Monday, September 26, 2011

Picking People

One of the most challenging aspects of running any business is hiring the right people.  In my 20+ year career, I've probably made every mistake in the book.  In the process, I've managed to develop some hiring guidelines that have, at least for me, eliminated the worst of the errors and improved the likelihood of finding the right person for the job.  But even so, there remains a strong element of subjectivity.

Now the first step of any hiring process is to have a good job description so that you know whom you're looking for and what you want them to do for you.  But assuming that you have this, here's what I look for when I hire, what I call the 3A's.
  • Attitude - First and foremost, I look for the right attitude.  Right attitude means someone who actually wants the job that I have, is willing to learn the way it's done in your company, is willing to do the dirty work as well as the glamorous stuff that every job entails, and thinks TEAM not just about themselves.  I also look for people who enjoy what they do and aren't in it just for the money.  I still remember one interview for a manufacturing engineer during the height of the dot-com boom.  This one guy walks in the door, leans back in his chair and the first words out of his mouth after hello are "so what's the stock option plan look like?"  Needless to say, he didn't get the job.
  • Accomplishment - Next I look for demonstrated proof of the skills listed on the resume as well as proof that the person has been successful applying them.  This is where reference and background checks are important.  M.S. degree in nuclear physics from M.I.T.?  Easy enough to check.  An innovator in graphic design?  A little harder, but let me see the portfolio.  Strong project management skills?  A lot harder but possible to probe by asking specifics.  For example, how do they track projects?  What are the pros/cons of using a waterfall vs. Agile methodology for project management?  How do you handle team members who are chronically late?
  • Aptitude - Thirdly, I try to ascertain fit.  This is the soft, squishy personality stuff.  Not only do you want someone who is going to work well within your culture, you also want someone who's natural bent plays to the requirements of the job.  Some key fit parameters:
    • Process vs. "product" orientation - see my blog post on this one
    • Communication style:  written vs. graphical vs. verbal
    • Communication style:  concrete vs. abstract/conceptual
    • Detail orientation vs. big picture
    • Extrovert vs. introvert
    • Collaborative vs. individual problem solving
    • Work style:  multi-tasking vs. serial tasking
    • Integrated vs. discrete orientation toward work/life balance
(I've run into some absurd situations caused by poor fit.  I still recall one ridiculous meeting between sales and accounting at one company I was at over expense report reimbursements.  On the one hand you've got a bunch of product oriented, verbal, concrete thinking, extroverts continually ducking out of the meeting to take phone calls trying to convince a group of process oriented, "put it in writing", conceptual detail people who had allotted exactly 30 minutes to this meeting that they should be able to be reimbursed just by turning over a stack of credit card get the picture.)

Finally, there is one thing I look at beyond the 3A's:  Character. Is this a person that will tell me truth? How certain am I that they won't lie, cheat, or steal?  Does this person have the courage of their convictions?  Do they have the ability to admit to mistakes?  In short, can I trust this person to do the right thing by me?  For me, this is where intuition comes in.  If the answer is no, I don't care how stellar they are on the 3A's, don't hire.  Keep searching.

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