How To Succeed At Hiring
The key trait that all entrepreneurs and managers should be looking for in potential employees.
While many leaders and entrepreneurs view firing as the most challenging thing that they must do, hiring should actually be considered the most difficult. While firing can be based on experience and information, it is impossible to know the outcome of bringing on someone brand new, and therefore managers should be aware that hiring is the riskiest and most important task that they will undertake.
“Hiring is guessing, firing is knowing”
While Gary has stated that he believes that firing is more important, avoiding mistakes during hiring can minimize the need for terminating employment down the road.
A great example is my personal experience building a new team of finance and operations analysts for a division of L’Oréal, the worlds largest cosmetics and beauty company.
The new team was to be comprised of five analysts, and all five of them needed to be ready to start training six weeks from the beginning of the recruitment process. In other words, there wasn’t a lot of time.
The objective of the new team was to support the distribution strategy of the company’s professional division, meaning the products and services that the L’Oréal group provides to salons and salon professionals. The nature of this business is fast moving and subject to sudden and rapid change, and therefore it was vital that we have employees that were adaptable and transparent about their limitations.
Being able to trust that I actually knew who the people were was the only way that I could be confident that I had the right people in place.
The first person on the team was someone that had already been reporting to me, and that had previously come from another department within the company. From my experience, I knew that I could always count on her to tell me exactly what was going on, and I never had to worry that she was hiding anything from me. The two of us were highly successful as a team, and I credited our shared transparency and authenticity as being the leading factor driving our accomplishments.
The Director of Human Resources over the division partnered with me, and together we embarked on a hiring spree to create the new team, using this person as the model to compare all the candidates against.
We interviewed at least two dozen people during the team creation process, all of whom had been previously contacted and vetted by a human resources manager. There were quite a few candidates that presented well, and several of whom were a perfect match from a skillset perspective, but we didn’t hire any of them.
The candidates that we did hire were the ones that didn’t necessarily make sense as far as relevant experience and education were concerned, but they were all people that we felt that I could genuinely know and that further would be eager and willing to learn.
She dishonestly claimed to be a cheerleader of the beauty business
While many candidates effectively portrayed that they were skilled, reliable, mature and passionate about the job, the picture they painted of themselves was just too perfect. Something felt off in those instances, and we knew that there had to be something that they weren’t telling us.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is
One example of this was a gentleman who obviously had taken the time to review the job posting and matched his relevant experience to what we were looking for. However, throughout the entire conversation, I never felt like he was being himself. Rather than talking to a human being, I felt like I was interacting with a pre-programmed voice prompted robot that was designed to help me practice interviewing people.
Despite that, I was still considering him up until I asked him if he had any more questions, to which he replied: “Is there anything about my resume or this interview that makes you think that I can’t do this job?” His response was so contrived, formulaic, and rehearsed that the answer to his question was in fact “yes, what you just said.”
Another great example was a lady we interviewed who was highly anticipated because she had an incredible resume and spoke very well during the HR phone screening. When we met her in person, she clearly demonstrated that her abilities were more than sufficient for the new role, and she further did a good job explaining why her personal situation was such that we could depend on her to remain in the position for at least several years.
Everything was perfect, and as far as I was concerned the job was hers, but I just wanted to make sure that she would mix with the culture of L’Oréal.
“So why the cosmetic industry? Why L’Oréal?” I asked her.
She responded to my question by explaining how passionate she was about the beauty industry, and that she loved cosmetics because “well, I am a girl!” She tried to smile when she said this, but I could tell that it was forced.
She lied to me and pretended to be interested in something that she wasn’t
The contrived nature of her response prompted me to dig a bit deeper, so I described to her the culture and environment of our company and further attempted to scare her a bit with some candid examples of eccentric behavior that she might encounter while working in the beauty industry. Without hesitation, she answered that she could handle it and that she felt like the culture of the beauty industry was one that she would thrive in.
I wasn’t convinced.
Since I was feeling like she wasn’t telling me the whole story, I later checked her out on social media. Upon doing so, I discovered that she was, in fact, an activist who had strong anti-corporate sentiments and was further passionate about the environment and sustainability. Her Instagram page was covered in memes about inequality and corporate pollution, and she even had a couple of posts about how wasteful the cosmetic business was!
I decided right then and there that we couldn’t hire her, and my partner in human resources concurred. Why?
Because this lady presented a false version of herself and hid an important part of who she actually was. Had she been honest, she would have discovered that I also have some anti-corporate leanings and that I am also a strong environmentalist. Had she told the truth, we would have definitely hired her.
Transparency is the best policy
There were a number of good answers to my question, but instead, she dishonestly claimed to be a cheerleader of the beauty business, rather than saying something authentic such as:
“The beauty industry is a major producer of consumer waste, and being that I’m very passionate about the environment and sustainability, I’d like to try to be an agent of change from within.”
“L’Oréal is a very big name and a prestigious company. In the long run, say 5–10 years, I can’t say for sure where I’ll be, but I do believe that a successful experience with a company of this stature can only be positive, and will help me learn how to be a force for positive change.”
“I’ll be honest, I’m concerned about the impact that corporations have on society and the environment, and so I’d like to get an insider perspective about how a major multi-national company operates, and experience it for myself.”
All three of these answers would have impressed the hell out of me and would have been enough for me to move forward with hiring her. Instead, she lied to me and pretended to be interested in something that she wasn’t.
You got the job for being you
The first person that we did hire had embellished her experience on her resume, however, it didn’t bother us so much because she wasn’t using rehearsed statements that she had read on the internet. We didn’t expect to find perfect people, and we both decided that this candidate was someone that I would be able to read. While she could perhaps be a bit mischievous and rebellious, ultimately I could trust that I would always know what was going on with her, even if she didn’t tell me.
The second person I hired I had met during a visit to one of our distribution facilities, as he was in charge of explaining how everything functioned. I was struck by the richness of his many questions, and his genuine curiosity about how the business operated outside of just the one distribution facility. Most important however was that he never pretended to know something that he did not, and he was quick to ask others for help on a question that he couldn’t answer. Several months later I learned that he had a personal motivation for wanting to relocate to the area of the home office, so I invited to fly him out to come interview for one of the openings on the new team. He was extremely nervous during the interview which was funny because apparently, he didn’t realize that the real interview had already taken place several months ago.
None of them were afraid to say the words “I don’t know”
The third person we selected was not really a great fit on paper, however, she was very direct, confident and answered my most difficult questions with very pragmatic responses. When I asked her the same question about the eccentric beauty business culture, she explained to me that her current work environment sounded similar, and she further shared some examples of encounters and experiences. In other words, she was telling me that she’s used to it, but she did not try to pretend that she actually enjoys it.
The fourth person we decided to hire was a recent college graduate who didn’t meet the full requirements of the job, however, her resume spoke directly to the job posting, and in the interview, she expressed very openly her personal motivations for wanting the job. In this example, the candidate didn’t say too much, but whatever she did say was authentic and true. Overall, I never once felt like she was pretending to be something she wasn’t and she didn’t at any point try to oversell herself.
After dozens of interviews, we had managed to assemble a full roster, however, there was one more person that we interviewed late in the game that really impressed us. Another recent college graduate, this young lady was incredibly articulate and responsive, and both myself and the HR director were extremely impressed by her level of maturity. Above all, we both felt strongly that this person was exactly who she said she was. Out of all the candidates we interviewed and hired, she was perhaps the most authentic in every way, and so we figured out a way to bring her on despite already having all of the positions filled.
Of all the people we hired, every one of them sat up straight, made eye contact, paid attention, and were articulate. This is not however what separated them from those that were not offered the job, as many candidates that also shared these qualities were not selected.
Knowing less is more
All six of the hired members of the new team were honest about their shortcomings, and none of them were afraid to say the words “I don’t know.”
The team launched successfully and I never had to fire anyone during its existence.
A corporate restructuring ultimately disbanded the team, however, every member was successfully recruited by other teams within the company in large part because others recognized the same qualities that caused us to hire them in the first place.
Hiring authenticity is the key to successful recruiting. Skills can be taught, but personality and character cannot. As Gary V. said, hiring is guessing, but managers can decrease the chances of hiring someone toxic by hiring people who are who they say they are.
Authenticity does not mean perfection, and my employees didn’t always tell me the truth, but I always knew when they weren’t. If they called in sick, I could tell if it was because they needed a mental health day. If one of them tried to hide a mistake that they made, I most likely knew about it, and if one of them was compromised by personal struggles, I could see it, and I probably even knew the reasons behind it. Perhaps most importantly, because everyone I hired was authentic, they all became friendly with each other, and so they all knew everything about each other, which ultimately meant that I did as well.
The overall experience was a success because all of my employees moved into better positions, several were promoted, and none of them were ever fired. Even better, all of them still periodically keep in touch with me, and some of them remain personal friends with each other.
Entrepreneurs and managers in every situation can improve their chances of success if they make hiring authentic people their priority, rather than focusing on matches for skills or relevant experience. There is little more valuable for a manager than being able to truly know their employees.