When I was part of corporate America’s workforce, I was inarguably hired for my experience. What can I say? I’m a mean writer, and I give a good interview.
But as a business owner, I’ve made some mistakes. And while I make small mistakes daily, there’s one mistake I’ve made that’s bigger (and more costly) than others: I hired people for their experience.
Yep. I hired people who looked great on paper, but when it came to putting the skills they claimed to have into practice, let’s just say I was left hanging. And it’s no one’s fault but my own.
To help you avoid this same experience, I’m going to share with you the process I now go through when it comes to hiring people who will be a benefit to my brand. While a bit more time consuming on the front end, this process has left me with a better team. And that’s what every business owner wants and needs: a team of people who can help their company succeed.
The Drawback of Paper-Perfect Hires
Admit it: You’ve seen your fair share of resumes in your tenure as a business owner. Most leave you feeling pretty meh. Click, scan, close, next. Click, scan, close, next. But once in a blue moon, you come across one that gives you the wows, the I’ve-gotta-talk-to-this-person tingles.
That’s the power of a well-written resume. And I bet sometimes you hired that wow. I’m also betting that you sometimes ended up regretting that wow-based hire.
That’s because paper can only tell us so much; the rest of the hiring process is up to us. We see the paper—the accomplishments, the credentials, maybe even some big names in the previous employers and projects columns—and we get all excited.
But all those accomplishments are in the past and were performed for other people. Here’s what you’re forgetting as you review those paper wows: They didn’t do it for you, and there’s no guarantee that they'll thrive in your company.
It's also important to understand that bad hires were probably bad hires from the beginning—they didn't come on board and then stop performing well. So what happened? We just didn’t ask the right questions so we could uncover the truth.
The Art of Asking Better Questions
When you’re growing a company, you often have to hire under stressful situations. Everything needs to be done yesterday, but “When can you start?” isn’t the first or best question to be asking during an interview.
The better questions, the ones we as business owners haven’t been taught to ask, are the ones that will let us know if there’s promise beyond the paper and the personality. And there’s an art to uncovering these questions. The good news is, once you’ve unearthed them, the questions will never stop working to help you identify the best hires long after that resume has withered away into digital dust.
So let's take a look at the three categories of questions you need to be asking.
1. Motivation Questions
There’s a reason someone sent you their resume, and it usually funnels down into one of two camps: They're looking for a job (which I call a J-O-B), or they're looking for a career. Why not find out which it is? When I hire a new employee, I want someone who's looking for a career. There are plenty of places people can go if they want a J-O-B, a place where they’re punching a clock, taking orders, completing tasks and calling it a day only to do it all over again the next.
Here’s how to figure out why a candidate is really sitting in front of you:
- What inspired you to reach out to our company for employment?
- What’s your favorite product/service that we offer?
- If you’re not that familiar with our brand, what more would you like to know about before you accept a position?
- Why do you feel our company and brand are a good fit for your personality and talents?
2. Personality Questions
Your office culture has its own personality. Whether you run a remote team based in cities nationwide, are the mighty driving force behind an army of a few or are heading up a growing endeavor with employees in the triple digits, there’s a personality behind everything you do, from how your team communicates to your work ethic variances.
So ask questions that will help both you and the candidate explore whether they’ll be a personality fit for your company:
- Can you tell me about your favorite position in your work history and why you loved going to work every day?
- Are there common office behaviors that annoy you when you see them in your co-workers?
- If you could build your ideal workspace here at Company XYZ, what would it look like?
3. Vision Questions
This company of yours is still standing for one reason: the team you’ve assembled to drive your vision. They make it possible to serve the customers who need you; without them, you’re up a creek with nary a paddle in sight. So why would you hire someone without vision, without initiative, without the critical thinking skills necessary to keep your brand ahead and out of hot water?
Looks-good-on-paper hires can turn out to be box-checkers, ticking off skills and crossing off projects when complete without ever asking if those are the projects in most need of doing. My business thrives when the team I’ve assembled brings me ideas and has the unmitigated (yet highly welcomed) gall to question something I might be hell-bent on pursuing.
It’s easier than you might think to determine if someone is going to have the critical eye and mind to deliver on your vision. It comes down to finding talent who makes your vision theirs yet isn’t afraid to bring their own flavor to the conversation. Here are some questions to help you figure out their vision acumen (and work ethic):
- If someone asked you to complete a task that made you raise your eyebrows, what would your response be?
- What’s one area in our current brand where you see that we have room for improvement?
- Can you tell me about a situation in one of your previous positions where you saw a better way to do something and put a plan into motion to improve both the process and results?
- What inspires you about our company’s brand?
- If you joined our team, what do you feel your biggest contribution would be to our overall office culture?
Let me close out this column with one more inside tip from the hiring process I’ve adopted to separate the paper wows from the in-practice wows: test projects.
I have no problem bringing someone on as a 1099 contract labor hire for a probationary period. I’m never at a shortage for projects that need to be done, so I rarely have to wait for the ideal moment. A test project lets both me and the potential hire see what it’s like working for and with one another.
Over the past year alone, I’ve run into three potential wows—two were phased out during the test project stage. Surprisingly, it had little to do with the quality of their work, which was dang exquisite. The problem? We weren’t personality and workflow fits. So I got three projects completed and ended up with one fantastic team member who still works with my company today.
If you think about it, hiring a team member is a whole lot like the process of dating before you decide to marry someone. It’s full of questions, nuances are revealed over time, and you establish a rhythm (or not). And in the end, you’re left with The One.
Hiring is less about the paper and more about the promise. Because when you find The One, you're willing to work together to grow, become better and head in the same direction while maintaining your individuality.
Marriage? It's two people living, loving and growing together, with all their individual nuances shining brightly. Business? It's a team of people who shine brightest when they can each travel individual paths for improvement yet work together in the process. That's why you hire for motivation, talent, promise and personality.
Great teams know that anyone worth his salt can learn, but there has to be promise in the first place. Asking the right questions will help you uncover the wows who will make a difference at your company.
Read more articles on hiring and firing.
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