you suck at hiring. let’s make you better.

Even though building the right team of people is one of the most important things managers do, way too many managers get it wrong. They give lip service to the idea that having the right people is key, but then they don’t do the things that should stem from that belief, like firing employees who aren’t meeting a high bar … or learning how to find the right people in the first place.

Hiring is hard though. And despite what you’d think by the way some employers do it, good hiring doesn’t just mean asking a bunch of perfunctory questions and then hiring the person you like the best.

Over at the Intuit QuickBase blog today, I talk about things you can do to hire better.  You can read it here. (And even if you don’t do any hiring, you should read it anyway, because reading stuff about how to hire is a good way to get more insight into what interviewers want from you.)

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Keli*

    Nice! Thank you for this timely article.
    My office has one open clerical position for which we’ve received an abundance of resumes – most from people who are way over-qualified! Sign of the times, I suppose. It’s a daunting task to sift through and find the best person. I’m cc’ing your advice to my interviewing team.

  2. Anonymous*

    The word “superstar” disturbs me. I’m a moderately high achiever in work, in life, in education, and that term disturbs me. I’m probably very good at half the things I do, extremely good at a quarter, and average at a quarter. And I’m smart, systematic and try pretty hard! I find it hard to imagine what it means to be “super.”

  3. ChristineH*

    I love #3. Not only does it give the interviewer a chance to see the candidate “in action”, I would think it’d give the candidate a somewhat realistic sense of what the job is like, especially those new to the field or role (i.e. career changers). I speak for myself when I say that some people don’t always have the most accurate impression of a given job! My last job was MUCH harder than I’d envisioned.

    I’m curious how common this practice is…I’ve only seen it with interviews for office assistant jobs, and (in the case of a friend) for teacher’s assistant jobs.

  4. Suzanne*

    So much here. I especially liked #1. I had a phone interview several months ago for a position that I know I could have done. The one question that I’m sure tripped up the process was “Have you ever been a team leader?” What does that even mean? I said that I wasn’t sure how they meant the term, but that I had supervised staff before and that, as a mother, I was used to coordinating things. But it bothered me, too, that they assumed I should know what their idea of a “team leader” was and seemed a little put off that I wasn’t 100% sure.

    In my humble opinion, one thing that interviewers need to keep in mind is that every organization is different and has different terminology and expectations. Don’t expect the person you are interviewing to know how your organization does things. They may know that you make widgets, that you had $$$ in widget sales last year, and that you’ve been making widgets sinc 1947; they won’t know what you call the shared drive on the computer, or that your department managers are called captains, or that all managers are required to join the national organization of widget makers known as WAM. When a question is asked, that may not be the question that the interviewer hears, so be specific.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! This is true on the candidate’s side too; I see too many resumes written in jargon and acronyms that assumes a company-specific knowledge.

  5. Anonymous*

    I am always surprised at how people focus more on the questions and less on the competency side when interviewing. I’m a Comms Director myself and have not given one interview that doesn’t include a sample assignment. I have been on teams where this step was not taken in the recruitment process and you wind up with people who are weak writers, who are good conversationalists but stumble at public presentations, and individuals who can only execute but can’t plan.

    I have also been both surprised and disappointed in reviewing the assignments when it comes to evaluation. Someone in my top 3 once jumped to the bottom of the pile because their assignment really reflected someone junior – and while I believe that people can be “trained up”, the difference in competency levels between the candidates really showed that this person, while quite charming and persuasive in their phone and in-person interview, would not be able to meet the expectations that I had for the right candidate.

  6. Joe*

    One more thing that I would add to your list, which I have learned the hard way, but rarely see people doing: If a person is not a “Yes”, they’re a “No”. If you find yourself on the fence about a person (and don’t have the opportunity to do a followup, or have already done so), don’t hire them. If you think that maybe possibly over time this person could become the right person, don’t hire them. If you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but don’t have evidence to indicate that they can really do the job, don’t hire them.

    Why? Because there are always more candidates for the job (especially in this economy), so if you pass up on the right person, there will be more right people who will come in. But if you hire the wrong person, it’s often really hard to get rid of them when they don’t work out.

    Now, there are times when this isn’t an option: if a position is time-sensitive, and you just need the best person you can find right now, you have to hire the best person you can find right now. Or if you have a fixed pool of candidates, and can’t get any more, then you have to work with the people in your pool. But if you have an open position and can keep bringing people in until it’s filled, then hold out for that person you’re sure can do it.

    (Credit for this inspiring piece of advice goes to Joel Spolsky, author of the Joel on Software blog, for writing about this several years ago in a way that was easy to understand and explain.)

  7. Anonymous_J*

    Here’s my concern. You keep saying to look at their past ACTUAL performance. The trouble is, someone who is in a bad environment (for them) will not perform at their best. No matter how hard he/she might try, there are a lot of factors that come with bad fit that inhibit performance.

    I’m in this situation now, and I hate even telling people where I work, because it’s been a TERRIBLE experience, and it’s actually ERODED some of my skills. I feel this is a lot of what’s holding me back in my job search.

    I guess my question is how can a candidate get across that he/she really IS very capable, even if his/her most recent experience or supervisor may not confirm that?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      From the employer’s perspective, if they’re going to hire well, they’ve got to look at how the person has performed in the past. That might mean overlooking someone good who was in a bad situation, but the employer’s job isn’t to be fair — it’s to hire the person who’s most likely to excel in the job they’re hiring for, and a big part of that is looking at past track record.

      What that means for you as a candidate is that you’ve got to really try to come up with examples that illustrate performance.

      1. Anonymous_J*


        For me, that means looking to my volunteer network and to my small business network, because as far as work goes, I got nuthin’!

        I appreciate your clear and quick response. I tend to get busy and save my favorite blogs to read “later.” ;)

Comments are closed.