Three common hiring mistakes

My two part post about interviewing covered which questions to ask candidates in order to determine whether they are the right fit for the job and your team and what other things to consider in order to ensure a successful interview (note that an interview is successful if you determine mutual fit, whether the outcome is a hire or a rejection on either part). Today, let’s take a look at some common hiring mistakes and how to avoid them.

“Selling” the company or the job

If you’re proud of your company and enthusiastic about your job, it’s only natural to want to brag about it, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Be authentic in the interview. However, starting the conversation by trying to sell the candidate on the company or the job can make you look more desperate than you actually are and put the candidate in a frame of mind where they feel that they already got the job, which then can really skew the rest of the interview. Be as transparent as possible and point out both the positives and the challenges associated with the position and ensure to paint a realistic picture of what’s expected from the role, what you’re looking for in an ideal candidate, and what it’s like to work for your company. Don’t just talk in abstract terms, but be sure to provide specific examples.

Fast tracking a candidate

There he is – your perfect candidate. Finally! They seem to check all of the boxes in terms of qualifications on their resume. The interview went exceptionally well. You’ve been looking for someone like this for weeks, maybe months! Surely, if you don’t make an offer quickly, someone else will snatch them up! And while you typically pride yourself in a thorough hiring process and in being extremely selective, you feel like you have to fast track this candidate and skip what would be the typical next step in the process.

For instance, you may want to schedule an immediate follow-up interview or even make an offer even if the candidate has not followed up yet with a thank you. I would consider this a mistake, because the follow-up from the candidate can tell you a lot about their listening skills, their understanding of how they can contribute to the success of the company, and the degree to which they are interested in this particular job. Furthermore, extending an offer even if a candidate hasn’t even sent a thank you can convey the impression of you setting the bar pretty low. If customer service means something to you, you want to make sure that you hire people who will deliver top notch service anytime and not take anything for granted. Wait for the follow-up.

The same goes for next steps in terms of assessments. You should always have the candidate complete a writing assessment, as written communication is essential in almost every job. Think about a task that allows you to better gauge the candidate’s resourcefulness and aptitude for the position they’re applying for. For example, ask sales candidates do a sales demonstration, present engineering candidates with coding challenges, or have a support tech candidate research a common issue. Don’t skip those specific tests just because you fear that the candidate will be turned off when having to jump through an additional hoop. If someone is a true fit for your company and is excited about the prospect of working for you, they will want to make sure that they put themselves through relevant tests, because after all, accepting a new job is a risk and an investment for the candidate, too, and not just for you. In addition, your ideal candidate will want to prove to you that they are willing to go the extra mile for the opportunity. If they don’t, they may not be as interested as you thought – and that’s fine, too.

The panic or capitulation hire

You’ve stuck to your hiring principles. You put candidates through a thorough process. Alas, some of who you thought were excellent candidates didn’t follow up, didn’t submit the deliverables that you asked for, or did poorly on assessments. You just can’t seem to be able to find the right candidate. Your HR reps and maybe even some other managers or employees are starting to question if you’re simply asking too much. After all, they’ve brought dozens of candidates to you. And now, doubts are creeping into your head and you might think “Maybe the ideal candidate is just not out there.” The next person who walks through the door does a fine job. Subconsciously, you may even ask them easier questions in the interview or be more lenient when evaluating their assessments. Why? Maybe because you’re starting to panic, since it’s been months and you really need to fill this position. Or you simply resign yourself to the idea that you won’t be able to get your perfect hire. Let’s be honest: a panic or capitulation hire rarely works out. Don’t lower your standards. Continue your search until you have hired the right person for the job and for your company.

You will make hiring mistakes. And you may even accidentally end up with a really good hire despite your mistakes. However, always approach each interview from a standpoint of whether there is a mutual fit. If it’s not a yes, it’s a no. Whoever you bring on board will have to be treated as a major investment, not as a compromise.

What about you? What hiring mistakes have you encountered?


Better interviews, better hires – Part Two

In last week’s post, I shared some thoughts on the types of questions you can ask during an interview. Always keep in mind that as long as the interview gives both you and the candidate clarity on whether this is a good fit for both parties, the interview was successful, even if it doesn’t result in a hire.

Today, let’s take a look some other factors that are important to focus on during the interview process.

The questions asked by the candidate

You want the interview to flow as naturally as possible, so refrain from continuously peppering your candidate with questions. Even more important than the interviewee’s responses is the types of questions that they ask. This includes the list of topics that they have prepared ahead of time as well as the follow-up questions that demonstrate a candidate’s active listening skills. You can even be intentionally brief in one of your answers in order to see if the candidate is inquisitive enough to dig deeper.

Give your interviewee plenty of opportunities to ask questions, and beware of anyone who does not have anything prepared ahead of time. Sometimes a candidate will refer to their initial phone screening and say that all of his or her questions have already been answered by someone else. This should raise a red flag, because the individual is foregoing an opportunity to check for alignment and consistency and to get to hear your points of view. For example, your HR coordinator may be able to provide great insights into a role and your company culture, but wouldn’t you expect your candidate, at a very minimum, to ask their potential manager about those things as well? How about asking about the person who has been most successful in the role and what could be attributed to their success? What about directly asking the manager “What would separate a good hire from a great hire?” I’d also expect questions that are more specific to your company and that really show that the candidate has done their homework (“I understand that your main verticals are X and Y, but not Z. Is that by design? Why?”).

The demeanor

While body language and demeanor are important things to observe, always consider the type of role for which the person is interviewing, their level of experience, and the simple fact that each person is different. Curb your human propensity for over-interpretation in favor of asking insightful questions. That being said, you certainly want to pay attention to the person’s confidence, their ability to make eye contact and to articulate themselves clearly, and to present themselves in a professional and respectful manner. Does the candidate stand up or remain seated when you or another interviewer walk in the room? Do they throw away their cup or leave it for you to clean up after the interview? Does the candidate pay equal attention to everyone in the room or do they ignore someone altogether? Do they have their phones put away?

The written assessment

Regardless of the particular role for which you’re hiring, I strongly recommend giving each viable candidate a written assessment to complete. Good writing skills are crucial, whether you’re dealing with external stakeholders such as customers, or internally with team members. You may consider giving the candidate a few topics to research that are relevant to the role so that you can assess their ability to solve problems independently, their attention to detail, and their level of interest in the job.

The follow up

Follow-ups, or lack thereof, can be deal breakers. If you don’t receive a follow-up email, phone call, or card, it’s safe to assume that the candidate either isn’t willing to put in the minimal effort required to ensure that they’ll be a serious contender or that he or she is no longer interested in the position. When you do receive a follow-up, look to see if it’s a standard thank you template or whether it reflects that the candidate is not only genuinely interested in working for and with you, but understands the alignment between their goals and the company’s.

The ecosystem

Believe it or not, even if a candidate checks off all the boxes in what you had originally identified in characteristics and competencies of an ideal hire, it still doesn’t mean that you must bring them on board. Carefully assess how the individual would fit into and impact your ecosystem. A GM of a professional sports team doesn’t just indiscriminately put together the best individual players on paper but always strives to build a cohesive team to whose success each member makes unique contributions in order to achieve something that only this particular combination of players can achieve. Apply the same way of thinking in your hiring process.

Observe and coach other interviewers

Finally, use interviews as an opportunity to observe your team members, the interviewers. What types of questions do they ask and why? Do they listen and ask thoughtful follow up questions or do they disrupt the flow of the conversation with erratic topic changes? Do the questions they ask and the answers they provide show that they they understand what’s important for this role and for the company? After each interview, solicit their opinion on both the candidate and the interview itself, and provide your own feedback. Part of becoming better at your craft and at management is to continuously get better at interviews and coaching your team members to hone their interviewing skills

What about you? What are your tips for a successful interviewing process?

Better interviews, better hires – Part One

In last week’s post, I shared some ideas on how to assess and address staffing needs as well as some points to consider prior to hiring a new team member. Some of the key takeaways included:

  • When someone leaves your company, don’t automatically look for a one to one replacement. Seize the opportunity to optimize your team.
  • Carefully examine your team members’ and your own strengths, weaknesses, passions, and interests and how they align with your company goals.
  • Analyze what you’re doing too much of, enough of, and not enough of.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch things up if you have the right people on the bus. You can teach people what to do, but you can’t teach them how to be.

Bringing a new person on board is a big investment, for you and for the new employee. Therefore, it’s crucial to be thorough and purposeful during the interview process.

Let’s look at some tips with regard to identifying the right candidate. Today, we’ll focus on the questions to ask, and next week, we’ll look at other important factors, such as demeanor, follow-ups, and group interviews.

Be sure to ask questions that matter to you and help you determine if the candidate is the cultural fit. It’s also important to not just go in with a list of questions, but to actively listen and to make the interview conversational through thoughtful follow-up questions based on the candidate’s responses. That being said, here are some questions that could be useful.

Tell me why you took each job and why you left each job.

This allows you to not just identify the candidate’s ambitions and their decision-making processes, but also to get a sense of how they viewed each job and each company they worked for. Does the candidate take responsibility for things that didn’t go well, or do you get a sense of victim mentality? What did the candidate learn from each experience? How did they handle challenges? When the opportunity arises, consider asking the candidate about their last manager. “What did they do particularly well? Which tips would you give them?”. In the same vein, I like asking the candidate if there ever was a time when they just dreaded going to work. Most people would likely answer the question with yes, but what you want to pay attention to is whether the candidate explains how they got through this challenging time in their professional life.

What made you apply for this position?

This is a pretty standard question. Are you getting a standard answer, or do you get the impression that the candidate can clearly identify why your company is where they want to work? You’re not out for flattery, but to the thought that the candidate has given this position. Are they just looking for a job? What’s important to them? If they mention the importance of company culture, ask them to define what the term means to them.

What did you do to prepare for this interview?

This question takes most candidates by surprise, so it allows you to see how quick they are on their feet. If you value resourcefulness and tenacity, you will see how far the candidate went in their preparation for the interview. If they just say “I looked at your website” but can’t really point to anything specific, it can give you a reason for concern. If the candidate read your white papers, signed up for one of your webinars or downloaded a trial of your software, it’s typically a good start.

What would make you realize after 90 days that you made a mistake when you accepted this job?

A variation of this question is: “A year from now, you’re no longer with [your company]. What’s the most likely reason for that?”. This question can reveal how much responsibility the candidate is taking for their own happiness and success. Don’t be afraid to have a frank conversation about deal breakers. I appreciate a candidate who throws the question back at me. Similarly, you can ask “What would make you realize after 90 days that you made the right decision?”

What do you do to get better at your craft?

If you’re passionate about what you do, you want to always get better at your craft. That’s why I often ask this question during interviews, and I’m still surprised at how it can take people off guard. Don’t settle for superficial answers. If someone responds with “I read/listen to books”, ask them about the last book they read and what main insights they gained from it. Inquire which people in the industry they look up to and follow. A thorough answer can really be a gamechanger and shape the rest of the conversation, because a candidate’s degree of dedication to their art reveals a lot about whether they are a fit for your company.

Don’t just go through a standard set of questions, but be thoughtful and intentional. Let the conversation flow naturally, but also be prepared to surprise your candidates with a curveball. You’ll want to find out how prepared the candidate is and how they deal with unexpected scenarios. Ultimately, you’ll want to find out if the candidate is not just qualified for the job but also a cultural fit, so think about the values that are most important to you prior to stepping into the interview.

Keep in mind, a successful interview doesn’t always result in a hire, but instead, it gives clarity to both you and the candidate. And, ideally, each interview will make you a better interviewer.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, in which we will discuss other key factors to a successful interview.

What about you? What questions do you recommend asking?

Who, what, why? Assessing staffing needs

Evaluating your current staff and staffing needs is likely something that you do on an ongoing basis, but it’s a particularly useful exercise to go through when a team member leaves the company. Too often, managers have the knee jerk reaction of simply finding a one to one replacement, thus foregoing the opportunity to make the team better and stronger, to foster professional growth, and to make impactful changes to both processes and the makeup of their team.

Here are some ideas on how you can assess your needs and identify opportunities.

Doing enough of, not enough of, too much of

I recommend starting a spreadsheet with three simple columns:

  • doing enough of
  • not enough of
  • too much of.

Start with yourself, as this can be an eye-opening exercise. Categorize everything you do on regular basis into these three columns. You can even add another dimension and rate the level of each entry. For instance, you may have “Respond to RFPs” in the “doing too much of” column, and now you can assign a value from 1 to 10 to capture just how much “too much” time you’ve been allocating to RFPs. You can even take it step further and color-code each entry to create a visual of how much you enjoy (or don’t enjoy) this task or how well you think you’re doing the task.

It can be as simple as the example below:


Take a few hard looks at what you’ve captured. Now look at the “not enough of” column and ask yourself why you feel that each of those items are being neglected and what needs to happen for you to be able to move those tasks into the “enough of” column. Next, move on to the “too much of” column. For each item, ask yourself “Am I the best person to do this? What type of person is best suited for this? Do we currently have someone on our team who could make this part of their role? If we created a new position that included this particular responsibility, what else would their job entail?” Once you’ve gone through this exercise for yourself, ask your managers to do the same and discuss the results in your check-ins. Have each team member complete the exercise themselves for one of their one one ones with their managers. Be clear about the purpose of this initiative. It’s to make the company stronger and to harness each person’s strengths and interests, but it is not a guarantee that everybody only gets to work on the things that they enjoy the most.

High-level department snapshot

While the previous approach can be pretty elaborate, creating a high-level department snapshot is a quick way to get your staffing assessment started. For each department, create bullet points for the following categories:

  • Pain points and challenges
  • Strengths and opportunities
  • Changes to consider

It’s important to tackle the last bullet point only after you’ve given serious thought to the first two items. And once you get to “changes”, be sure to think about processes, policies, and initiatives as well. Sometimes, adding a new employee is not the answer. For instance, implementing a new app to facilitate collaboration, finally deciding to say no to certain projects, offering training to one or more individuals, or even simple things such as new seating arrangement can make a significant impact and solve some of your challenges. Obviously, when you do see the need for a new position, evaluate if it would make sense to fill it internally or if you need to bring in someone from the outside. I love to find opportunities for existing team members to stretch themselves and grow professionally.

Individual strengths, interests, passions, goals, and weaknesses

As a manager and coach, it is your duty to observe your team members and to continuously identify their unique superpowers, their passions and interests, goals, and their weaknesses, and to collaborate with each person to optimize their performance and maximize their happiness. In order to keep your assessments top of mind and current, and to have a log that allows you to go back in time and see a person’s progression, it can be helpful to keep a history of your entries rather than overwriting them each time. What you’re looking to find here is alignment between the team member’s goals and the company’s. How can you best leverage someone’s strengths? If a particular weakness is an obstacle towards achieving alignment, is there something you can do to in terms of coaching and providing resources in order to alleviate the weakness, or would it make more sense to shift certain responsibilities to someone else? Be sure to ask your team members to provide a self-assessment as well – it’s another great way to structure on of your check-ins.

Don’t be afraid of a switcheroo

As I mentioned before, sometimes just throwing a new hire into the mix is not the best option. Always focus on an internal assessment first. Look for opportunities to harness your team members’ strengths and empower them to rise to the occasion. Don’t be afraid to switch things up. In fact, you may even be able to pull a switcheroo and have two or more team members trade positions. For instance, in one of my previous companies, I switched our Support Manager and our Network Administrator, as their personalities were much better suited for each other’s roles. It doesn’t always have to be a one on one switch, either. Sometimes, you can revamp several positions. Be committed to providing adequate training and to be forgiving when things don’t go as smoothly as expected at first. If you have the right people on board, they’ll learn. Always remember that you can teach people how to do something but you can’t teach them how to be.

What about you? What are your tips for assessing staffing needs?

The diversity challenge

In my previous post, I mentioned that company culture was not about a specific demographic, but about how each person lives and breathes the company values. Too often, the concept of “culture” is misinterpreted. Sadly, a lot of times, people confuse it with a homogenized environment in different aspects, such as race, gender, alumni, and age. The truth is that diversity can be one of your biggest assets, as it makes your team members more adept in interacting with different people and it allows you to leverage each person’s unique strengths. So what can you do to create a highly functional, diverse team? What can each team member, regardless of their role, do, to harness the benefits of diversity? In this post, let me put special emphasis on age diversity, since this has become somewhat of an elephant in the room.

Have an open mind

A great start to making diversity work for you is to make sure that you as a manager have an open mind and that you also foster not just tolerance but the full embracing of differences. Why not make open mindedness part of your company values and have it displayed front and center in your office? In addition, consider ways in which you can help team members get to know each other better. For instance, at Hannon Hill, we have “hot seats” with the new hires. It’s important for new team members to show their personalities and for existing employees to show their interest in getting to know them. Questions may range from “what’s been the biggest surprise in your first week of working here?” to “what would be the title of your autobiography?”. If you’re a manager, you’ll want to pay attention to who is asking questions and shows curiosity.

Educate yourself

If you’re not willing to learn about people who are different from you, you are hampering your own personal and professional development and your company’s. When I started working with an increasing number of millenials, I made it a priority to read at least one article a day on how to work with them, what motivates them, what scares them, and how to create an environment in which they thrive. I expect my team members to read, watch videos, and listen to audiobooks in order to always get better at their craft and that includes being able to understand, embrace, and ultimately leverage differences. Be sure to make clear to your team members that this is what you expect of them.

Have story sharing sessions

In one of our manager workshops, we went through a very impactful exercise: presenting our timeline. Each person was free to share whatever they felt comfortable with, and the idea was to present a timeline of the highlights and lowlights in their career and, if they so choose, their personal lives, and the lessons they learned from each. You wouldn’t believe how eye-opening it was, and the exercise certainly enhanced our appreciation for our teammates, and our admiration for and empathy with them.

Talk about differences

I understand the good intentions when people say “I don’t see color/gender/age”. But doesn’t that mean that you don’t see each person for the unique individual they are? Wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge each other’s different backgrounds, personalities, and experiences and talk about them? I recommend fun exercises like personality tests. 16Personalities is a free test that only takes about 10-15 minutes. Discuss the results. Ideally, follow up with another exercise, such as having a small group present a concept (or even a sales pitch) to someone on the team with a specific personality type.

Accommodate preferences when and where it makes sense

Don’t use your background or personality type as an excuse for acting a certain way. Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stretch yourself and go to networking events. Just because you’re “not a morning person” doesn’t mean that it’s you should not make sales calls early in the morning. Be sure to make this clear to your team. That being said, accommodate your team members’ preferences where it makes sense. For example, if your millenial software engineer prefers a schedule that allows him to take a break for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to pursue his passion and it doesn’t affect other team members or the desired output, consider giving your team member this flexibility. Or if one of your team members wants to take a day off to celebrate a specific holiday, allow it if it doesn’t negatively impact other people’s work.

Focus on strengths

“Oh, those millennials are so entitled! They have no idea about the real world!” The number of times I’ve heard this statement is equal to the number of times I’ve been supremely frustrated with its narrow mindedness. Instead of immediately focusing on stereotypes, which often have a negative tendency, challenge yourself and your team to look at the positives of each characteristic. So when you hear “millenials are entitled”, think about how to find the best trait in this and how to make it work for you. What about “millenials are confident and fearless”? How can you leverage that part of the equation? When you hear “Baby boomers are stuck in their ways”, think “they bring so much discipline and hard work to the table. How can we best leverage that?” You get the picture.

Involve HR

Finally, make sure to have ongoing conversations with HR. Laws, rules, and best practices change all the time, and your human resources pros make it their mission to stay on top of it. Talk to them about your initiatives. Ask them what you can or can’t do. Be open to their feedback.

You would be doing your team members and your company a disservice if you didn’t focus on embracing diversity. Consider this a diversity 101 post and stay tuned for more to come.

What about you? What are you doing to embrace diversity?