The small and medium businesses I work with are usually pretty wary of the recruitment consultants that chase them, promising to deliver the ‘Perfect ‘ hire for just 20% of their annual salary. They are usually seen, usually rightly, as just short term ‘body shops’ that add little lasting value.
As a result I often get to have some input into the hiring decisions they make, as the ‘go-it-alone’ strategy using one or more of the on line job boards is becoming more common.
Taking on a new employee is a significant decision for a modest business. When it is a senior management decision it can be a make or break choice, and more often than not, once the gloss of the interview and enthusiastic references from the candidates friends masquerading as referees wears off, there are holes.
Making that right choice has two parts:
- You need a realistic and detailed understanding of the job you are filling, its frustrations and challenges, along with the technical skills necessary to get the job done.
- You need a good understanding of the underlying emotions, attitudes, and perspectives of the person you are considering.
Sounds simple, but we all know it is not.
Over the years I have developed through experience and observation a set of personal criteria I look for when involved in this exercise. It is important for me to help get it right, as my clients rely on me for the advice that is improving their businesses, so making a mistake can badly damage my position with them, and more importantly, compromises their efforts to change, and evolve the business.
The list has 7 elements, after the technical parameters of the job have been adequately addressed. All are hard to assess in an interview type Q&A, but can emerge in a more casual conversation, that is less about the role, more about the person.
- Curiosity. In a world changing as rapidly as ours, domain knowledge cannot be static, so being curious about what is going on around them, about other people, technologies, environments, is a core part of a person who will continue to learn by absorbing new information, and keep being able to contribute.
- Absorb blame while passing on praise. We have all seen the destructiveness of someone who does the opposite. The ability to give credit for success, while making others feel ‘safe’ to experiment, think laterally, and risk failing is a powerful leadership quality.
- Action oriented. There are those that talk, and those that do, and we all know which is the better. Being prepared to take decisions, often without perfect information, recognising not all decisions will be right, but doing something, learning as a result, and adjusting as necessary is way better than waiting for perfect information. Mixed in is a recognition that due diligence in risk assessment is crucial, the widely accepted ‘failure porn’ is to my mind destructive.
- We all want leaders, but we usually hire managers, to get stuff done, to exercise organisational power. Far better to have a group who are able to lead without the authority, who inspire performance, and create an emotional commitment.
- Prepared to prepare. Generally, the more preparation that is done, the easier things look. Playing football (Rugby, the heavenly game) in my youth at University, we had a coach who used to drive us into the ground at training. He used to say at least 10 times a session, ‘train hard, play easy’, a lesson that has served me well.
- ‘CUR’. My personal acronym for ‘Cock-Up Recovery’. Everyone makes mistakes, except perhaps those who do nothing, so the measure of the person is the manner in which they recover, address the situation, and as the saying goes, ‘get back on the horse’.
- Operate well under pressure. Let’s face it, life is a roller coaster of deadlines, demands, and crises, so being able to operate optimally under pressure is critical to good and consistent performance.
Keeping the conversation casual is important, and I usually end by asking something like, ‘what have you accomplished that makes you proud?’ In most interviews, no matter how casual, people default to what they do, or have done. ‘Accomplished’ is a bit different, the word elicits a more personal response, something that may offer an insight into the person, and what is important to them.