March 24, 2014

How to Hire Great Employees: Move Slow, and Think First.

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More action. Less thinking.

That’s always been my entrepreneurial motto. Time wasted becomes opportunity wasted, so just dive in and experience everything you can.

This approach has produced great success in both my life and business, but not without a few challenges along the way. These challenges make up my “database of mistakes,” a mental database that (hopefully) keeps me from repeating such missteps as I move forward.

While flipping through these setbacks, it’s clear that many of them come from the same area: hiring.

At TechnologyAdvice, we’ve learned the hard way that “growing pains” are more than an overused cliche and an under-appreciated Alan Thicke sitcom from the ’80s. They are a harsh reality for small businesses trying to expand in both revenue and manpower. This is especially true when your company values action first and discussion later.

We needed a bigger staff, so we moved fast and assumed we’d figure it out as we went. Turns out, we needed to invest more time and more thought into identifying the employees that were the best fit for our team and our culture.

And we are not alone.

A recent CareerBuilder study revealed seven in ten businesses were affected by a bad hire in 2012. 41-percent of those businesses estimated the cost of that mistake to be at least $25,000. So much for those IT upgrades you had planned for the office.

That number fluctuates depending on the size of the business, but you can use this formula from The Undercover Recruiter to determine what it would be for your company. That same report also reminds us that 75-percent of demand for new employees is to replace workers who left the company.

We’ve lost more than our fair share of time, money, and productivity in the black hole of bad hiring over the past few years, so hopefully some of the lessons we’ve learned will help you avoid these same mistakes.

Here’s a few “highlights” from our hiring adventures:

We hired talkers, not walkers

Have candidates ever seemed too good to be true? Sometimes they are. We no longer go with our gut after being blown away in an interview. We focus on past work patterns, and let tangible examples speak for themselves.

This lesson came from a recent hire who sold us on being able to adjust to our pace, mission, and culture. This person had great work experience, great references, and skills that fit the position. However, it was all in a different career field, and different office environment. We made the hire anyway, convinced by the person’s seeming passion. Less than a week later, the person quit — citing differences with our focus, schedule, and culture. Lesson learned. Now we make sure they’ve “walked the walk.”

We hired people more interested in making friends than working hard

We work hard. We grind. We set big goals. But we also like to celebrate accomplishments and have fun. It’s a balance. We play ping-pong and drink beer while sharing laughs and high fives. We like fun people – you might say they’re our weak spot. But they have to be productive. Our expectations of each position are now clearly set in the interview process to eliminate any blurred lines between “work hard” and “play hard.”

We hired employees who didn’t know their job requirements

Okay, maybe we were part of the problem. We weren’t always clear up front, and a lot of roles evolved as we grew. But we also need people who are motivated enough to investigate what they’re getting themselves into when they accept a job. To do our part, we now test drive the position for a potential hire. We invite them in for a half day to experience the work they’ll actually be doing before accepting our offer.

We hired for inconsistent reasons and gave inconsistent expectations

This one was definitely on us. We didn’t do a great job of establishing goals and expectations for some positions. For others, we weren’t clear enough in how the position affected others and fit into the company’s mission.

Now we make sure to do three things:

1. Share more about our history in hopes of being transparent and fostering commitment.

2. Explain how we developed the current need for the position and how it fits into our company’s vision.

3. Make a clear list of goals for the first month, quarter, and year for each position, then have regular check-ups to help everyone meet these goals.

We hired team members who suffered from “millennialitis”

It’s a real condition. Look it up. (Okay, actually don’t). But it is a concern. We have a very young staff — about 90% millennials — in a city that Forbes ranks among the top ten destinations for millennials in the US. That means we’re always looking for young people with great potential. However, we had to learn to better identify that potential. Do they still share a checking account with their parents? Did they work through school, or at least actively participate in clubs or groups? Can they provide evidence of dedication to self-improvement and growth? If most of the answers are “no” (besides the bank account), then it’s likely a real-world job will be a tough adjustment.

I know. A lot of this is common sense, but it’s amazing how blinding it can be when you’re going full speed.

More action. Less thinking. — except in hiring. If you’ve also learned this lesson from a bad experience, we’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

Investing more time and more thought helped us double our staff to 35 over the past 14 months, and we’re hoping to add several more teammates before the end of the year. Check out our open positions and let us know if you think you’d be a good fit for our team.

With these nuggets of hiring knowledge now filed away in our database of mistakes, our focus is forward — meaning growing pains are again a thing of the past.

Apologies to Alan Thicke.

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Photo Credit: RobertCross1 (off and on) via Compfight cc