Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to Hire the Right Person (Hint: Flip a Coin)

Hiring the right person can prove to be one of the most difficult challenges for a manager, new or old. I've had every possible outcome from hiring over the years.

I've hired someone who performed very differently on phone technical screens than on the job and spent a ton of effort trying to coach to skills that should have been brought into the job.

I've hired superstars.

I've hired people based on the recommendations of others, with mixed results.

I've hired people multiple times for different positions, where they excelled in some and less so in others.

At times, I have thought hiring might be as accurate as a coin flip.
When I sit back and think about it, I might actually be right.

Heads, You Win

Sometimes when you flip the coin you get exactly what you wanted. When hiring, this means you have stumbled across what we might call an "A player." These hires come from a pool of high performers not appreciated in their current role. Whether underpaid, living with poor benefits, or bored, high achievers looking to advance in some way make up a decent portion of the pool of potential hires in the market. 

Tails, You Lose

The other chunk of the candidates you will come across fall into the category of low performers. Some of them bounce from job to job, and some manage to hold a steady position for quite some time. Their motivation to leave may not have been by choice, or it may be that they saw writing on the wall. Either way, several hit the marketplace as candidates because they have lost or fear losing their job due to poor performance. This is not an indicator of whether or not they will perform well in your job, but it could be.

The Coin Lands On Its Side

The coin never lands on its side. Likewise, hiring middle of the road performers does not frequently occur, as those individuals perform well enough to avoid any severe disciplinary action at their current job, and at the same time they may not be motivated to leave in the same way as an extremely high performer.

So What Side Of The Coin Are You Looking At?

Unfortunately, few giant red flags will jump out at you. You can't base an assessment on whether a candidate is currently employed, because as the higher that high performers go, the more that external factors such as politics, unrealistic goals and expectations of outsiders, or performance of broad groups of people beyond the control of the candidate. Likewise, low performers may be employed but fearing some sort of coming activities.

It's also difficult to base any decisions on experience, since someone who may be a high performer in some situations could be a low performer in others. And without some serious career coaching, some individuals (who I have seen perform at an extremely high level) spend time bouncing around as a low performer in the wrong jobs because they have not found their appropriate skill niche.

So flip a coin. Half the time you will hire superstars, and half the time duds, just like I used to. Or...

Get A Trick Coin

There are some tricks, though, to at least skew your coin flips towards the winners. For starters, don't limit yourself to one interview. You might do this on a contractor hire where you feel you have more flexibility to let them go if it doesn't work out, though that sometimes requires more interviews and restarting the cycle again. Multiple interviews with different types of questions gets you a better feel for a candidate.

Skew your questions towards personality traits as equal weight to skills. You can't ignore obvious queues, but rather than looking for someone who has held the same job you are hiring for twelve times (great experience, but perhaps a bouncing low-performer), you might take a risk on someone who truly wants to get into the position, wants to learn from you, and displays an eagerness to step up to whatever challenges you throw at them.

Ask no-win questions. Throw a question or two into your interview with no canned right answer. Look for questions where no matter how they answer, they are choosing the lesser of the evils as opposed to trying to put a smiling rainbow around the answer. Make them defend the poor choice and see who uses appropriate logic to negate the other choices versus trying to defend their own poor option.

Do some real world challenges. Trending among some companies is to throw a situation at the candidate to solve and evaluate how she or he solves the problem. Drop a laptop in front of a developer and ask them to code something. Give a scenario for a project manager to resolve and compare their tactics, even role play. 

There are certainly other tactics you can use to weed out the As from the Ds (I'm assuming the vast majority of all the Bs and Cs are happily working at their current jobs and not seeking new ones). What advice do you have on making those smart hires and pulling only the A players (where you need A players)?

Image credit: gepharts3d via Pixabay