My Business Lesson: No Interviews at 3 A.M.

When your hiring process involves hitting raccoons with your car, it's a sign you should go back to the drawing board.
Author, Profit First
June 21, 2012

It popped in my mind like many of my “genius” ideas, while in the shower. I distinctly remember the moment, because as the thought came to me some shampoo got in my eyes—which happened at the same time the hot water ran out. In retrospect, it was a clear sign: My “genius” idea was ridiculously stupid. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Warning: What you are about to learn is a lesson in exactly what not to do in your business. Do not try this at home (or in the office).

The idea? I conceived of a new way to recruit the best sales talent this world has ever seen. If there is one thing I have learned about sales, is that it is a 24/7 game. You’re always selling. The next big deal may happen at your kid’s Sunday morning soccer game. Or at that late-night neighborhood party, where after five shots of tequila you discover your neighbor is precisely the guy you need to know to close the deal. It’s at these unexpected moments that you need to be ready—any time of the day or night.

A Game-Changer

That belief brought me to this thought: The best sales people are always on. To recruit the best sales people I should conduct interviews in the dead of night. The best sales people I could ever hire will be the men and women who show up at 3 a.m. (Cue ice-cold shower water.)

I went right into action. The next day I shared the plan with my key employees, who told me the idea was ridiculous. Perfect! A clear sign I was onto something huge! If there is one thing I have learned about being an entrepreneur, it's that every game-changing idea is challenged. And mine was the idea of the century.

Within two weeks I had everything arranged. In fact, my idea had evolved. Not only would I interview salespeople at 3 a.m., I would do it Survivor-style. I would ask the salespeople to pitch me in front of all the other sales prospects. I was sure the find the best of the best. I couldn’t wait.

Additional Warning: When I refer to 3 in the morning, it most certainly isn’t morning. It is the witching hour. Pitch black night outside, total silence, and the only living creatures up at that time of night were me, some raccoons, UPS’s night crew and drunks.

A Bump in the Road

As I drove to the office I was shocked at how little traffic there was. Relieved to see a UPS 18-wheeler on the road, I quickly glanced into my reviewer mirror at the passing truck—and promptly hit the raccoon. Let’s just leave it at these three things: 1. I felt horrible, and it was gross. 2. When you call 911 to tell them that you hit an animal at 2 a.m., the 911 operator first asks, “Did you enjoy any libations this evening, sir?” 3. Moving a dead animal off the road with your foot will leave lots of blood on your pants.

When I rolled into the office at 2:59 a.m., the lights were on. Patty, my assistant, was there ready to help me with the ten people scheduled to interview. It was just me, Patty and my blood-covered trousers. I thought, “These interviewees are good! They must be sitting in the parking lot, getting ready to walk in as the clock strikes three.”

No one showed. No one. At first I panicked, but then it all became clear. Patty must have screwed it up. Did she tell people the wrong day?

Not Quite What I'd Expected

At 3:10 a.m. there was a knock at the door. “Oh, that’s right. The best salespeople are masters at social grace,” I reasoned. Always arrive 10 minutes late, so the host can be fully prepared for your arrival. These guys are good. Real good.

When I opened the door, a disheveled guy stumbled in. Or more accurately, a human brewery stumbled in. The stench of alcohol was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe it. Then there was another knock at the door. I opened it to find a UPS driver standing there. He had just finished his shift and was there for the interview.

Survivor Island turned into a session of attempting to sober up the drunk, while explaining to the UPS driver that this was a sales opportunity, not a “scales” training session. As the UPS driver left, he walked out the door, looked back at me and said, “I guess I’m not getting overtime for this.”

I called a cab to drive the drunken guy home. He thanked me by using the bathroom on the way out and, finding the urinals totally overrated, used the sink, the floor and the door handle.

Lesson Learned

The small silver lining is that I never did it again. Not that I never tried crazy ideas again; I try them all the time (including writing an article about my dumbest mistakes). But I have learned to listen more closely to my colleagues, to take risks more often but on a smaller scale, and to learn from other people’s experience.

Here is what I learned about recruiting talent. Only desperate people take desperate actions (like interviewing with a company at 3 a.m.). The best talent is looking to be recruited. You need to impress the best. You need to make an impression on them that makes them want to come to work for you.

At 3 a.m., the best salespeople are sleeping. They are getting ready to hit it out of the park come 9 a.m.

Mike Michalowicz is the author of The Pumpkin Plan and The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurial topics and is the CEO of Provendus Group, a consultancy that helps companies whose growth has plateaued to move forward again.

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