I have started and headed many organizations from significant non-profits to healthy, fast growing corporations. I have been brought into lead many turnaround situations. The biggest challenge in all of these organizations has been trying hard to find the right new people to bring on to the team. And I maintain that the same challenge is the one that keeps most CEOs and business owners awake at night.
Some of the things I have learned along the way are the following:
A large number of job applicants lie or embellish on their resumes so you can’t believe all you read in resumes. Lies are likely to be about what they previously earned and/or the responsibilities they previously had. One of the bigger examples of this in my experience was the high-level sales person I hired at the suggestion of a close friend who was related by marriage to the applicant. The new hire’s early performance was so horrible that after two or three weeks I had serious doubts about any of his qualifications. To start checking him out we called the prestigious
Be hopeful but don’t assume the person you are hiring is going to be the performer you expect and need. I find it takes months to really get a handle on a new recruit. So, normally I like to bring new people on board as free-lancers for at least three months while we learn about each other. In one situation I was not convinced after the three month period that we had a “keeper” so by mutual agreement we decided to have another three month free-lance relationship. The person got about half way through the second “trial” period before it became obvious to us both that there was not a good fit between us. The person doesn’t go onto the payroll and begin to receive benefits until the trial period has been completed successfully. To be fair, since the new recruit is a quasi member of the team during this feeling out stage, encourage the new potential full time team member to explore other options while he/she is working with you in this free-lance
phase. Bottom line, at the end of the initial free-lance period both you and the person will really understand if you seem to have a good fit. You will both also have a much clearer assessment of the right future compensation for the person.
Spend enough time developing an understanding of the potential new hire. Meet more than once. Have the person meet others within your organization. It’s amazing what comes up about a person once there have been several discussions and the guard has come down a bit. I like to meet new recruits at odd ball times, i.e. maybe on a Saturday or Sunday morning or on a
Don’t be afraid to ask unconventional questions. But also invite the applicant to ask you unconventional things as well. In my third interview with a potential hire I happen to ask him what his previous wife (he was divorced) would likely say if I called her for a reference. He was very open in explaining all the bad things she would be likely to add. He was honest but it was clear he had issues that made him a bad fit with us.
Be actively looking for new, exceptional people all the time. If you happen to find one, i.e. the hidden gem, you can always find a way to add a great new person. If you wait with your recruiting efforts until you loose a key member of your team you will be behind the eight ball for a long time trying to find an even better replacement. When you are under pressure to fill a hole in your organization that’s when you are likely to make the biggest hiring boo-boos.
Don’t assume because we have high unemployment in the country that you can turn on the spigot and come up with a handful of potential new great hires for your organization. The financial stress in our economy has cost millions of good people their jobs. But this “thinning” of the herd for the most part is turning loose mainly the underachievers. As organizations shrink they generally work harder than ever to keep their best people. In your current recruiting efforts you are likely seeing mainly mediocre to poor performing applicants.
Don’t try to recruit someone with strong skills in one area and expect they will be a star performer in another area. The biggest example of this typically applies to marketing people responding to sales opportunities when marketing positions are scarce. I have had almost zero success changing people, particularly older experienced ones, into something new. It just doesn’t work.
Testing can be useful. There are various testing services available to help you assess a potential new hire. The cost is generally in the low hundreds of dollars range per applicants. But if they help you avoid mistakes they can save you thousands. Learn about these services and try a few. Most will even give you a complimentary assessment so you get to understand the value of their work.
If you advertise a position don’t hesitate to write unconventional ad copy. Advertise for exactly what you need. The best personal example of this was when I was brought into to head a 300 person manufacturing company that had recently been acquired as a family owned business by a public
The best way to find new terrific people is by networking. The really good people for the most part already have positions but may be frustrated and looking for an even better opportunity and more responsibility. Your mutual connections know who these people are and can connect you with them.
Before you hire anyone make certain they have some entrepreneurial instincts and skills. These may be hard to spot but the “9 to 5ers” certainly are not hard to spot. Throughout your organization you need creative, out of the box thinkers who will put in whatever effort is required to be a difference maker. To survive as a world leader we are going to have to become much more entrepreneurial as a society. We are competing globally and things are changing at mach speed. Only the nimble, innovative organizations will make it.
Once you do hire someone new, on whatever basis the hire is made, put your understanding in writing. Avoid any misunderstandings from the outset. And don’t be afraid about changing the terms of the relationship once you both get a better feel for each other.
One final piece of advice……think about developing a good working relationship with a law firm specializing in employment law. Having them help you develop a well thought through employee policy manual may save you mucho dollars in the future. Almost all organizations, at one time or another, have run into complex employee situations that can come back to bite if not anticipated and planned for in advance.