The Key to Hiring the Best Candidate Is Deciding What's Most Important

Focus on your goals for instead of subjective personality traits.

By Mike Whitaker

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Close your eyes and grit your teeth. Was this hire on target? Did you get a good one? Often, the answer is "no" and the costs accumulate via damaged culture and disruption.

Why are hiring decisions so difficult? A bad hire is evident to everyone, carries a stench and fuels the rumor mill. Confidence in management ebbs lower. A manager thought they had weighed, measured and judged the candidate's fit -- but failure happened anyway. It's happened to all of us. Hiring decisions are some of the largest decisions we make as managers and entrepreneurs. Have we figured out why we fail so often?

Lately, my peers and I blame the irregularity of the millennial generation, their work ethic, their overreaching expectations. We blame aging baby boomers who often overestimate the value of their experience. We blame the labor pool for not producing an obvious series of good candidates. We blame the good economy for overpaying the qualified candidates. All the while, the hiring carrousel spins around and we scratch our heads and tolerate mediocre hires and fret about firing someone we recently hired. It's time for a decision makeover for hiring purposes.

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I propose that we are trying to satisfy too many goals at once with important hiring decisions and we fail because we don't focus on the one achievement that is mandatory. As I write in my book, The Decision Makeover, when we have too many goals, we rarely achieve any of them. For example, we desire the candidate attributes of qualified, likable, relatable, humble, driven, confident, team-player, leader, affordable, presentable and the list continues. It seems the greater the hire, the more attributes are overlapped in the required bullseye. Search firms are paid incredible amounts to attempt this feat -- and yet they leave the final decision up to you. How do you decide?

To support our decision-making accuracy, I write about the importance of setting five Prime Goals and then choosing a #1 goal from those five. Five goals are manageable but more importantly, one of those Prime Goals must be ordained #1. This designation dictates that all decision-making will support the #1 goal ahead of all other goals -- assuring success. Broad perfection is not the objective. Achieving the #1 goal is the objective. For example, you can ask this question, "Over all other accomplishments and abilities, if this candidate fails to _______, I will consider this a bad hire." Thus, your answer will be the #1 goal.

In a real-life example, my friend was hiring a new CFO for a company that had never experienced how a good finance department operated. Thus, my friend said "If this candidate fails to elevate this department to Fortune 500 practices I will consider this a failure." He hired the candidate who looked most capable of achieving this #1 goal -- but there were problems. The new CFO wasn't the most likeable and people grumbled about her abruptness. She was expensive and knew her value. She wasn't great at creating visually pleasing presentations and she needed help polishing for board meetings. Yet, amidst a basket-full of nitpicking, this new CFO delivered the goods and the Board applauded the hire within nine months. Keeping our eye on the #1 goal is the key to making the final hiring decision. It's a relief to prioritize because the subsequent decisions are obvious: whatever makes the new hire successful for the #1 goal.

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Want to test this decision-making discipline? Recall the many hires you've made and the point in the process where you are debating the final candidates. One candidate is more organized, one candidate has a better presentation, another candidate has the most experience and is the most expensive and the most popular candidate got along best with everyone who interviewed him/her. One candidate seems highly motivated yet too young. How did you decide? This is where the gray area can bite us. Yet, a decision makeover makes this really easy: We don't hire anyone who cannot achieve the #1 goal and among all candidates, we hire the prospect who will most likely achieve the #1 goal. Seems too simple, doesn't it?

We can test this another way. Let's say your manager or board of directors becomes critical of this new hire and gives you grief over your hiring decision. Would you like a clean-cut ability to defend your decision? Of course! You can say, "I deemed the #1 goal for this hire to achieve ______ and we are well on our way to achieving that." Everything else is subjective opinion compared to your approach linking this hiring decision to the position's most important goal. Results rule the day. In fact, if the #1 goal is achieved and then you fire this person, it was still a good hire.

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Thus, following The Decision Makeover process for hiring decisions can change your company. The focus upon goals rather than subjective personality traits shows the organization that results are measured first. Put a few great hires together (A Decision Streak) and you are rapidly creating positive change. Your days include identifying new #1 goals because you are achieving prior goals at a faster rate. Wouldn't that be nice?

Mike Whitaker

Tech CEO, Entrepreneur

Mike Whitaker is the CEO of GuestX, founder of Idea Gateway and board member for RevTech, a technology accelerator. Whitaker is the author of The Decision Makeover, a book about achieving success via decisions.

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