How I Hire: Trust Your Gut and Take Your Time



Over the last ten years I’ve hired around 70 people into our organization, many of whom have reported directly to me. And while most of the folks I’ve hired have been a tremendous success, we’ve had our share of strike-outs, too. And not only do I have the opportunity to hire people personally, I also have the opportunity to talk with dozens of high-powered recruiters and hiring executives every few months.

A few of the tips I’ve learned over the years.

1. “Measure twice, cut once” applies in hiring. It’s always better to go slowly than to rush to hire a candidate because you have a critical job open. Nearly every time we “desperately needed a candidate” we sacrificed our quality process, and this often resulted in a poor choice. Remember that once you hire someone you’ve made a commitment to that person—so it’s very hard (emotionally and financially) to let them go quickly.

2. Trust your instinct. Most of the fantastic people we’ve hired over the years were people I met and started to trust and like very quickly. They “felt right” and I could see passion, commitment, hard-work, and intelligence in their eyes. When a candidate spends a lot of time talking about what “they want” out of a job, its probably not a good sign—listen for a passion to contribute to your business and help your organization succeed.

3. Experience is very misleading. It’s very tempting to hire people from one of your arch rival competitors or from a company you greatly admire. I’d recommend you ignore the “pedigree” effect. Rather you need to understand what they did there, how they achieved results, and why they left. If you find someone who succeeded and was promoted at a top rated firm, you can be assured that they’ve been somewhat vetted, but you still have to make sure they’ll work out at your place.

4. Look for passion, tenacity, and quality. In many jobs you need people with deep technical skills, but in many cases deep knowledge can be overcome (or overwhelmed) by hard work. Many of our best people did not come from great colleges and universities (we couldn’t afford to pay top salaries in the early days) but they were “doers.” I always prefer “doers” to “talkers” or “thinkers.” And quality matters: if the resume has typos or the candidate is late or sloppy, you can be sure those typos will translate into frustrating quality issues on the job.

5. Watch out for self-proclaimed gurus. In my particular industry there are a lot of self-proclaimed gurus. These are people who blog a lot, tweet a lot, and become very well known. I found these types of folks more interested in their personal brand than in contributing to our business. My mistake in considering them a good fit.

6. Look for people who are confident but humble. There is a funny balance between self-confidence and hubris. One of our key managers had tremendous self-confidence and this person convinced our management team that they would be a very strong performer. Once they were in the job we found them lacking in many areas, which would have been fine. But because this person was not humble enough to take feedback and consider the fact that they were not perfect in every respect, they ultimately didn’t work out. I like to find people that want to continuously improve – that’s the way I manage myself.

7. Get the opinion and feedback of others. In our hiring process we always had lots of people interview folks, and when someone said someone didn’t “feel right” we always found a reason for the concern. It’s easy to discount the opinion of someone at a lower level in the organization, but often times they pick up a signal that others may have missed.

By the way, headhunters are usually excellent assessors of candidates because they do a lot of interviewing and they do a lot of “blind references.” Blind references (calling people who know the candidate but are not the references they gave you) are a very important part of assessing a candidate. If you know people in your industry, you should always try to get blind references.

8. Always be on the hunt. I tend to think about recruiting people all the time. Whenever I meet someone great I think to myself “could that person be interested in joining us?” As I get to know them I try to keep them in the back of my mind as someone I may want to recruit some day into the future.

9. Remember there are no perfect candidates; we are all works in progress. Remember that regardless of who you hire, you’re unlikely to find a “superman” or “superwoman.” You may get lucky, but in most cases everyone you hire will turn out to exceed your expectations in many areas but fall under in others. This is simply the way of life: nobody is perfect. Jack Welch often talks about his need to learn new skills as he worked his way up the ladder at GE. Every person we hire is both a “performer” and a “potential”—and remember to look at “potential” just as much as “performance.

10. You won’t bat 1000. I have never met a manager or recruiter who told me they could guarantee a perfect batting average. One of my favorite headhunters still gives us a money back guarantee, because he knows that occasionally even he misses the mark. And don’t be afraid to use scientific assessments , while they don’t always work they give you new information to help with the process.

Final thought: hiring is the most important thing you will do as a manager. It pays to do your homework, take your time, and get as much help as you need. There is no more important thing you do than bring great people into your organization. Take your time and you’ll always be glad you did.