This article was originally published in Forbes on October 12, 2017.
We all do it. We settle for an OK candidate when trying to fill a job. Why? We see the cost of the unfilled position: an uncovered territory, a long customer service queue, an overworked team.
But most people don’t consider the cost of a bad hire. A study from CareerBuilder shows that hiring the wrong person costs real money: One-third of U.S. employers reported that a single bad hire costs more than $50,000.
How can you avoid this mistake? You need to see selecting talent as critical to your strategy — as critical as product design or capital structure. And you need to get good at it.
Here are four steps to increase your selection savvy:
First, start every interview asking your candidate to share what she knows about your company and what questions she has. It doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing her to be your office manager or your COO. Here you are looking for two attributes: Does she have a real interest in your organization, and is she professional enough to prepare for the meeting. If she has done her research, you can have some confidence that she’ll prepare well for meetings with your customers, vendors and other employees too.
Second, look for patterns. This step is easy for people who enjoy solving puzzles because that’s what you’re doing. Ask your candidate about experiences throughout her career — starting with what she studied in school, what engaged her, and what bored her — regardless of whether you think those experiences are relevant to the job. For each position she held, you want to understand what she was hired to do, what she achieved, the feedback she received, what she liked and didn’t, and why she eventually moved on. This takes time — you can’t get through it in a 60-minute interview. But when you’ve done it, you’ll have rich data points that tell you whether she’ll be a good fit for your company.
Recently, I helped a client select a new marketing lead. We found a delightful candidate everyone loved. He had the right set of industry experience, wanted to spend his time where we needed focus and lived in the right place. But when looking for patterns, I uncovered that he excelled in supportive environments with bosses who operated as mentors (my client has a sink-or-swim culture with a boss who isn’t big on emotional connection). I shared this observation with my client and the candidate and everyone agreed it wasn’t the right fit. If I hadn’t invested the time to really understand the candidate’s background, we all would have made a bad choice.
Third, find some way to test your candidate in the real-world of your business. Where possible, create a short-term consulting or contracting project so your candidate can do work for your company. Pay her for her time. I can’t count the number of great interviews I’ve had that were followed by the quick realization that my candidate didn’t have what it takes once we started working side-by-side.
It’s not hard to create a real-world test, but it does require you to be creative. When candidates aren’t employed, hire them for a temp-to-perm role. When they are, scope out a consulting project related to the job. If neither of these are feasible, consider a written interview where you send relevant tasks (a spreadsheet analysis, a sample client communication, an essay-format interview question) at an agreed upon time and your candidate responds an hour later with her work. Clear, written communication is so important that even if you default to the essay-format interview question, you’ll gather information about your candidate’s clear thinking and written communication skills (or lack thereof), which would be missed with an interview-only approach.
Finally, check references. The best method I’ve seen comes from Dr. Geoff Smart. Here’s the secret: After thoroughly understanding your candidate’s work experience, you choose who to call (because whoever your candidate suggests is sure to provide a great reference). Ask your candidate to assist with setting up the calls. Once you’re speaking with the right people – those who had meaningful experiences working with your candidate but who didn’t necessarily turn into friends – ask references to fill in details on the story you heard from your candidate.
Nothing you do is more important than selecting the right person for your company. So don’t settle for just OK.