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Four ‘super-elements’ to look for in potential hires to build a strong team

Here are four quick ideas to consider about hiring:

  • It’s better to leave a position unfilled than to make a bad hire.
     
  • You should be spending 20 per cent of your time – one day a week – on hiring to improve your odds of success.
     
  • Your next great hire is likely to have no experience in whatever business or industry you operate.
     
  • Play down the many job description criteria you normally develop to assess applicants and focus on four elements: Attitude, accountability, past related job success and cultural fit.

That advice comes from Adam Robinson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Hireology, which offers software tools to help improve hiring techniques. Based in Chicago, he notes in an interview that nobody teaches managers how to hire, with 75 per cent reporting they struggle. Their hiring instincts – and the practices of people around them they might emulate – are often weak. And that hurts: "What more important activity does a builder of teams have than selecting new members? You need the right person in the right seat and it doesn't happen randomly."

Usually, hiring is rushed. Not enough care is taken to find proper candidates. And the person perceived to be the best is brought on board, even if there are huge alarm bells. Yet a bad hire means endless problems down the road. So slow down. Be willing to start the process over. It's better to leave a position unfilled than to make a bad hire.

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That leads to a second important dictum from the author of The Best Team Wins : Spend one day a week on hiring. Give proper time to interviewing, increasing your involvement in early screening interviews – which most managers delegate – and be willing to take an extra round interviewing and assessing the best candidates. As well, scout for good people even when you don't have openings and they aren't planning a job move; develop a relationship so that you can call them or they can call you if a change in circumstances occurs. Don't have the time for all of that? He says that's probably because you are drained by dealing with all your bad hires over the years. "Would you rather spend one day a week on hiring or five days a week dealing with poor hires?" he asks in the interview.

Think broadly with those hirings. He says 50 per cent of the factors predicting career success have nothing to do with experience in your industry. He urges you to focus instead on what he calls the four "super-elements" of success:

  • Attitude. You want people to have a positive disposition to work – not just with your company or the job you are offering but the act of working itself. That outlook is unlikely to change over time. Ask what was frustrating in their previous job or what makes it harder to do their job. Individuals with the desired attitude will go out of their way to be positive in answering.
     
  • Accountability. You want people who feel they have control over the outcomes of their work and take responsibility for results rather than those who blame external factors. Ask about the last time they set a goal for themselves that was not achieved and listen carefully to whether they see themselves as accountable.
     
  • Past-related job success. Check whether they have met formal goals in past jobs that are similar to the goals of the job they are applying for. A barista at Starbucks is constantly monitored. A salesperson probably had a quota. People who haven’t had such monitoring can still be successful. But the odds are with those used to such a work environment.
     
  • Cultural fit. Does the candidate share values and work style with the organization? This can be a grey area; it therefore involves understanding the culture yourself, so you know what to seek. Also, determine if the candidate truly wants the job or just will take it as a placeholder until something better comes along.

Finally, consider the math of recruitment. Just as selling requires a funnel with lots of prospects at the start of the process, since many won't work out, you need to be sure that you draw sufficient interest in the job to get the ideal person. You want 130 résumés to review and 27 people to quickly screen with phone interviews, leading to nine in-person interviews. From those nine, aim for three finalists you re-interview in depth to choose the winner.

Hiring isn't easy. But it's crucial to business success, so consider integrating his ideas into your approach.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter.

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