The research for our book, Let Go to Grow; why some companies thrive and others fail to reach their potential, included interviewing more than 100 small businesses owners. We heard a common theme: hiring is a big problem. They told stories of bad hires―employees terminated for embezzlement, theft and misappropriation of company resources. One owner shared that when he surreptitiously installed GPS devices on his trucks, he discovered that many of them were spending large portions of the day in convenience store parking lots. Numerous owners confessed, “We’ve made a lot of hiring mistakes.” Hiring good people is difficult, and nothing will guarantee success, but we uncovered five ways to tip the odds in your favor.
1. Know exactly what you need – The renowned philosopher, Yogi Berra, said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up some place else.” A corollary to this piece of wisdom is, “If you don’t know what you are looking for, you may end up with something else.” While it may seem like remedial advice, identifying what you need in each of four areas is the first step:
Physical requirements – This category includes the kinesthetic activities such as lifting, walking, bending, or speaking. Limit what you specify to the actual requirements of the job.
Experience – This includes work experience, but also requirements for education, accreditation or licensees. Focus on the results you want delivered not just on prior work experience. Be careful about eliminating good candidates by over-specifying.
Behaviors – These include honesty, the ability to work well with others, attitudes and work ethic. While employees can learn skills, it’s more difficult to teach behaviors. Many employers have failed when trying to convert a slacker into a hard worker. If you have to compromise when hiring, lower the bar on experience or education, but not on behaviors. Hire behaviors, train skills!
Cognitive capability – Comedian Ron White observes, “You can’t fix stupid!” It’s funny, in part because it’s true. An employee can learn new skills, but their cognitive capability is unlikely to improve significantly. So, if you want smart employees, hire smart people!
2. Understand what you have to offer – The market for good people is competitive. It’s become cliché to say, “Employees are our greatest asset.” However, it’s true. To attract great people you need to offer something more than the other employers who are courting their services.
You may find it difficult to compete with the big dogs on compensation and benefits. However, you have other things of value: flexible schedules, broader job responsibilities, a family feel, an entrepreneurial culture, or the chance to learn new skills as the company grows.
3. Cast a broad net with a narrow focus – Consider many candidates, but because you know exactly what you are looking for, quickly eliminate the bulk of the prospects and focus on the promising few.
Referrals from existing employees are great, but go beyond that. There are many possibilities. Try advertising in the local newspaper and utilize on-line sites such as Craig’s List and LinkedIn. Develop relationships with the placement offices of local colleges, high schools or technical schools. Considering more candidates increases the possibility that you’ll find the optimal recruit.
4. Leverage multiple methods and opinions – Many principals make hiring decisions by themselves. That’s a mistake. Including others can offer enhanced insight. Others may catch something you missed or ask a key follow-up question. Involving more people can also make your process more defensible. In our litigious times, bias can be an easy claim when only one individual is involved. While the hiring manager should generally make the final decision, it’s prudent to involve others.
Consider multiple methods of assessing a candidate’s fit. Depending on the job, there are three useful methods of evaluation: interviews, assessments, and simulations or trial employment.
5. Trust, but verify – During our research, we heard many stories of employee theft and embezzlement. While any business can fall victim to employee dishonesty, due to the organization’s size and often limited resources, smaller businesses suffer more. The SBA states that employee theft is the cause of 30 percent of all business failures. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Perform criminal background checks, drug tests, and credit checks when appropriate.
When presenting their credentials, prospective employees want to show themselves favorably. That’s expected. However, when good marketing becomes intentionally leading others to believe falsehoods, that’s a problem. Verify educational degrees. Make sure that schools are accredited by one of the six regional accrediting organizations. It’s not hard to check―learn how.
Most prospective employees are clever enough to list references that will say flattering things. We suggest getting to the next level. Ask references for the names of others who worked closely with the candidate and contact them.
Ensuring that you get the right people in the right jobs is critical and while it’s not easy, it’s doable. Bad hires can destroy the business that you have labored to build. Following the steps outlined above will greatly improve the probability that you’ll succeed.