How to Hire Like a Pro
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When I hired a professional CEO to replace me as CEO of the publishing company I started, I expected him to make a lot of changes. But I honestly thought our hiring process was pretty good. The third day our new CEO (JT McCormick) told me and my co-founder:
"We need to hire at least three new people...and let's use this as as opportunity to revamp your broke-ass hiring process."
How could he say that? I immediately went at him, explaining all the ways our hiring right was great. His response:
"Let me get this straight--you've had to fire 9 of the first 11 people you hired. And you think you have a good hiring process?"
I actually laughed out loud.
The sad part is I REALLY DID think we had a good hiring process! We used a cool hiring management funnel (SparkHire), we used fancy personality tests like the Berke -- we did all the things I thought fancy entrepreneurs were supposed to do.
JT wasn't against those tools, he just pointed out what we were missing:
"You guys made this too complicated. Hiring is about answers these questions:
Do they have the skills? What is the proof they can do the job?
Are they going to get along well with the tribe? Will they fit?
All the cool processes and funnels you guys use are fine, they help, but only if they serve to get those fundamentals right."
JT's wisdom aligns perfectly with what Google found from a decade testing their hiring process. JT took us from something that felt like a good hiring system to a real professional hiring process. This is what we do now:
1. Understand the exact skills the job requires.
We thought we were doing it, but we weren't. We'd have a list of skills like "smart, works hard, ambitious."
Those are not skills, those are personality attributes or general attributes. Because of this, we'd end up picking people out of the process who "seemed impressive." That makes sense, doesn't it, to hire impressive people?
JT fundamentally disagreed.
"Looking for 'impressive people' doesn't tell you anything about how this person thinks, what their work quality will be, or how they will perform in the role, because it's not evidence of the skills that role requires. General impressiveness is how to make friends, or admit people to colleges. It's not how you hire for a specific job. You need to first deeply understand the precise skills the role will require for success."
Instead of talking about general "impressive" attributes, we now list the tasks they will do, then the skills necessary to do those tasks. Something simple, like this:
Job Task: Talking on the phone to authors.
Skills needed: Good conversational skills, good listener, empathy.
Job Task: Managing 20-30 author projects at once.
Skills needed: Good organizational skills, very attentive to detail, very task oriented.
Seems obvious, but we weren't doing it.
2. Ask for specific examples of those skills.
The next step was to see proof of effective use of these skills. We screened the initial candidates with video, which is a great way to do it. The problem: we weren't asking the right questions in the right way.
"Your questions need to get at real life examples of the skills you're looking for. Have they demonstrated performance of the skill or not, to what extent in what context?
So, if the skill you're testing for is being a self-starter, ask them to tell you about a time they have learned something on their own, outside of work.
If are testing for the skill of understanding and relating to people, ask about a time they went outside the standard operating procedure and solved a customer's problem at a job."
That was the key thing for us. Before, we were asking questions with no real objective. We were giving people a chance to impress us, instead of having them talk about specific times they showed a specific skill the job would need.
Now, every question in our hiring process has an exact purpose, designed to show us proof of a skill the job needed. We can actually see if they have the skills or not- -- evidenced by specific examples- -- and then judge if their skill level is up to what the job requires.
3. Use the hiring process itself as a test.
JT went beyond just asking for proof. He used the hiring process itself as a test of skills (and cultural fit). It was the wisdom that most changed how I see hiring:
"I interact outside of the formal process. I'll email and ask additional questions. I want to see how fast they respond to me, how they answer those questions, how they write an email, etc. People can't help but tell you who they are, you just have to give them the chance.
For example, on the SparkHire videos, everyone can review their video before they send it in. It's easy- -- I'm not a technical person and I figured it out. Some of the videos that came in were horrific. That shows you who this person is better than any interview question."
His point is a great one, and we now see everything in the process a test of something. You can often see the most important pieces of information outside the formal parts of the process, where people don't think they are being judged.
At Book In A Box, we got a masterclass in moving to a professional hiring process. If you're already doing this, great, you're ahead of most entrepreneurs. If not, I hope this helps you move forward.
In our case, I can tell you we went from having to fire 9 or our first 11 employees, to now seeing our 5-6 most recent hires being the best people we have (better than me even).