December 7, 2021


How much work do you put into hiring a new team member at work?

A typical company might review stacks of resumes, conduct hours of phone screeners, and then invest in one to three in-person interviews for top candidates. Checking references, reviewing transcripts, and giving take-home assignments require even more time. How do we know if our effort is well spent?

Unfortunately, many companies aren’t asking themselves this question, and they may be wasting quite a bit of time, effort, and expense in pursuing top talent. People increasingly understand that, in the modern service economy, it’s more important than ever to find, hire, and retain good people. Figuring out how to do that is harder.

The marketplace rewards hard skills like finance, accounting, legal analysis, etc. But in my experience, a reasonably intelligent person with a good attitude can often learn these skills on the job. That’s why attitude is one of the very first filters I use to eliminate bad candidates. I want to know that any new hire is going to work hard, focus on learning, and check his (or her) ego at the door.

Personality or cultural fit is important too. We need to know that a new hire will get along with the team. But it’s also interesting to reflect on how easy it is to over-rely on undefined traits like “fit.” Without a clear and rigorous process, it’s too easy to let likeability influence hiring too much. Some people are really fun to be around and great at developing quick rapport in interviews. But I’m not sure there’s much correlation between that skill and delivering value as an employee.

Yes, I want employees who I like enough to be friends with. But I’d rather have employees who will be star performers for the company. The best approach I’ve found for escaping the likeability trap is to use structured interviews where all candidates get the same or very similar questions. That way, we can make an apples-to-apples comparison of the answers before making a decision.

Testing is another important tool for leveling the playing field, avoiding too much likeability-influence, and peeking behind the facade that job applicants often use to show you what you want to see. Skills tests can help verify that people have the skills they claim to have. A variety of personality tests can also help reveal hidden traits.

Companies go to great lengths to acquire talent, but maybe the most important thing is to have a process, and refine it over time. Who are the current top performers, and how did they perform in the hiring process? What warning signs were visible in the records of bad hires? Finally, which methods of evaluation seem to be the most reliable predictors of performance in your business?

Every company has unique needs, so there’s no simple recipe for recruiting. To build a high performance team, the most important thing is learning from past experience.

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