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Hiring Tip: Focus On The Person Rather Than The Resume

Here’s a simple hiring tip – Focus on the person rather than the resume.

I admit that the ability to confront negative behaviors and poor performance is an important skill for leaders to develop. Still, there is something you can do long before problem behaviors surface that is a step beyond that for building a high performance team. Hire the right person for the job in the beginning.

Discussions about hiring the right person frequently surface as I work with various clients across the US and Canada. The subject floats to the surface when they need to fill a position. It comes up when they realize they have the wrong person in a position. Sometimes it comes up as a question during a training session. Sometimes it comes up in a private conversation. But it almost always comes up eventually.

When people have the authority to hire and fire, I see on very common mistake — one that I have even made myself — is this: focusing on the person’s technical skills rather than on their “soft” skills. I recognize that strong and relevant technical skills are vitally important.

For example, I would recommend hiring a CPA who knows nothing about accounting, and I don’t believe you should hire a nurse or dental hygienist who knows nothing about the tasks necessary to do those jobs. So, I am not suggesting that you ignore a person’s resume. I am just suggesting that their experience and training (i.e. – their resume) only serves to qualify them to get the opportunity to interview with you.

Their resume might gets them in the door and in front of you, but it shouldn’t give them the job.

“… [get] the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats (and the wrong people off the bus) and then [figure] out where to drive it.”

– Jim Collins – Good To Great

Consider this situation.

Let’s say that you hire a person with outstanding technical skills. This person knows literally everything about the industry. They understand the legal environment. They have great job specific task skills. They understand all of the technical aspects of their position.\

And, your staff cannot stand to work with them. The “technical expert” demands special attention, resists every change, speaks negatively about management and other team members, pushes the limit on workplace rules, etc.

Are they really worth the trouble? Does the positive contribution from their “technical expert” status justify the damage they do to overall team performance? In most of the situations I’ve been involved in, the answer is no.

In the above scenario, I created a situation where the person under consideration is truly a “technical expert.”  In this case, they are among the best, technically, in their field.

What about the more frequent situation? The situation where the person really is good technically, but they’re not necessarily among the best in the industry.  Now, how does their behavior with and impact on other people balance against their technical skills? From where I sit, it only gets worse.

I assume that you will only consider hiring people with at least the basic technical skills to do the job. So, faced with a choice between two candidates:

Candidate one has a great “attitude” and acceptable technical skills (my working definition of attitude includes work ethic, drive, initiative, ability to work with others, and other “soft” or difficult to measure skills), and

Candidate two has outstanding technical skills and a poor attitude

I would choose candidate number one. I just find it easier an d more productive to help people strengthen their technical skills than to coach, mentor, cajole, and counsel them in an effort improve their attitude.

“Hire the best staff you can find, develop them as much as you can, and hand off everything you possibly can to them.”

– John C. Maxwell – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

What if you have difficulty finding a person with the right attitude? I suggest you keep looking until you find them. It is better to work short-handed for a short time than to work with a problem employee for a long time. As Jim Collins states in his landmark study Good To Great – “When in doubt, don’t hire – keep looking.”

How to Hire the Best Candidate For a Job

I often hear leaders from all types of organizations ask questions about hiring the right person. Their questions usually sound like these:

  • What if their resume looks great but they have a bad attitude?
  • What if they put on a good act and then don’t work hard?
  • How can I tell how they will perform after I hire them?

A great way to answer these questions starts with a well-defined interview process. I have heard the procedure called many things. I first learned it as the Behavioral Event interview process. [Read more…]