Hiring is hard work. For one thing, it requires us to make decisions based on human qualities that are impossible to quantify. People simply can’t be measured in the way we measure revenue or gross margin. Instead we have to rely on “soft” people skills that aren’t taught in school, and that makes many executives deeply uncomfortable.
Happily for all of us, that intuitive feel for the right hire is a learnable skill.
Anyone can acquire it with hard work, but if you want to excel at hiring–and believe me, you do–you have to take charge of your own education.
At first the process may seem endlessly complex–it did for me–and the human dynamics of hiring can often feel like a psychological Rubik’s cube. But now, after two decades recruiting board members, general management, and functional leaders, I can see the core principles of hiring with clarity.
I often refer back to these five principles to guide my recruiting work, and I’m sharing them here for two reasons. First, they contain a hopeful message that should be encouraging to anyone who is going through the hard work of improving their hiring results, or is thinking about starting on that path. Second, keeping these principles in mind as you are recruiting will help you stay on track when it feels like you’re losing your way:
They are accessible to anyone who is willing to work hard. This is great news for anyone who wants to improve. You don’t need to be born with any special abilities to excel at hiring. All that’s required is dedication and the willingness to put in the time and effort.
When you look closely at the hiring process, you see that it consists of a chain of countless small items. The quality of the entire process is only as strong as the weakest link, so details matter. You must focus on following the process, avoid skipping steps, and dedicate yourself to doing a great job on each one of them.
This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, because we’re accustomed to thinking of people skills as a fixed personality trait. That kind of thinking makes many hiring managers despair of their prospects of ever becoming expert. But the fact is that anyone can develop outstanding skill over time, through the disciplined and consistent application of a sound hiring process. That’s an incredibly hopeful message.
Every executive I know is juggling dozens of competing priorities, and there is never enough time in the day. It’s tempting to look for shortcuts, but there are none. You must be willing to put in the time to do it right. The good news is that the time you invest in hiring the right people yields an outsized return. Great people make everything run better, and you’ll save incalculable hours by avoiding management crises.
To paraphrase a famously ungrammatical statement from a former president, “You are the decider.” If you have support from a strong human resources professional or recruiter (or both), consider yourself fortunate, but don’t expect these people to do your job. They can provide expert counsel and execute many tasks on your behalf, but there are other times where your personal involvement is essential.
There’s a limit to how much you can delegate. At all stages of the hiring process you must keep your hands firmly on the reins, provide clear direction, and make timely decisions. Otherwise the process will fail to move forward.
Adapted with permission from Mastering the Art of Recruiting (Praeger Publishers, January 2015)
—Mike Travis is the principal of Travis & Company, helping top corporations find the perfect talent for the past 20 years. Considered a lead expert in the field of executive search, and was named by Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters. Travis is also the author of Mastering the Art of Recruiting: How to Hire the Right Candidate for the Job (Praeger, Jan. 31, 2015). For more information, visit www.travisandco.com.