Hiring Mistakes – Vetting the Candidate

“But s/he was such a good fit on paper!”  How many times have you heard that description of a failed hire?  Unfortunately, the paper is only part of the story. It’s the person behind the paper that matters.  The answers to three key questions will most often determine the success of a hire.

CAN they do the job?   Pretty basic, right?  Of course the candidate must have the requisite hard skills. In many instances, however, the environment in which they apply those skills gets overlooked.  Scope, scale and context are as important as the skills themselves.  If you’re hiring a technology executive to support a 24x7 retail operation, do you really want someone from custom manufacturing? Granted, the tools may be the same, but they’ll be providing different vastly different solutions – and in fact may not even understand the questions. The resumes of a candidate managing a team of 10 and one managing a division of 100 may read the same, but require vastly different leadership skills.  A business development or sales exec who’s used to carrying a multimillion dollar quota may not understand the dynamics of selling a single million dollar deal. And the list goes on. 

WILL they do the job?  We are all capable of doing many different things. But it’s not enough to have the ability to do a job; the candidate has to want to do your job. The individual’s goals and the company’s goals need to be in sync, and both must share the same vision of success.  The word “passion” is almost a cliché in executive search right now, but the fact remains that people are complicated. We really only excel at the things that capture both our hearts and our heads.  

Do they FIT?  Cultural fit is crucial to a successful long term hire. Culture includes physical environment, process and attitude, among other things. It’s everything from jeans and t-shirts vs. suits, to communication style, to decision making process. If an executive is accustomed to working in a large environment that requires multiple levels of input, they may freeze when the decision is theirs alone. Likewise, someone who’s used to “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” may stagnate in a more deliberate, highly process-oriented environment.  A creative type won’t last in a company whose reason for doing things is “because that’s the way we’ve always done them.”

A failed hire damages more than just the egos of the parties involved. It costs the company money, opportunity, morale and momentum. Vetting a candidate in these three areas – can they, will they, do they fit - will go a long way in avoiding costly hiring mistakes.

The Rise of the Written Interview

You thought you were done writing essays when you graduated from school, didn’t you? Think again.  More and more frequently our clients are requesting writing samples from all candidates, not just those being considered for a formal communications role.

Consider this. As companies have slashed costs,  the administrative ranks have been particularly hard hit. The admins that remain are often shared and almost always overworked.  With the sheer volume of written communication demanded in the business world today most of us are our own “admins.” When‘s the last time you actually dictated a document?

Just as the quantity of written business communication has exploded, the quality has imploded. In addition to errors in grammar (my personal favorite is their / there / they’re) many times people forget that a sentence contains a subject and a verb, starts with an upper case letter and ends with punctuation. I admit to being guilty of this – as well as an over reliance on both the m-dash and the phrase “as well as.”   Factor in the proliferation of tweet speak, emoticons and acronyms, and IMHO  the ability to communicate clearly and concisely in writing has taken on increased importance.

Enter the written interview. Its purpose is to illustrate both your thought process and your writing ability. A typical written interview includes 6 to 10 open ended questions. Topics covered usually include past successes, challenges, your business philosophy, and a couple of situational questions. A written interview requires timely completion, unlike a resume or cover letter which can be wordsmithed for weeks. It demonstrates your ability to process the question and engage the reader with your answer. And just as when you were in school, neatness and grammar count.

Rather than resist this trend as just one more hoop to jump through, I encourage candidates to use it to their advantage. A written interview allows you to position yourself as the best person for the job by providing you an opportunity to address issues of specific importance to the employer. You get to state your case, unfiltered, and without reliance on the memory or note taking skills of the interviewer. The questions also give you insight into the priorities and culture of your potential next employer so you can better assess your fit with the opportunity offered.

So fire up your laptop and get to work. Your next career opportunity may depend on it!