Getting the perfect hire

There was so much written about the topic of recruitment and how to hire the right people to the organization. And there is a good reason for it! As I wrote in blog post Everyone is a recruiter, recruitment is one of the keys to a successful organization. You just need to get it right otherwise you will constantly struggle. So what should you focus on when hiring a new team member?

What to focus on

Expertise – obviously you want to hire someone who is able to do the job. You should expect a basic level of technical competence. How deep expertise the person needs to have really depends on the role. For some roles the expertise is the most critical part (especially when you want to bring type of expertise not available in the team yet), however for most of the roles the expertise is “only” important but not critical. What is more critical is capability.

Capability – you want to hire someone who will be able to grow with the organization, someone smart and capable who will constantly improve, be innovative, be able to solve complex problems and learn the needed expertise fast. So capability and future potential trumps the expertise but there is something even more critical.

Attitude – this is the most critical item you need to focus on. I love the quote by Lou Holtz (American football coach) “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” The person might be super smart, the greatest expert, but if he is not passionate about the work, if he doesn’t want to do his best, you will not get the results you expect. At the other hand if he has the right attitude “he wants”, he has the potential “is capable”, he will learn the expertise. That is how stars are made!

Communication – you are building a team and that means people need to communicate. In today’s global world the ability to communicate, formulate your thoughts, present your ideas and do it in such a way that you get support is super important. You might find the smartest person but if he is unable to communicate his ideas to the rest of the team then it is a lost opportunity and you won’t be able to get the best out of him.

Cultural fit – you need to hire for the company values. You need to find people whose values are in line with yours and with those of the organization. That is the only way how to build a sustainable organization, how to make sure the team has a common sense of ownership and pushes in the same direction.

How to do it?

Don’t compromise on requirements – you should never ever compromise on what you need. Don’t lower the bar! If you need a senior developer then hire someone with capabilities of a senior developer. Don’t take shortcuts (like hiring someone with skills of a junior developer and just giving him the fancy senior developer title) and don’t crumble under pressure. Yes, you need the person fast. Yes, there is a push from the management. But none of it matters. If you compromise now, you will have to compromise every single day the person will be on board as he won’t be able to do the job you need him to do.

Don’t oversell or overpromise – the best way to attract the person who will stick with you is to be yourself even during the interviews. Why try to attract a person by over promising and hire on a false pretense? Yes, he may start but very soon he will recognize that things are not as promised and it will have a significant impact on his motivation. By overselling the company or position you just crossed one action item (getting the person) and created tons of other action items for you for the future when you will be required to spend time with the person to keep him motivated, keep him focused, keep him in the company.

Don’t underpay or overpay – always offer a fair compensation that is in-line with that person’s market value and is at par with his future peers with similar skillset that are already on your team. Don’t try to overpay even if you need the person really badly. You can always persuade someone to join by giving him more money, but if he is not compatible with the organization, doesn’t share the values and doesn’t want to join just for the sake of the job, then he won’t give you 100% and you just brought on really expensive troubles.

Don’t hire copies – don’t try to hire copies of yourself or copies of the best person on your team. Hire the right person to have a balanced team. You don’t need, and in fact you don’t want, to hire ten superstars with twenty years of experience. It is unlikely that these guys would work well together. You need a team that has someone who is a strong leader, a strong substitute, someone with great technical expertise who can teach others, someone who solves any problem, someone who is willing and able to learn, someone who won’t complain about a boring tasks, someone who will research new things, someone who will be willing to work with old technology, someone who will do what is needed even if boring. And these traits don’t need to be bundled in a single individual. The simple rule is to build a team that is great today, but that has also enough junior members and potential to be great also in the future.

That’s it. I’m pretty sure there are many other aspects of what to focus on when hiring a new team member and I don’t pretend to have all the right answers. Keep in mind that I’m coming from technology companies where people are the single most important (and often most expensive) asset and can make or break the business. And when you are still not really sure whether to hire the candidate this simple trick may help. Ask the hiring team who spoke with the candidate if there is anyone who is really enthusiastic about him and willing to put their reputation on the line. If no one raises their hand then continue to search.

Twitter type summary: “When it comes to a fight between expertise and attitude, the attitude will win with both eyes closed and one hand behind its back.”

What are your tips and tricks on how to hire the right people to the team? Anything in particular you always focus on that you believe is a key to the right hire?

Everyone is a recruiter

What is the single most important thing you need if you are building a company? Well, you may say: a great idea, money to start with, customers would be nice. All these are definitely useful, but you won’t get anything done if you don’t have people to do it. The single most important thing you need to build a team are the actual people! People who share your vision, who are driven to achieve the goals and who have the technical skills to get the job done.

What does it mean for you as a leader? And what does it mean for your team? Everyone’s top priority when building an organization must be recruitment and growing people. You simply can’t outsource the most important thing to external recruiter or to HR department. They can help you, provide tools, in fact even source some good candidates but at the end of the day it is your responsibility and the responsibility of your team to identify the best (and by that I mean the right) people and get them on board.

When building my team over the last couple of years it was a mantra: first deal with any emergency the customers might have; then focus on recruitment; and only then do the rest of your job. It may sound a bit counter-intuitive but it is actually pretty logical. If you don’t find the time to recruit people and grow the team because you are overloaded by other tasks you will stay overloaded forever. At the other hand if you give the recruitment a priority you get the people who will do the work you are putting off and much more.

Everyone is a recruiter

In most countries and cultures the best source of candidates are referrals. These are people who are recommended by someone already on your team. You should encourage the team to help sourcing new candidates. There is no need for them starting act as professional recruiters (in fact they shouldn’t as it could confuse potential candidates), but they should let their network of contacts know that you are hiring and they should find the time to approach and talk to their former colleagues who are qualified.

Everyone is an interviewer

Every person on your team should get opportunity to be involved in the recruitment process. Obviously, you don’t want to push people who are not interested and thus wouldn’t do a good job, but you want to be open to anyone on the team who raises hand and wants to get involved. Why would you do that? There are several good reasons that offset the fact that while interviewing candidates they are not producing.

  • Scalability – the more people you are able to involve in the interview process the more candidates you can process without overtaxing yourself
  • Ownership – if the team participates in the interview process and their thoughts and recommendations are being taken seriously it promotes sense of ownership for growing the team, and will at the end help with acceptance of new team members once they join
  • Sales – involving people in the interview process has also the positive side effect on referrals as mentioned above as they learn how to present the company
  • Communication – people involved in the interview process learn how to communicate better, how to evaluate people, how to share their thoughts, how to provide feedback and how to come to agreement

Everyone is a leader

You want to give people responsibility for hiring their colleagues as it lets them improve their leadership skills. Most of the points mentioned above are really important for any leader. He needs to be able to communicate well; come to agreement with others; evaluate other people and provide feedback; make a decision; talk about the job, vision, company; have sense of ownership. It is also important that you provide feedback on the way how they run the interview, figure out a way to get some feedback from candidates and keep the team apprised about the process and who was at the end selected.

And what about you?

It is your responsibility as a leader to build your team and while lots of the work and recommendations can be done by others you want to get involved at some stage. If you have done your job in training your team well, then there is 99 percent probability that you will agree with their recommendation. It is not the point of you double checking their work. The reason why you want to talk to the candidate is different:

  • You want to be seen by the candidate as a leader
  • You want to be able to share your vision for the team
  • You want to show respect for the candidate and let him know that he is really important to you and to the company

And yes, scalability might be an issue here so you may share this responsibility with couple of other senior leaders in your organization.

Twitter type summary: “It’s not a single person. It takes everyone from the team to recruit, interview and build a great team that will hold together.”

Do you involve your team in recruitment interviews? What and the positive and possible negative aspects you see with this approach? How do you ensure that you hire the right people and how much do you rely on HR department?

The broken ladder: more choices in your career than you thought

Fresh out of university, starting my career as a developer in couple of small start-ups and being rather geeky in nature I never really thought too much about “a career”. The one thing I had set was to be a manager by the time I get 40. Don’t ask me why I set this goal or why this particular age, it probably just felt right at the time. The fate wanted otherwise. I ended up very quickly as a team lead in global corporation I started reevaluating what the goal of my professional life really is and putting together a plan of a career as a manager.

The Manager

Typically if you go the management path in a big company you would work your way up on the corporate ladder, becoming a team lead, manager, director, VP, essentially focusing on one particular domain or product line. In my case being a software developer in telecommunication industry I could set my goal to become head of a product line or director of a particular business unit that develops and sells to mobile network operators. However, this just wasn’t particularly appealing to me. It looked nice on the surface but deep down felt pretty boring.

When you have “I want to be a manager” attitude towards your career you are motivated by position within the hierarchy, fancy title or the “feeling of power”. I’m saying “feeling” as being the boss still doesn’t mean that you actually have any power or that you are seen as a leader. For people in this category successful career means reaching a specific title. To be completely clear, there is nothing wrong with that and you will be happy when you achieve that goal. However, for some people there are other things more important to them than a fancy title.

So what are the options? Well there are different ways how to “have a career”. It is not just about getting to be a Director or VP, you have a broad variety of options and you should search deep in your heart on what is the right professional goal for you, what is the thing that will make you happy. As you go through different phases of your life you may actually even change your career goal couple of times.

The Guru

For many people, especially in the technology it is not about managing people or getting to the position of power, but it is about being the best in the particular technical domain. The satisfaction you derive from the feeling of being the go-to guy who gets consulted on various aspects related to a particular technology is a very powerful motivator and can make you very happy at your job. You know deep inside that you can solve more and more complicated and challenging problems and it feels really good. I still remember the days of me being a software developer. It felt great to write a complex algorithm, to solve a difficult technical problem, to be seen as the expert in my domain. In this type of career you never stop learning and the goal is actually an ever moving target, but that is what makes it fun.

The Experiencer

You might also belong to a group of people who just love experiencing new things, learning new skills, meeting new people without the bound of a particular domain or organization. The goal of your career is not the specific position or being the best at one particular thing. You could say that there is no goal or rather the goal is to gather new experiences along the way. You might be a software developer for couple of years and then realize that you would really love to spend more time with customers who actually use the product so you move to technical support team. You focus on building skills you might have missed so far as a developer.

After some time you build new expertise in dealing with customers, communicating, most likely you learn to be rather patient. You become a really good support representative and you could build your career climbing the ladder of support organization, but rather than that you say to yourself: I’m essentially talking to customers and listening to their complaints when the product is already delivered, wouldn’t it be interesting to get at the beginning of the cycle? And your next career step moves you to product management. Now you talk to the customers about their needs before the single line of code is written and again you build a whole new set of skills starting with market and competition analysis and ending with getting your company to back up your idea and build the product.

The Manager and The Guru are rather natural ways how to look at career and if you ever got a talk with your boss about your career options I’m pretty sure that these two were discussed. The third option is not that obvious, and in fact, many people wouldn’t even consider it a career. You are essentially jumping between different roles. For someone who loves change, The Experiencer is the best option there is. Though keep in mind that there should be some logic behind the individual moves and the roles should be connected and complementary to each other otherwise it will look just too erratic. You are being constantly challenged, frequently experiencing “back to school” feeling, you find yourself frequently outside of your comfort zone, you have to constantly adapt, you get a broad range of skills, experiences, you meet tons of interesting people with varied background, you build strategic relationships, you are very often the person who brings to the organization new points of view and you will always be a bit different. You will stand out in the crowd and be a leader. And at the end of the day, who is better suited to lead an organization than someone who actually experienced working in several different groups or departments and has a decent understanding of how the business works.

What do you see behind the word “career”? How do you feel about your career goals and how do the different options resonate with you? What type of career makes you happy?