Hiring The Right People

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Originally Published on Brainz Magazine

“Hiring the right people takes time, the right questions, and a healthy dose of curiosity.” ~Sir Richard Branson

I worked in executive search for many years before transitioning to career coaching globally. I work with people and organizations to help them hire better, conduct successful job searches more quickly, as well as manage and lead better. It is a commonly held belief that hiring is a flawed process. As I wrote for Forbes.com, “One of the most frequently quoted statistics that I see in talent acquisition is that approximately 46% of new hires fail within 18 months. According to a survey reported by Harvard Business Review, nearly half of the leaders who are hired from outside an organization fail within the first 18 months. And worldwide employee engagement is at 15%, based on the findings of Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace” report.For job hunters, the failure rate happens much sooner than 18 months. One survey reports that 23% regret leaving their old jobs and want to return to them. Most realize within the first 6 months that they made a mistake joining your firm. 

Far be it from me to criticize Sir Richard, he did miss one thing in the quote—most firms’ hiring process could at best be described as fuzzy because few hiring managers take the time to clarify what they want in the new hire, let alone communicate it to the people on their team who are going to interview anyone.

But there’s a job description!

Usually, no one takes the time to update previously approved job descriptions when a position opens up. Instead, a manager will contact their HR business partner and ask, “Do you have that job description we used to hire Jeff? He just gave notice. Could you use that job description to post something on our website, LinkedIn, wherever else you get it out to plus get it to our recruiting vendors and see who you can get on my calendar for Tuesday? Few managers update them. That’s why many HR managers laugh when I say that job descriptions are 80% accurate. 
“If we’re lucky,” many reply. 

Here are a few things to do differently.

1. Formulate an accurate job description instead of recycling a previously used one. Using the old one as a baseline, ask yourself: 
How has the position changed since we last hired someone for this job?What did they do extremely well? Where could they have done better? When we interviewed them, what could we havehiring the right people done a better job of evaluating them to head off some of the deficiencies we identified post-hire? How did we disappoint them and make them decide to leave? 
Without asking yourself, the soon-to-be-former employee, and a trusted staff person these questions, you risk making the same or similar mistake with the next person you hire.

2. Decide who you want to participate in the interview process, as well as what and how you want them to screen for specific knowledge.

Too often, hiring managers involve people with interviews who have little idea of what they are supposed to screen for, let alone how they should do it. Instead, they are told, “I want you to talk to someone in 10 minutes and interview them for Jeff’s old job.” That isn’t enough time or direction to prepare to evaluate someone.

Guide them by giving specific direction about the key skills you want them to evaluate as well as the specific functions to screen for. It isn’t enough to tell them to evaluate for their tax knowledge or their compliance knowledge, or their Java development skills, or knowledge of plumbing. Be specific with the basics and ask them what else they think someone should be screened for.

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 3. Stop asking “Tell me about yourself,” or “Walk me through your background.” It is a lazy question to ask. Every career coach (myself included) on YouTube or in-person teaches people how to answer that question. At best, you are getting someone who has studied for the test.

Instead, begin every interview by telling the person you’re interviewing about the job you are hiring for. After all, if most job descriptions are 80% accurate, they don’t know what you really want to know about in the way of skills or experience. Even if you have done the work with the job description I mentioned in the first point, you have taken about a minute to confirm it with them.

4. Ask questions that get them away from providing you with scripted predictable answers to your scripted predictable question. Instead of asking “Tell me about yourself,” ask, “What’s most important to you in the next job or organization?” If you can’t give it to them, you can tell them what you can offer them or that isn’t something you can provide and end the interview there. Why would you hire someone who will be miserable with what you have to offer them

5. Ask “Why do you do what you do?” It is a question that elicits whether they love what they do or are doing this for the check. You can build a team around people who love their careers, not the ones who have no soul for the work.

6. Ask “What did you want to be when you were growing up?” This question helps them connect with an inner charm and innocence that many lose after joining the workforce. Don’t judge their answer> What you want to see is their humanity. Smile as they answer. It is encouraging. Then, share your childhood dream (I wanted to be a pitcher for the New York Yankees. I grew up a short walk from the old Yankee Stadium and played little league baseball where the current Stadium was built).\

7. Ask “What got you from there to here?” Sometimes you will hear a failure story. Sometimes you will hear a story about how an act of G-d led them to this line of work. There are many types of stories you will hear that will let you hear something unique about them. 

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8. Tell them about what their predecessor did well and how they could have done better. Spend more time on their positive qualities. You don’t like hearing a candidate complain about their current manager. They won’t want to hear you do a deep dive into every tiny disappointment you had. Remember, they are going to find out from your staff after they join anyway.

9. If your team hasn’t evaluated their skills and knowledge yet, ask screening questions to evaluate their knowledge and experience. Don’t limit questions to memorization questions and behavioral interview questions (Tell me about a time when you … ). Create hypothetical questions, too (How would you … or Imagine that you … ) that reflect real scenarios they might have to respond to. As important as their answer are the questions they ask to clarify the scenario and the assumptions they tell you about when formulating their answer).

10. Ask follow-up questions to your hypothetical situations that ask if they consider particular options (Have you considered… or What other options did you consider). Remember, you want to see learn how they think.

Many managers are unhappy with the results they are getting from interviews. The old ways aren’t working. Experiment with these questions and others that you think would allow you to get inside the mind of the people you are interviewing differently than you have up until this point. 
Remember, different answers are not bad answers to most of these questions. They are a way of getting inside into the life experiences and thought processes that have brought these people to you. 
You need to decide for yourself whether you want to hire human robots were people who have, to quote Steve Jobs Stanford commencement speech, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Be great!

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2022 



Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2300 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, Amazon and Roku, as well as on BingeNetworks.tv for Apple TV and 90+ smart sets.

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