The Ten Commandments of Hiring

Building a team, a group, a brokerage, or a non-profit? How easy it is to make a bad hire and how hard it is to acquire the virtues of a hiring master.

The people we allow into our businesses make all of the difference between greatness and mediocrity. Great talent who is inspired by the same mission and vision; talent who shares your value system; will change your life and challenge you to be a better leader, which is perhaps the greatest reward in business and in life.

What follow are my ten commandments of hiring. This advice has been culled from a combination of failing forward, study, failing again, lots of reading, good mentorship and coaching, getting the opportunity to be in business with talented folks and yes, failing some more. Follow these commandments and the path to a great organization will break open in front of you. Don’t, and you will spend years in human resource purgatory… or worse.

I. Remember to not make it about you

Putting the best interests of the candidate first is fundamental to having any success in hiring. You and your organization are not the answer to every candidate’s need for employment. Too often the competitive entrepreneur will approach the candidate as someone to be won over, and will pitch them in much the same way they might pitch a client. This is a fatal error.

When you make it about the candidate and the authentic desire to find the right match for them and their career, (regardless of whether that is with you or somewhere else) the conversation shifts radically. The pressure that the candidate has to sell you on themselves dissipates, trust is established and they have the freedom of being able to be themselves so that you can guide them to the right outcome. This is really the first, and “greatest” commandment.

II. Keep holy your process and set expectations with the candidate

You must have a hiring process and stick to it. Not only is this good legal advice so as to treat everyone with the same fair process, but it is also the vehicle that will allow you to not rush to hire candidates without ensuring you prudentially assess all aspects of the person.

Candidates need to be told that you have a process upfront. Allowing them to believe that you have a casual, informal, chummy way of hiring (another way of simply saying you don’t have a process) then hitting them with reference checks, a personality test and multiple interviews with your team will at best confuse and frustrate them. Serious candidates, just like serious clients are thrilled to know you have a process – a way in which you work – that ensures better than average results. It’s always right thing for the company and it’s the right thing for the candidate.

III. Thou shalt not sell the role too early

You may be where you are today because you can sell anything to anyone. Good. Don’t sell roles. Your job is to stay in interview mode – stay curious – keep digging. You should actually be looking for reasons why the candidate is not the right fit. This commandment is closely related to the first. When it’s about the candidate and not you, following this one becomes easier.

Only once you have taken a candidate through your process will you know if he or she is a great match for a role you have. Prior to seeing this role match with clarity, you are not allowed to effusively tell the candidate why you think they will be an amazing part of the team.

IV. Thou shalt not fail to dig into references and to check social profiles

This sounds easy, but it’s seldom done correctly. Frankly, making calls to references is a total pain in the rear end. They never call back at good times, you always feel you have better things to do and they are often stingy with good content. You need to remember that you are the quarterback. If you don’t have a plan of attack – a good play to run – reference checks will be worthless. If, however, you get them to give you other people to call on for different perspectives, you are moving the ball. You only get really good information on the candidate’s track record when you speak to the references referrals… and the referral’s referrals. Block the time and grit through it.

Searching social profiles are a must. Does the candidate leave tactless photos on their profile or to publicly show their temper about issues? How much attention do they seek? What organizations are they passionate about? What do their friends say about them? Better yet, what do their virtual references say? All of this is online. Go find it.

V. Thou shalt not make more of a personality test than thou shouldest

The use of personality testing in hiring is quite common. When you have clarity on the natural disposition needed to do well in a role, they can be excellent indicators of future success, and also of where stress and blind spots might crop up. They are also very useful in gaging a person’s self awareness.

These tools can be misused, however, if too much weight is given to them. They should not constitute more than 30% of your decision to hire a candidate. If they are playing a more major role in your process, it may be that you don’t have enough of a process for assessing candidates.

VI. Thou shalt not fail to have great questions at the ready that reflect your vision and values

Boilerplate questions will yield boilerplate answers. You need to have the clarity about the candidate “DNA” that you are looking for. Most companies have a sense of their core values. You will want to probe to see if there is a values and vision alignment with the candidate. Have them express what is important to them in their career, find out what their goals are and dig into what really drives and motivates them. For example, if one of your core beliefs is that excellence comes of self mastery, you might ask something like: “Who do you look to in your life who exemplifies excellence? What makes this person excellent? How do you aspire to emulate this person?

On a more role specific level, do you need someone who is particularly fast paced or clear headed under pressure, or who enjoys long term projects? Don’t shy away from asking questions that gage these attribute.

VII. Thou shalt not fall in love with the candidate or make excuses for candidates

After the first interview, I’ll often times ask how the interview process is going and will receive the answer: “I think she/he is the one!” or “She is amazing!” or “He’s real talent, for sure!” When challenged that they have made a knee jerk reaction, the interviewer will often make excuses for the candidate or even themselves. These are all indicators that you have fallen for the candidate prematurely.

Many of us are wired to like people… a lot. Do you connect with people easily and allow them to endear themselves to you so that you can become endearing to them? This is great for sales. This is bad for interviewing candidates. When we do not stay in a neutral emotional posture in the process, we run the risk of short circuiting our assessment by jumping to the conclusion that we have found the person. Allow the system to make that assessment for you – to let the cream rise to the top. This takes patience, emotional intelligence and a real belief that you will do a disservice to the company and the candidate if you fall for them too early.


VIII. Thou shalt not hire out of pain or settle for mediocrity (Fail to have standards)

“Ah!, my (insert job profile) just handed me his two-weeks notice! I’ve got to find someone fast!” This is the sound of a person who is about to hire out of pain. They don’t have a list of candidates who they have had an initial interview with. They will likely hire the first or second person they interview. They don’t have time for a formal process, so they will just trust their gut on this next hire, because, after all, “I’ve got pretty good instincts about people.”About 30 days into hiring the person, they realize the mistake has been made and internally justify their decision, making excuses for the person. They settle for the mediocre talent. Their business fails to grow because they don’t have people around them who will strive for great ideals. “But at least I don’t have to file things on days he comes into the office.” They tell themselves.

Welcome to talent purgatory.

IX. Honor your current talent

When you have been fortunate enough be in a company with other talented people, allowing them to take part in the process of hiring (particularly in smaller team environments) is only natural. They will bring a different perspective to the table – one that may differ greatly from yours.

Personally, we like having a meal with the candidate as a team – it’s the right dynamic for us. We want to see how the person interacts socially, how they handle more casual conversation and what their sense of humor is like. You may prefer a more formal panel interview. This also works very well. Whatever formula you use, your team will appreciate the opportunity to test drive the relationship before a final decision is made and you will likely uncover things about the candidate that you never would have thought of on your own.

X. Thou shalt not fail to have a great on-boarding process

You’ve done the hard (and rewarding) work of finding a great match for the candidate in your organization. Now you need to ensure they integrate into the team by acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to become a high functioning member. Without a strong onboarding process you run the very real risk of squandering the talent that you have worked so hard to find. This process sets the stage for the ongoing professional growth that the organization will provide the new member. If you want scale in your business, you must have a constantly improving process for ramping up the talented people who will drive growth with you.

Look, nobody said finding the right people would be easy. But think of it this way: what is the opportunity cost of not having amazing people in your life? Talent is priceless. Go find the right people!

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