Managers often talk about hiring like it’s a game of craps. If you get a good employee, you hit the lottery, a bad one – tough luck. I actually think of the hiring process a lot more like dating than gambling. There are a lot fancy clothes and meetings involved and when it gets serious you have to meet more people. Now, I’m not advocating actually treating the candidate like a date (let’s not get ourselves sued), I am simply saying both processes are similar. And being that is the case, both processes involve some game playing on either end. The goal of the game for you - see through the “party behaviors” to ensure you get the right employee. Here’s the game plan:
Rule #1: Get over your bad break-up. Terminations are a lot like break-ups. They are uncomfortable and no one wants to repeat the same mistakes that were made. Sometimes I can tell a bad break-up by what I read in a job ad or in a job description, they often point out very specific behaviors. I once read an ad that said one of the requirements was to “make sure the plants in the office were watered daily” (yes, the ad bolded daily) and that the ideal candidate was someone who would “always be exactly on-time.” Okay. What happened there? Someone was always late and the plants died? My suggestion to that hiring manager would be to try to figure out what didn’t make that person a good fit as a whole so that they can make a better hiring decision the next time. I worked with a manager once that told me he wasn’t going to hire people from California ever again because the last guy he hired from there moved back after six months. Another manager decided that they weren’t going to hire people who had worked at big companies before because they would get bored at our small one. These issues aren’t specific to people who have that background, they are, like most issues, specific to those people. These managers needed to dig deeper to find out what they missed in the interview process.
I hired a woman once for a customer service job. She was professional and had awesome computer skills. Each reference I called raved about her skills, saying that “she was so good. We moved her to an office by herself and she was able to run it without a problem.” This is what I should have paid closer attention to. She turned out to be awesome at customer service, data entry, answering the phones, etc, but she made her co-workers absolutely miserable. I didn’t read between the lines and I didn’t have a remote office I could send her to. Lesson learned – I needed to be a better listener when I talked to her references. To write off all people who have ever worked alone in an office would have been a silly mistake. Don’t cloud your judgment with what the last person you hired wasn’t. Just like the people with the plant ad. Was it really about the plants and lateness? Maybe, but my guess would be there were other factors involved as well. Were the plants and lateness indicative of that person’s inattentiveness to details – which also caused other errors like accounting mistakes? Probably, and therein lies the actual problem.
Rule #2: Know what you are looking for. Usually the hard skills we need in a new employee are easy to verbalize and legally important to use as a screening tool. CVT with two years of ER experience. You either have that or you don’t. Soft skills – what really makes an employee a success or failure - are significantly harder to capture. These are also often the skills managers think they will recognize with their gut. Your gut is helpful, but can be misleading. Like it or not, we tend to like and hire people who remind us of ourselves. We HR Geeks even have a term for this – the Halo Effect. Watch yourself next time you interview. Every time I have a candidate tell me that they are a type-A personality with high energy, I find myself liking them just a little bit more. But, let’s be honest, every job isn’t made for your high energy, type-A personality (trust me, we’re exhausting). And if you hire a group of people that all have similar strengths, they will also tend to have similar weaknesses – which means it will become a weakness of your entire team and of your clinic.
A couple of years ago, I was working with a manager who liked to ask candidates what activities they did outside of work. When I asked him what about this question was significant for him, he wasn’t sure at first. But, as we talked through it, he realized the question was based on the high stress level of the position we were hiring for; he was looking for someone who had healthy outlets for that stress. The question he was asking didn’t necessarily get the answer he was seeking and since he didn’t recognize what he was really looking for, he was sometimes missing answers that weren’t obvious. As an HR professional I spend more time talking with managers about those employees with great hard skills, but terrible soft skills. Hard skills actually tend to be easier to fix in most cases with training. An individual’s behaviors on the other hand are near impossible to fix, which is why you want to know what you’re dealing with before making a hiring decision. The easiest and most effective way to identify those skills is to recognize what you need and ask candidates to give you specific examples of when they showed that trait. Don’t ask yes or no questions, and try not to lead the candidate to the answer. If you want someone with great client communications, ask them to tell you about a specific time they gave great customer service. Doesn’t sound “great” to you? Sounds like you need to ask more questions or talk to more candidates.
Rule #3: Inventory the baggage. Though it would be nice, employees don’t come with a manual letting you know what their strengths and shortcomings are, nor do big red flags pop out of their heads when something goes wrong. Frequently in interviews, I see managers stop short of asking follow-up questions when a candidate says something that doesn’t pass the smell test for fear of asking inappropriate questions. This actually hurts both the candidate and you as the interviewer. Many times when this happens hiring decisions are made on assumptions that may or may not be accurate. As long as you stay away from questions about those federal and state protected classes (race, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, pregnancy status, etc), all questions are on the table. Sometimes when I ask candidates why they left their last positions, the answer I get is vague and unclear, such as “personal reasons.” Wonder what that means? Ask. The answers are often enlightening. I once had a candidate tell me he was fired for bringing donuts to work (he contended his manager was crazy and unreasonable). I asked him to tell me exactly what happened. It turns out he was fired for excessive tardiness, he just happened to bring donuts the day he was late, which turned out to be his last day. Let’s be honest, everyone has baggage. You just want to be sure you are prepared to carry it.
In short, hiring is one of the most critical decisions you can make as a manager and the more information you have to make that decision, the better it will be. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no such thing as a sure fire decision when you’re dealing with people, and it’s always a larger challenge from a practical standpoint when you have an open shift and no one to fill it, but follow the Hiring Game rules and hopefully you will spend a lot less time dealing with frogs masquerading in a Prince’s clothes.