Every startup with any traction quickly reaches a point where they need to hire employees to grow the business. Unfortunately, this always happens when pressures are the highest, and business processes are ill-defined. At this point you need superstars and versatile future executives, yet your in-house hiring processes and focus are at their weakest.
The result is a host of hiring mistakes that sink many young companies, or take years to fix. The solution is to never forget that hiring is a top priority task for the CEO, which should never be delegated, and which often has to supersede the urgent crises of the day.
A key success element is to start by avoiding the known list of interviewing and hiring mistakes that have been documented many times over by human resources professionals.
Here’s a tongue-in-cheek summary of ten big ones to jog your recollection:
“I’m not quite sure what we need, but this guy sounds like a miracle worker.” The message here is that if you don’t know exactly what help you need, you probably won’t get it. Do your homework on a proper job description, and make sure the applicant credentials on the resume are a fit before you proceed to interview.
“He’s not quite what I’m looking for, but I think he is trainable.” This is the inverse of the first problem – you know what you want, but you are trying to force fit the candidate into the position. Maybe you are desperate to fill the position, or he’s related to the boss.
“I’m confident this candidate can learn a lot from me.” This is the arrogant position that you know more than anyone you could hire, so all you need is a helper, not help. Helpers are expensive, since it often takes longer to jointly do a job than it would take one qualified person to do it alone.
“I didn’t have time to read the resume, but he has great answers.” Some people talk a good story, but can’t produce results. Resumes won’t give you the positive conclusion, but they can highlight negatives, like job gaps, bad writing, and minimal experience.
“He couldn’t keep up with me on results, but we have to start somewhere.” It’s always a mistake to judge a candidate by using yourself as the bar. You should assume that you are looking for someone who has skills you don’t have.
“This one is such a good fit that I don’t need to waste time on a second interview.” No matter how good you are, we can all miss things the first time around. Never hire someone without a second interview, and without having a second interviewer verify your assessment. Everyone you hire has to fit effectively with many others on the team.
“After my sales pitch, he was so excited I knew he could do the job.” Some hiring managers spend the interview selling the company under some mistaken impression that the level of candidate excitement they can generate is indicative of future performance.
“He’s not perfect, but our only alternative is to let the work stack up even more.” This is pure desperation, guaranteed to have bad results. If you hire someone who can’t do the job, the work backs up more, and your work doubles to get them replaced.
“His experience is light, but he seems like a good guy.” Avoid evaluating just personality in lieu of job skills. All the statistical research shows that there is very little correlation between a good personality and any specific job. Look for job knowledge first.
“Based on the glowing terms I heard from my friend, I’ll just skip the reference check.” There are lots of factors that can’t be assessed in an interview, or by listening only to an advocate. In this litigious society, reference checks are more productive if you also listen to what is not said.
Another element is admitting that there are things you don’t know, and identifying what they are. Too many executives let their ego stand in the way, either in admitting that there might be things they don’t do well, or in identifying and communicating specific job requirements.
Take a lesson from an old Business Week article by entrepreneur Andy Dunn, aptly named “To Recruit the Best, Admit Weaknesses” where he admitted to the best applicants “I am not good at what you do, I need your help.” In my view, if every CEO and hiring manager followed this advice, as well as good hiring practices, their business would scale a lot faster with a lot less headaches.
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Callaman Ventures Board Member and Executive in Residence; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups.