Hiring 101 – When You’re the Hiring Manager

Recently a senior person assumed a new role. As he’s struggling to adapt to the significant workload at his new shop, he’s been given permission to hire a subordinate. And while that’s made him feel as though he’s been thrown a lifeline, he recognizes that he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing. This isn’t unusual. The problem: how do you learn how to hire?

Like most experiences, the first time, or times, one is at the helm, it’s normal to be uncertain. For example, if you were inexperienced at changing a flat tire, chances are that the wheel may wobble, even if you were able to secure it successfully. Similarly, if you were making a soufflé you might produce something that, well, doesn’t quite rise. But when you’re the hiring manager, you’re supposed to know what to do. Even if you don’t.

Some will contact the recruiter who placed them (if there was a recruiter in the equation). That may, or may not, help. Others might contact Human Resources, if it exists, and try to get some clarity from them. That doesn’t always work either. Not to mention that some hiring managers don’t want to reveal their ignorance.

Here’s some advice. First, if there is an existing team, have them provide in writing the equivalent of their job descriptions. The goal: get a good sense of who does what. Until you do that, you won’t know for sure where the gaps are. Now, if there isn’t a team in place, the hiring manager should make a list of what they feel are the top half dozen responsibilities of the ideal new hire. If the hiring manager can’t really figure out what those would be, visit a job board, plug in, for example, “Compliance Associate” and see what other descriptions include. No reason to invent, or reinvent, the wheel. By looking at a handful of existing job descriptions, it’s easy to determine what is/isn’t most essential.

Next, put a description in writing that includes the estimated number of years of experience. For the record, it’s pointless to include details like “roll up your sleeves,” “team player.” Note that in today’s world, there is a ton of age discrimination. By excluding candidates classified as “too senior” the hiring manager is making their first mistake. Many very senior candidates may be suitable and, not necessarily, gunning for the role of the hiring manager. Tread carefully. There are lots of highly experienced professionals who could be superb hires.

Have an idea of the targeted total compensation. This should just be the target. It doesn’t mean that’s what will ultimately be paid.

Perhaps most important are the following two points. One, hire someone for what they can learn, not what they know. Two, character is perhaps more important than anything else. For example, if a candidate hasn’t had experience with all of the areas deemed important enough to be in the description, the hiring manager should try to ask about how the candidate has learned that which they know and establish the candidate’s sense of how important the material is. Because if a candidate can explain how they have mastered the material they’re knowledgeable about, that should demonstrate to the hiring manager the candidate’s capacity for grasping relevant concepts. Additionally, if a candidate demonstrates a genuine interest in the material and talks about it in a thoughtful manner, that suggests that candidate recognizes the importance of what they’re responsible for.

Whenever possible, you want to hire a low maintenance candidate. Specifically: someone who isn’t a drama queen, whose ego is in check, and isn’t a prima donna. For example, a candidate once was kept waiting in reception. Instead of sitting quietly, and maybe reading the newspaper, she took it upon herself to ask to see someone else at the firm who she supposedly knew. Worse still, she did this in a fashion that revealed a tendency to run the show. Suffice it to say, no matter how intelligent she was, the hiring manager wasn’t impressed. Other mistakes candidates have made include: talking endlessly, asking questions that are best addressed after an offer has been made, neglecting to answers the questions a hiring manager asks, focusing on compensation and benefits in a first interview. In contrast, candidates who are patient with the process and appear to answer the questions honestly should be given full consideration.

A hiring manager once told me that he never hires anyone who doesn’t send him a thank you note after an interview. Candidates have told me that some recruiters have discouraged them from bothering writing them. But, in my experience, a thank you note, just like every other interaction with a candidate, reveals something about the person. Pay attention.

The process of engaging a candidate through the interview reveals a fair amount about who the person is. Are their emails well written? Did they arrive on time? And, especially important: Do they listen? Do they answer the question? Do their answers reveal a genuine understanding? Still, it’s likely that the hiring manager is just scratching the surface. Thus, it makes sense to meet and/or speak with the candidate multiple times, consider reviewing a writing sample, carefully check references and try to learn about who the candidate really is.

When interviewing several candidates in the first round: 1) don’t spend more than 30 minutes with each person, 2) have a list of about six questions and ask each candidate the same questions, 3) focus on establishing the depth of their knowledge, how they learn and their relationship with the material, as well as their level of interest in the field, 4) note anything that is off putting, 5) ask for the candidate’s compensation expectations. After the interview, on a spreadsheet with categories (i.e. knowledge, listening skills, level of energy, interest in the material, interest in the job, personality) rate each one.

Common mistakes that hiring managers make: 1) talk too much and don’t learn about the candidate, 2) don’t stay on course with the important questions and get distracted discussing who they both know, 3) neglect to ask follow-up questions when a candidate says something interesting, 4) tell the candidate that they want them to return and they’re all excited about them, 5) bad-mouth coworkers, 6) discuss confidential matters, 7) try to get free advice from the candidate. For those who don’t make these mistakes, well, you’re the exception.

Candidates who, for whatever reason, aren’t going forward, deserve to be notified sooner rather than later. Delaying them is disrespectful. Most just want to know where they stand. Best not to share any feedback apart from, we think someone else is a better fit. Don’t bother lying (which is mostly what goes on). Avoid speaking with colleagues who have yet to interview a candidate. Only after a candidate has completed the various rounds, and been selected, should negotiations begin.

Hiring managers who have lots of experience ultimately do find they typically improve at hiring. It doesn’t mean they hit a home run every time they’re up at bat. But, then again, no chef has a soufflé rise every time, either.

For information about next steps, read my other articles: Why a Rolls Royce Costs More than a VW, Tips for Hiring Managers on How to Interview and Hiring the Wrong Person.