As I have moved through my career – different levels, different companies, different areas of work – my hiring philosophy has stayed relatively simple and consistent. That doesn’t mean it has always worked, no one can claim a record of hiring even close to perfection. But in case it helps others think about their criteria, here’s what I am looking for when I hire.
It’s got to be positive, and I err on the side of abundant energy. I do this in part because it matches my style. You will see later that I don’t hire people like me in every way, but I really need people who can keep up a pace that matches my sense of urgency, and I really don’t have time for drama so I don’t like pessimists or those looking for problems, I want people who sense everything is an opportunity or at least when they recognize a challenge they get energized about overcoming it.
I look for energy a few ways. In resumes, I look for “multi-taskers” – folks who are doing charity work while they hold meaningful positions; those who worked full time while going to college; I will ask about hobbies and friends and family to see where they prioritize and also where they “make time” for important things while still doing others. You know these people, they are the ones you always wonder how they “do it all” but in reality they are often the best at making good decisions quickly, delegate appropriately, and prioritize better. They also tend to put extra time into those things they are passionate about, and if they are passionate about your company and your team they will be a great leader or employee.
Here I want people who will complement me. Some of us are confident on the outside, but not on the inside and vice versa. There needs to be a mix but teams – especially management teams – need confidence. They need to be able to stand up and voice concerns/options/ideas when discussing complex issues. They also need to be confident enough to ask questions and not pretend to be knowledgeable in an area they aren’t. And they need to be confident enough to support and execute decisions that aren’t what they necessarily wanted, knowing the decision wasn’t “personal.”
I look for confidence using behavioral interview questions, asking about situations and experiences that fit the examples above. I want to hear them talk about decision making processes, how they got involved even when it wasn’t their area of responsibility. Times when they faced adversity and persevered. Times when they didn’t take rejection or other negative outcomes personally.
Skillsets are always important. I look for complementary skillsets when possible. If my team largely consists of analytical, process-oriented thinkers like me, I will try to find a “wild card” (compared to the rest of us) to balance our approach. If we are weighted to the creative and ad-hoc style of decision making, I will try to add a more process-oriented and analytical skillset to the mix.
I will need to make sure the new hire has the confidence qualities discussed above, because they will have to be willing to speak up against the crowd.
I sometimes ask people for evidence of their work – if they show up with organized PowerPoint slides with charts and graphs, we know how they think – if they show up with jotted notes and sketches of ideas, we know how they think. I will often have them walk through a sample problem and see how they would attack it. Some will start by ensuring all relevant people are invited to a meeting and discuss everyone’s ideas and ensure everyone knows the “why” of the problem; others will start with organizing a detailed work plan and Gantt chart showing the tasks needed to overcome the problem. It doesn’t matter if they think like you – you should hire the one who will fill the gap and align better with the position you are hiring for.
A word on process
I never, NEVER, hire alone. Particularly with interviews, I involve a variety of people to help me – HR professionals, staff who will interact with the manager (or managers who will interact with the staff), people who will be peers, and my peers who can give me a “second opinion.” I learned this from my early public accounting experience and it is something I have taken with me. I typically use a combination of multiple individual interviews, panel sessions, and “casual” settings like lunch or coffee.