True entrepreneurs know that the best way to grow a business is to build a winning team. That team of talent you must be constantly building will, after all, be constantly building your business. And so it goes without saying that the search for those with the "right stuff" needs to be high up on the business owner's to-do list at any given time.
But if we are to be honest, talent building is no easy task. And if we need evidence of this, there are plenty of stats out there to illustrate just how often it can go sideways. For example, a Leadership IQ's Global Talent Management Survey quizzed 5,000 hiring managers on their experiences, and found that a whopping 81% of new hires fall short of what they were brought on board to do.
And here's the thing: a lot of the time, it is very hard to get a feel for the situation in advance. If we look to the Leadership IQ study, the main reasons given for the "falling short" were things like coachability (unable to learn), lack of emotional intelligence, lack of motivation, and temperament. You can do your best to screen in that job interview, but the reality is that some of the shortcomings will only be revealed once the hire is made and the person starts work.
This is not to say you are at the mercy of it all. Rather, it just means you have to ensure that your hiring process is checking the right boxes. And you really need to succeed here, because part of the issue with employing someone new is that if you do get it wrong, by the time you are aware of the underperformance, that person is likely tangled into your company structure, and "untangling" is often tricky and expensive.
But to be clear, the worst of it is in fact the missed opportunity costs that come with not having hired that right person who would have, by now, already been serving up wins for you.
Indeed, we want to get this right as often as we can. And so with that in mind, let's take a look at what you entrepreneurs out there should be considering when screening to fill any and all positions at your company.
1. Be determined to uncover the fit (or lack thereof)
First off, try and master the ability to spot the difference between those who can talk the talk and those who can truly walk the walk. Job interviews can get rather social, and so it’s important to ensure that as the interviewer, you don't forget to come out of the interview stage knowing that the candidate’s skills are suitable for the job– not simply that they are a nice person.
Pinpoint the essential list of “must-have” skills for the job, and try and get real-life examples from the interviewees, pushing them hard to demonstrate how they match your needs. Be ruthless here and press and press until you either get confirmation or conclude that the matchup is simply not there.
Should you indeed get confirmation that this is a potential fit, then move on to your "would like to have’s". These can be soft skills or extras that are not essential– perhaps a second language, or just the fact that they are so darn likeable.
Just let them talk a lot and keep prodding with your well-timed questions. They are there to prove themselves and you must not settle until your gut tells you that you have screened as much as you needed to, and that you have the essential info required about their ability to meet the specific job requirements.
2. Push on the "above and beyond"
We sometimes transfer our own expectations onto other people and make assumptions that they would be happy and capable of handling the "above and beyond". When we do this in the context of business expectations, that could end up being a problem.
Let's take the publishing world, for instance, where I spent a great deal of my career. Doing a bit (or a lot) of overtime near to deadline is something that the industry demands. If you have a monthly publication, for example, it’s costly to miss a printing slot and everyone pulls some overtime to hit the date. So, how willing and able to put in that overtime is the job candidate sitting in front of you?
You need to probe. Ask questions like: "How will you manage working the occasional weekend? Will there be problems with that?" And do not, for example, ask: "Are you willing to...?", which is a different kind of question and easier to answer with a non-committal "yes."
This is not about forcing people to work extra hours. Nor is it about trying to build a company culture where people feel obliged to work extra hours out of fear. But for me, that willingness to go the extra mile at times will always be a prerequisite for hiring for any position.
3. Put them on edge
Testing for resourcefulness, resilience and versatility may seem a challenging prospect. You can try to ask direct questions to get direct examples, such as, “Give me an example of a time you handled a difficult client.” But best even to take it up a notch. Give specific tests with a time limit, for example– such as the famous sales ability test where the interviewer produces an object, and says: “Sell me this.”
The point here –and what is a common theme for me when it comes to interviewing in general– is to again push yourself to uncover the right info. Make the interview hard on you and the candidate, and try and get as practical as possible. You need to, after all, get a great deal of clarity if you are to have a real shot at identifying those who are going to do the job versus those who are going to actually help your company grow.
So stay away from the conventional, and put the candidate on edge. See if you can make them squirm by giving them real challenges and tasks to tackle in the interview. Think these through well, and plan for them. Even test them out on existing employees in simulated interviews to see just what sort of info they reveal. If you can put someone who already has the job on edge, then any candidate who manages the task coolly is a serious candidate indeed.
4. Read between the lines for staying power
When looking at someone’s work history you can see the pattern of their movement through employment and to some degree work out their "employability". And here you'll want to be on the lookout for those that tend to hop from one job to another without too much of a care, as that's a pattern that rarely changes.
Just be aware, though, that the "hoppers" often do quite a good job of CV manipulation in order to patch up those holes, and so you need to make sure to ask questions to double check if those timelines are accurate. Quiz them at length on their experience in the places they have worked, and straight out ask them about the timelines and see if they start to give nervous answers. And yes, always do check a reference or two.
Now to be fair, some may have moved from place to place until the point they landed in your interview chair because they are ambitious and have been searching for the right position (and you may just be serving that up). So don't be automatically judgmental. But do red flag it and use the opportunity to get to the bottom of someone’s motivation on the job and whether you feel that your working environment is a right fit for them.
5. Check your role as the hirer– what message are you giving out?
This advice is to do with sending out the right bait to hook the right fish. To some you may be selling a "life role,” and that’s important for you to understand. Before you even advertise the role, then, define your hypothetical target personality and the qualities that person is likely to have. Once you've got that sorted then you can sit down and write up the job proposition in ways that you believe would appeal to the right person.
Good things happen when you truly understand and communicate the role according to such principles. In reality, though, this is not something that is done enough in the recruiting process. It is, rather, too often a case of simply grabbing the job description template and filling in a few blanks. But believe me when I tell you that this lays the foundation for a successful hiring initiative and that the extra time upfront could end up paying off well into the future.
Take your time
Now I'll leave you with what is for me always the best bit of advice to keep in mind when it comes to the human resources side of things: "Hire slowly, but fire quickly."
The point is of course not to sound harsh. But the reality is this: if you are going to rush anything, it should not be the decision to hire in the first place, because the fallout from the wrong hire is simply too expensive, too stressful, and truly unfair to all involved.
So take your time where possible, and where not possible still take your time. Because what good, after all, is filling a position quickly when you really haven't filled it at all? That is, can we say the position has actually been filled if someone unsuitable has been chosen to fill it? We cannot.
As I mentioned upfront, real entrepreneurs know that the best way to grow a business is to build a winning team. Which is why real entrepreneurs actually relish the hiring process despite it having the potential to be both extremely time consuming and, yes, even agonizing on occasion.
But indeed, there can be no corner-cutting here. It's that simple. Any laziness now will only result in more work for you later. And that logic alone should be enough for you to never again settle for anything less than the best when it comes to the HR effort at your company.