Hiring Lessons Learned from AskAManager

by Modis on April 24, 2014

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Business people handsLast week, Modis sponsored a giveaway contest on the popular blog, Ask A Manager, where author and management expert, Alison Green, asked readers to share things they wish they’d known before they started interviewing and hiring job candidates.

On the post, 350 people shared their personal experiences, hiring lessons learned and valuable advice in the comments, and we thoroughly enjoyed reading each and every response. Because there was such a plethora of knowledge in the comments, we decided to pick a few of our favorite responses in the spirit of sharing the wealth:

1. A good hire is more important than a perfect hiring process

“This sounds so basic, but the most important lesson I learned in hiring was this: your goal is to find and hire someone who will excel in the work and on the team – not to execute a perfectly consistent hiring process. Rigid structures simplify the process, but flexible plans get the best outcome,” reader Victoria Nonprofit said.

“Examples of this include: considering a strong application that came in after the deadline rather than rejecting it on principle; interviewing a candidate who didn’t meet the education requirements but impressed me with her clear, engaging cover letter; treating the interviews like conversations rather than a checklist of questions to ask or topics to cover; asking a candidate for different references when the references provided weren’t helpful; etc.”

2. Make sure you see the candidate’s work product

AdAgencyChick brought up a very valid, yet often overlooked point: “Some people are amazingly articulate and personable, such that you think, ‘Wow, this person really knows their stuff!’ You hire the person, s/he comes in, and flounders like crazy on the actual work.

“I now know: Seeing work samples is an absolute requirement when I hire. For most people, that’s going to be a portfolio of work the person has done in the course of his or her career, and I’ll ask detailed questions to find out what the person’s depth of knowledge on those projects actually is. For entry-level candidates, no matter how polished and confident they sound, I absolutely require a writing test. I’ve learned the hard way that some people who are incredibly articulate when speaking are incredibly inarticulate on paper.”

3. Find out what motivates people

Commenter Pandora Amora chimed in with: “I like to find out what motivates people, and what they’ve learned about themselves. My current question for unearthing this answer is: “So you’ve been at Cocoa Mugs since 2012. I bet you had a few places you were looking at back then; can you tell me what it is about Cocoa Mugs that made you really excited to start there?”

This casts people in a favorable light (that they had options, and chose to go to their current job rather than only having a single option), and invites them to remember something exciting about their current job.

I’ll follow their answer with a few follow-up questions; and then I’ll pull back up and ask, “So what’s changed recently? Why are you here talking to me today?”

People open up; they talk about the new challenges in their current role; the new manager that has been over promoted; the fact they can’t grow to Senior Analyst; etc.

The difference between “why were you excited” and “how come you’re bored” is a wealth of information.”

4. Be honest about the not-so-glamorous aspects of the job

“I wish hiring managers knew that candidates want to hear about the down side of working in that company/role. If we’re going to have an impatient boss, tell us. If we’re going to be working long hours, tell us. Yes, you’ll lose some candidates – possibly good ones – but putting out all the information in the interview process allows people to self-select out if they don’t want to work past 5 pm every day, or whatever. Much better than pretending your company is all roses and sunshine, and then having to recruit new people every 6 months as people leave when they realize they’ve not been given the full picture,” advised Apple22Over7.

5. If something feels off, it probably is

Kait is all about trusting her gut: “Don’t ignore your gut instinct – ask probing questions and diligently check references and past employment/education. Don’t be afraid to ask directly about something that just doesn’t seem to hold water – or their answer to an interview question doesn’t match what’s on their resume. Often you can quickly get to the root of the issue and/or find out something valuable that strengthens their candidacy they didn’t properly highlight in their skill set. Don’t go on a witch hunt, but don’t ignore that nagging feeling you have about how they responded to a specific question even if the answer was spot on. Often your subconscious catches nonverbal red flags that your conscious mind ignores.”

6. Make promises carefully

“Keep the ones you make. Remember that you’re dealing with actual humans for whom this job-seeking adventure is a high-stakes one with real-life consequences. Don’t be flaky,” said C average.

7. Manager/Employee fit is crucial

Kyley said: “I wish there was more discussion about the fit, specifically between manager and employee. I have had jobs go from being really fantastic to truly horrible because of a change in who I reported too. Being able to have a healthy working relationship with your manager is probably the single biggest factor of your happiness at a job, and I don’t think there’s all that much transparency about managerial styles, etc. in the interview process-which is a disservice to everyone involved.”

And the winner is…

Elysian‘s insights on the hiring process garnered the the $150 prize: “I think that the difficulty for hiring managers is two-fold: (1) knowing what you want or need from a candidate and (2) knowing how to test for those qualities. Some people in charge of hiring might be good at one or the other, but not at both. I think it takes both to find make a really good hire.

Some places just don’t know the kind of person that they need, and it’s no surprise that they can’t find that person. Maybe Jane leaves, and they want someone to fill Jane’s job, but don’t fully understand how Jane did what she did. Or they have a generic position title – “Social Media Specialist” – and a vague job description, but don’t really know what it takes to succeed in that role. On the other hand, maybe they know they need someone to be a good assistant and they know what the person needs to do, but get caught up in academic credentials (which don’t really demonstrate any skills).

I had a similar problem when I was a teacher – I might know what I wanted my students to learn, but had trouble isolating that skill in an exam (for example, math word problems test both reading and math skills, so it’s hard to know which one the student struggles with if they don’t succeed at the word problem). Or, I might be set with the evaluation (like a standardized test), but don’t really know what skills the students are supposed to learn (thus, I could be stuck ‘teaching to the test’).

Before people hire, I wish they would give serious thought to each of these two things. What should the great candidate be able to do? How can I target the interview for those skills? I think it would save everyone a lot of grief.”

Our Final Lesson

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