My daily social feeds are chock-full of moans and laments about a lack of leadership or the gotchas while hiring people for jobs. Both can change everything. Here’s what I have to say about it.

Leaders spend a lot of time on hiring.

Don’t fly through the hiring process. Hiring decisions deserve time. I know you have a lot on your plate but it is critical to prioritize time for a hiring process. After all, you pay now (in the many hours you need to spend), or you pay later (when forced to do the job you hired them to do or living with their failures).

Who to hire is a big decision, and if you make the wrong choice, you might not get a person with the right skill set; or worse, you might hire someone who screws up your previously healthy team dynamic. I spend at least an hour on first interviews. After all, it takes a good 10 minutes to ease some applicants into feeling comfortable. (By the way, I should mention that the more comfortable they are, the more candidates will reveal about what you need to know to make the right decision.)

I get it. Sometimes, you spend a lot of time prescreening with phone and video interviews, still finding yourself picking a candidate up at the airport for a two-day visit and knowing in the first five minutes at baggage claim that there’s no way you’ll offer this person the job. It can happen and you’re then stuck talking to someone you don’t think you want to hire. My advice? I try even harder in these instances. If I’m five minutes into an interview and not feeling good about it, I spend the next 55+ minutes giving the applicant every chance to convince me I’m wrong. I take on the challenge: feeding them the easier questions, working diligently to calm the nerves associated with an interview situation, and asking the same question again in a slightly different way. More than once, an individual has settled in, established rapport with me, and I’ve learned that yes, this person is worth consideration despite my initial impression. Speaking of second impressions…

Unless your intent is to build a team full of extroverts (bad idea) who are immediately comfortable in interview situations, you should conduct second interviews. More time, I realize; are second interviews are really necessary? Absolutely. I never hire someone after just one meeting. Never. In fact, a great check on the candidates’ potential is the second set of questions, requests, concerns and issues they bring to the second interview. Speaking of potential…

Leaders choose potential every time.

A true leader will hire based on the likelihood of an individual’s future success – in the job you’re interviewing for and in the future career you want that individual to build within your organization. It is not enough to hire individuals who possess the skills and experience needed for the work. You are searching for skills and potential. If forced to choose between the two, you should hands-down choose potential. Every time.

Years ago, I worked for an executive who insisted on interviewing the number one candidate for all vacancies in his very large division. He was otherwise a hands-off kind of leader who would never be accused of micromanaging. In all other aspects, he gave his direct reports free reign to run their units; but he didn’t budge on a very smart practice that allowed him to have veto power on all hiring decisions. When interviewing a finalist for a job in his division, he was looking for one thing: potential.

Over the years, I’ve learned the candidates with potential will:

  • Give a thoughtful and career-specific reason when asked why they decided to apply for the position. (I’m shocked by how many will declare more money, a shorter commute or current coworkers they don’t like.)
  • Come prepared with a list of questions and ask them in a conversational way.
  • Give an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses; they will openly admit when they’ve never done a particular type of work but they will explain how they’ll learn what they’ll need to know.
  • Have work experience in a wide variety of jobs, interacting successfully with all kinds of people in many types of work environments. (Sometimes this variety comes from their jobs during high school or internships and that’s a-okay.)
  • Speak confidently and factually about their specific contributions in previous jobs without embarrassment or discomfort.
  • Be interviewing you too, expecting to meet with you a second time and hoping to meet others they might work with. (Candidates with potential understand finding the right job takes time too.)

Leaders hire individuals who will challenge the current team.

A hiring decision should directly affect your team. Regularly pursuing candidates who are even better than those on your current staff is a true measure of leadership. Of course, there will be consensus around bringing on a new person with a great background; someone who can immediately “do the job.” And, seeking individuals with skills, experiences and talents your team doesn’t currently have also is warranted. But just as important, you should look for individuals who will be top, top performers. Your finalist candidates must be individuals who can challenge those around them to work and think and create differently. Every individual you hire also shapes, extends and improves others on the team.

Here’s a dead-on piece of advice for building a great organization from David Ogilvy’s leadership book, Ogilvy on Advertising. Writing about the importance of leadership in running his advertising firm, Ogilvy’s advice applies to any organization:

russian dollsWhen you are appointed to head an office in
the Ogilvy & Mather chain, I send you one of
these Russian dolls. Inside the smallest you will find this message:

‘If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs, but if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, Ogilvy & Mather will become a company of giants.’

The next time you hire, choose a giant.

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