Diversity in diversity

My previous post outlined some thoughts to consider when hiring career changers. One of the benefits of this approach is that you’re bringing fresh perspectives to your company. If you limit your team to individuals who have only worked in your industry, you’re missing out. Of course, relevant experience is highly valuable, but so is diversity and a rich set of experience, which is why more organizations are moving away from the concept that “cultural fit” means building a hyper homogenous company.


Even just a few years ago, having a degree from a prestigious university was considered a massive advantage. Don’t get me wrong – graduating through a rigorous program is no small feat and should be rewarded. But don’t discount someone who might have been a late bloomer, someone who simply didn’t have the financial means to go to an ivy league school, or whose life circumstances just took them in a different direction. Don’t discount the non-traditional learner. We recently hired one, and he’s got all the hustle, attitude and smarts needed to excel. 

Career paths

Some people know early on what they want to be. And of course, you have to admire someone who clearly has a passion for a specific field. Not to mention that for certain roles, it’s important that a candidate has had a clear and steady career trajectory. For other positions, you may be able to widen the pool of applicants. Don’t just look at the hard skills required, but also the soft skills, such as communication skills, impeccable time management, a high degree of emotional intelligence and adaptability, and the ability to provide outstanding customer service. 

Levels of experience

Let’s be honest – ageism is real. Yes, we can call the more mature candidates “overqualified”, but why wouldn’t you hire someone who is so qualified that they will allow you to raise the bar? Aren’t you sick of hearing about the boomer versus millennial versus Gen Z battles? You’re doing your employees a disservice if they don’t get a chance to work with individuals from different generations and with different levels of professional experience. In fact, offering diversity across generations is the only way to create an environment that mimics the “real world” – and your customers’ world!

Cultural backgrounds

One of the biggest gifts that you can give your employees is the ability to be immersed in a stimulating environment that fosters open-mindedness, provides a multitude of perspectives, and is a microcosm of the diversity that makes us better. Every individual, regardless of their background, brings a unique perspective to your organization. Leverage this, provided that the person embodies your company values and has the aptitude to succeed in their role (and that you have the willingness and bandwidth to train them!). 

Our founder, David Cummings, recently published a blog post about how certain challenging life experiences can be an important characteristic for an entrepreneur. I couldn’t agree more. I’ll add to this the struggle of being an outsider due to ethnic, social, or economic background, physical challenge, gender, or any of the factors outlined above. And if you’re looking for an entrepreneurial spirit in all of your employees, keep that in mind.

One of the most important things to consider when hiring is your company’s core values and how a candidate embodies them. For us, it’s being adaptable, scrappy, positive, supportive, self-starting, to focus on the things we can control, and to put our customers first are what matters most. And that’s what we’re looking for when recruiting. If your main focus is to hire great people, you will likely have a more diverse team.  

What about you? What are your thoughts on organically fostering diversity by hiring the best people and giving them a chance, regardless of their background?

Hiring career changers

Since the outbreak of the pandemic more than two and a half years ago, people have been quitting their jobs at a never before seen rate. Last year, more than 47 million people left their employers in order to pursue something new. Many of these seekers are looking for a career change. At Hannon Hill, we have been fortunate to be able to hire several of them, and they’ve already made a huge positive impact. As we’ve said before, “you can teach someone how to do something, but you can’t teach them how to be”. If you come across someone with a great attitude, strong work ethic, and some of the other traits that you deem important, consider giving them a chance, even if they don’t have some of the role specific experience that you were looking for. Here are some thoughts to consider in order to make sure that you’re setting those new hires up for success.

Don’t rush the hiring process

Hiring a new team member is a monumental decision, not just because the wrong fit can damage your company culture and lower morale, but also because the individual trusts you with their career and their livelihood. You want to be sure that the candidate really wants the job, that they have a realistic picture of what’s expected and what joining the company will be like, that they have the aptitude to excel, and that they are an exceptional fit. Most of the time, it’s impossible to make this determination after just one interview. Don’t rush into a hire just to fill the position or for fear of missing out on a candidate. 

Be sure that you’re equipped to train them

Every new employee deserves a top notch onboarding experience, but it’s even more crucial for career changers. No matter how self-starting someone is, they will need proper training. If their manager and their team members don’t have the time to invest in thorough knowledge transfer, you’re likely not setting yourself or the career changer up for success. In addition to providing on the job training, make resources like online courses and books available, and, whenever possible, help them find a mentor.

Note that the training also needs to cover how your organization works. Sometimes, it’s not just a new skill set and job that the new employee is learning, but a whole new environment and organizational structure. You can’t expect acclimation to happen overnight, and you need to ease them into this new way of working. One of our most recent hires is a former teacher who had not worked in the corporate world. Imagine what a big change this was for her! (BTW, she is doing great!)

Plan to fill knowledge gaps

Don’t rely on the new person to figure out what they need to learn and how they’ll acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. Collaborate with them to clearly identify how and when the knowledge gaps will be filled, and set benchmarks so you both can see if things are moving in the right direction. Encourage complete honesty. What do they feel confident or excited about? What is causing apprehension? Where do they think they can make a big impact? What is their preferred method of learning? Also note that honesty goes both ways. Be realistic about expectations, professional development and potential career trajectories. Don’t overpromise. 

Provide immersive onboarding

One aspect of learning how your company works involves learning the inner workings of each department. That’s where an immersive onboarding experience is quite valuable. Schedule time for the new hire to shadow team members in other departments and to have Q&A sessions. Some learning can be done by osmosis, by listening to calls with customers and prospects or overhearing conversations between co-workers. Of course, this is much harder to do in a remote only environment. You should also consider some scheduled cross-departmental learning and “getting to know each other”s. 

Be open to new perspectives, and encourage input

By bringing someone from a different background into your organization, you are giving yourself an excellent opportunity to listen to fresh perspectives. Encourage your new hires to share their first and second impressions, as well as any new ideas they may have. Just because you’re new doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t speak up. Some of the best innovations and ideas come from looking outside your industry. 

Ditch the acronyms

Be mindful of the fact that not everyone knows what an SOW, RFP, or PO is, let alone know the specific technical terminology that you use in your products. Get into the habit of speaking in terms that everyone can understand, as it will make your company more inclusive to your team members, customers, and prospects. Also: if you must make inside jokes, explain them to the new hires.

Check in regularly

Quality onboarding does not happen in a week. Check in with your new hires regularly, especially when they’re career changers. What’s been going well? Do they feel that you’ve held up your end of the bargain? Note that those check ins don’t always have to be scheduled. Sometimes a simple “how are things going?” when stopping at their desk can be just as effective. 

Not all positions lend themselves to hiring career changers with little or no experience in the field, but please don’t discount someone who is looking to make a change if they are great cultural fits, have a strong drive, and the right aptitude and soft skills. You could be missing out on gems. That said, not every company is prepared for those types of hires. That’s why transparency on both sides is so crucial.

What about you? What are your thoughts on hiring career changers?

7 signs that a candidate is not prepared

The result of a successful interview is not necessarily a new hire. It’s knowing if a candidate is or isn’t a good fit for your company. Since better interviews lead to better hires (as you’re weeding out the individuals who are not a fit), it’s important that you always strive to become a better interviewer and that you are prepared for each interview. You know how to strike the right balance between asking common questions in order to compare candidates and being adaptable enough to dig deeper when necessary to have a meaningful and organic conversation. Furthermore, you are able to instantly identify a candidate who is not appropriately prepared. How? Let’s take a look. 

They didn’t bring their resume

When a candidate has an in-person interview, they should bring copies of their resume for each interviewer as a courtesy instead of expecting the interviewers to either have it memorized or printed themselves. Ideally, they also bring other supporting documents, such as references and any pertinent samples of their work (for instance, a marketing candidate might bring a brochure that they created). 

They don’t have a good reason why they want to work for your company

“How did you find out about the position?” is a slowball and a way to make candidates feel comfortable. Generally, if someone is excited about the opportunity at your company, they remember how they learned about it. If someone says “It might have been [insert website here]”, make a mental note to ask more about their job hunting processes. How do they identify companies that they want to work for? Which brings us to the next red flag. If a candidate can only give you generic reasons, they may not have investigated your company much prior to the interview. If the response is “you seem to have a great company culture”, probe further and ask “What does culture mean to you?” and “How would you describe our culture?” Listen carefully. If the answer mostly revolves around a relaxed dress-code or the “laid back” environment, there may be a misalignment. 

They can’t explain your products and/or services

I like to ask our candidates what they did to prepare for the interview. You’d be surprised at some of the answers. Believe it or not, some individuals responded to the effect of “not much”, or “I poked around on your website”. Find out if the candidate downloaded your whitepapers or signed up for a trial of your product if available. Have them explain your offerings and your value proposition. Depending on the seniority of the position, consider asking the candidate strategic questions such as “what other verticals do you think might be good fits for us?” or “what do you think is keeping our prospects up at night?”.

They don’t know who the interviewers are

One of the most obvious signs that someone is not prepared for an interview is when they don’t know with whom they’re interviewing. Make sure that your HR rep who set up the interview gives the candidate the names and titles (not email addresses – you want to make sure that the candidate is resourceful enough to find them when sending follow-up emails) of each person with whom the candidate will speak. If someone clearly does not remember who they’re talking to and didn’t take the initiative to even write down pertinent information in preparation for the interview, it’s a reason for concern. Some interviewees demonstrate their level of preparedness through comments, such as “I saw that you went to [school]/used to work for [company]”, “So you started out in [department]”, or “I read on your blog that”. Good! But others may be more reserved, so you may just ask them “What do you know about [name of person]?”

They only talk in generalities

A decent candidate proactively researches what types of questions are typically asked in interviews for the position that they’ve applied for. A good candidate is prepared to answer these questions in a thoughtful manner that includes very specific, personal examples. For instance, if the question “Tell me about a time when you went through extraordinary lengths to (close a deal, make a customer happy)”, is only met with general statements (“You have to go the extra mile, and customer service is what I do best”), the interviewee may not have been appropriately prepared.

They can’t answer this crucial question

You want people on your team who are invested in their own professional development. Consider asking something along the lines of “What do you do to get better at your craft?” or “Who is a thought leader in your field that you follow?”. If you catch a candidate off-guard and they can’t name any blogs or books they read, podcasts they listen to, or courses that are being offered, it should give you pause. Not everybody can think quickly on their feet in a stressful situation such as an interview. However, a well prepared candidate may have expected this question.

They don’t ask thoughtful questions

The types of questions that a candidate asks during the interview are just as important as the answers they give – sometimes even more important, as they are a direct reflection of the person’s interest in the position and genuine desire to learn about your expectations, your challenges, and vision. They also reveal critical thinking skills and the candidate’s willingness to identify if and how this could be a mutually beneficial relationship. If the interviewee doesn’t take advantage of having the opportunity to ask questions and or just inquires about benefits and work hours, it’s generally not a great sign. 

Understand, though, that you simply can’t apply the same expectations to all candidates. If you offer an entry level position for recent graduates, you can’t expect the candidates to go through the same preparation process as candidates for a senior Account manager, for example. In addition, the further along in the vetting process someone is, the more preparation you should expect. 

Finally, note that even if a candidate aced the interview, you still want to be thorough in your process and not skip any steps, such as waiting for the follow-up, having them do an assessment with deliverables that are relevant to the position, and a cross-departmental interview to determine culture fit. Fast-tracking a candidate can be one of the biggest (and most expensive) pitfalls when it comes to hiring

What about you? How do you determine if a candidate is not adequately prepared for an interview?

Before you hire

There’s something deeply gratifying about offering someone a job. Even posting a new position feels good, because it often means that your company is growing and/or that you have an opportunity to make your team stronger. But before you hire, be brutally honest when thinking about the questions below. 

Are you hiring for the right reasons? 

Clearly state the desired outcomes of adding a new team member, such as meeting an increased influx of projects, decreasing development time of new features, or breaking into new verticals. I would advise against hiring just for the sake of demonstrating growth, as it often is not fair to the new employees and it can make it challenging to ensure that all team members buy into the mission and vision and pull in the same direction with a sense of purpose. 

Is your current team optimized? 

If you’re not getting the best work out of your team now, throwing another resource at it won’t fix the problem. “If we only had an extra person to do X…” should result in a thorough analysis of how the existing team is spending their time, so that you can identify bottlenecks and opportunities for internal improvement. Here are some additional tips on how to assess staffing needs. 

Is the manager equipped to coach a new person? 

No matter how great your new hire might be, if their manager is not willing or able to not just provide a stellar onboarding experience, but to continue to coach them effectively and consistently, you’re neither doing your company nor the new employee a favor. If there’s a good case for making the hire, but you don’t trust that the manager will be able to handle it, you need to solve the latter challenge first. 

Is your interview process robust enough to ensure that you hire the right person?

In order to avoid some of the most common hiring mistakes, such as not being rigorous enough in your process, be sure that you’ve established a system to ensure that you will find the right person for the job. For us, the process typically consists of at least three rounds of interviews with multiple team members, including one round that is solely focused on determining culture fit. In addition, we always ask for deliverables that are pertinent to the role, such as a technical assessment or a research project. Finally, if you’re not willing to commit to only making an offer if you can’t picture yourself without the candidate, perhaps it’s time to reconsider if you are indeed ready to hire. 

Adding any employee requires a major investment, so be sure that you are prepared to get a maximum return for the company and for your new team member. 

What about you? What else should you think about prior to hiring?

What questions do you ask in your check-ins and performance reviews?

You probably have quarterly check-ins and annual performance reviews with the people who report to you, in addition to your own cadence of one on ones. All of those interactions are intended to help your team members in their professional development and to ensure that their goals and the company’s goals are aligned. Typically, the questions asked include accomplishments since the last meeting, goals for the upcoming review period, and areas of improvement. We also always ask for examples of how the employee exemplified the company values, as it is crucial for us to put our company culture top of mind at all times. This format has worked pretty well in the past, but since it’s advisable to revisit your practices from time to time in order to identify opportunities for improvement, I’ve been thinking about additional, more granular questions to add. Here are a few ideas.  

For the reviewee: 

Why did you/didn’t you reach your goals? 

This question refers to the tangible, measurable goals that were set. What you want to look for in the employee’s answer is their locus of control, which is absolutely vital to their success. If they haven’t achieved their goals, do they exclusively blame external factors (which, admittedly, can play a role) or do they take ownership of the things that they could have done differently? 

What lessons did you learn last week/last quarter?

An engaged employee always strives to become better. Even when things didn’t pan out as planned, they still ensure that they learn from the experience. 

What did you do last week/quarter to hone your craft?

Similarly, since you expect your team members to invest in their own professional development, you’ll want to include this question in your check-ins and reviews. Every person in your company has room to grow, and those who believe that they no longer have things to learn and improve on are probably not the ones who help your company grow and become the best place to work. 

What are you willing to be held accountable for? 

When setting goals for the next review period, you want to set a clear frame of accountability and responsibility. Goals have to be realistic but also ambitious. Similar to the “why did you/didn’t you reach your goals” question, the answer reveals how much of their achievements the team member perceives to be in their control. It’s also important to not just discuss top level goals, such as revenue generated, but also things like activity levels and pipeline, or development velocity and maximum number of fixes needed, depending on the role. 

What are you willing to do to reach your goals? 

You may augment the previous question with this one in order to understand what type of effort the employee is willing to make. For instance, if they’re not on track, are they open to coming in an hour earlier or stay an hour later to see if different times for sales calls render better results? Would they commit to taking a class in order to improve their skill set in a particular area? 

How are your professional goals and the company’s goals aligned? 

Employee engagement is a reflection of how the team member’s goals are in line with the company goals. Asking the question above helps you realize if the employee understands your organization’s goals and vision and if they perceive any misalignments with their own ambitions. 

For the manager:

A one on one, quarterly check-in, or annual performance review should result in an agreement between the team member and their manager. It should never solely focus on the employee’s goals and responsibilities, but include the manager’s role in the success of the employee as well. 

What am I willing to do to help my employee excel?

Since you’re asking the employee what they’re willing to do in order to be successful in their role, the manager should also be thinking about their level of commitment to the employee. Sharing with the team members what you’re willing to do to help them makes them feel supported and can reinforce their level of accountability. Can you commit to spending a certain amount of time every week helping them with their demos? Would you be willing to provide them a list of resources in order to improve a particular skill and then give feedback on their progress? Are you able to share some of the secrets of your own success or some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way? Contemplating the levels of your own commitment should be part of the conversation.

How are the employee’s professional goals and the company’s goals aligned? Where do you perceive a misalignment?

An honest discussion between the team member and the manager must include the topic of alignment. The manager should have a solid understanding of the direction of the company, goals, challenges, and opportunities. Should there be a perceived misalignment with regard to career trajectory or values, it’s best to have an open discussion in order to avoid assumptions, which are the killer of productive and positive relationships.

Check-ins in particular should always be a productive dialog between the manager and their team member, resulting in mutually agreed upon goals and action items and a commitment to hold up their respective ends of the bargain. 

What about you? What questions would you recommend including?