Remember – If after all of the time and energy invested in the hiring process you do not find someone refer to Rule 1 – Don’t Panic. Don’t hire on a deadline. Start the whole process over again if necessary – review the role, salary etc. Trust me you will be far better off in the long term by waiting for the right candidate and crafting the best role(s) possible then rushing headlong into a bad decision.

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