Five Practical Guidelines when Hiring

Here are some practical considerations that are now part of my hiring process. They are a result of both experience and my research into what other executives, such as Jack Welch, have done to make their hiring process more successful.

1. Think Through the Assignment

Job descriptions may last a long time, but the assignments and the challenges associated with a position fluctuate with the changing conditions of the organization and the environment or marketplace. If the challenges are different, then the talents and skills necessary for the role will change. Undoubtedly, the role of Treasury Secretary today is different than the one of two years ago – yet the job description may well be the same. To grow a new area from scratch is very different from managing a seasoned team. If the team is getting close to retirement age, the new sales manager may need people development skills to grow the new team. As a leader, you must get to the heart of the assignment.

One of the ways to determine what is at the “heart of the assignment” is to revisit the strategic plan. By understanding the strategic goal and the tactics necessary to achieve the goal, one will be able to understand the key skills required to achieve success in a role. As a result, your thinking shifts and a new set of candidates may emerge.

2. Look at a Number of Potentially Qualified People

The key word here is number. Formal qualifications are a minimum for consideration, as their absence would eliminate the candidate. The person and the assignment need to fit each other. To make an effective decision, three to five candidates should be considered.

3. Think Hard about How to Look at These Candidates

The crucial issue is to understand the focus and priority of the assignment. The primary questions are, “What strengths does each candidate possesses?” and “Are these strengths the right ones for the assignment?” While weaknesses may rule a candidate out, if the answers to these questions are that s/he is the right person for the assignment, regardless of a particular weakness, then that person gets the job. It is then the company’s responsibility to provide the additional training, talent, or skills to mitigate the effects of that weakness.

4. Discuss Each of the Candidates with Several People who have Worked with Them

One executive’s opinion is worthless. That’s because we all have biases, prejudices, likes, and dislikes. Competent executives do this routinely and informally. My former partner, a senior executive at Microsoft, has five to seven people in the interview loop. If the candidate does not meet the approval of this group, the candidate is eliminated from consideration. Each interviewer is also assigned a specific attribute or characteristic of the candidate for evaluation. One might evaluate analytical problem solving while another might evaluate collaborative skills. By following this discipline, one gains valuable additional perspectives.

5. Make Sure the Appointee Understands the Job

After the appointee has been in a new job for three or four months, he or she should be focusing on the demands of the job rather than on the requirements of preceding assignments. It is the executive’s responsibility to call that person and say, “You’ve now been manager for three months. What do you have to do to be a success in your new job? Think it through and come back to me in ten days and show it to me in writing.” It is critical that you, as a manager, assist others to think through what a job requires. Frequently, these requirements are not the traits that the performer thinks got him the job in the first place. And as we will discuss later on, if this person was promoted to this position, it is almost a one hundred per cent certainty that he will have to shift his work approach and focus in order to be successful in his new role.

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