Hiring Tips from Experts Help Us to Think More Innovatively

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Andy Swindler, president of Astek Consulting, once told me that he always had "a rich culture of actors on staff." Actors "need the flexibility to run to an audition at the last minute or work remotely for a few weeks while at a gig," he said "Our [relationship] evolved naturally over time, but is now one of our most reliable recruitment engines since actors are hard-pressed to find this kind of flexibility elsewhere."

We can't all find actors, but it does serve as a good example of being flexible when looking for the best talent. Here are four interesting takes that I've seen on hiring.

1. Done is better than perfect. In an interview in The New York Times, Dottie Mattison, CEO of Gracious Home New York, said: "My favorite question [in an interview] is, 'What do you do on the weekends? What do you do in your spare time?' Because ultimately you find out what matters to people, you find out where their passions lie.

"I have a fun lottery question too: 'If you won the lottery, what business would you open?' Sometimes that turns out to be a product category they know a lot about, or a certain kind of customer they understand really well.

"I like people who know how to work. Done is better than perfect. So when people tell me about their weekend projects in their house, like the tree house they built and they couldn't go to sleep until it was done, that's a cool thing."

2. Tell me your stories. Logan LaHive, CEO of Belly, a customer rewards business, was asked about how he hires. "In my first conversation, I don't start by asking people to tell me about their work history. I just ask them to tell me their stories, literally starting with their childhood. Where did you grow up? What motivates you?"

LaHive knows the value of finding people who can sell. "I tell people that ultimately there are two areas of focus when you're trying to build a company—building and selling—and you need to be great at one or both. And so I tell people that learning to sell is key, and it's an area that I don't think most young people always value enough."

3. Hire people better than you in some way. Asked what the biggest mistake managers make when conducting interviews, Laszlo Bock, Google's head of people operations, told The Washington Post: "Relying on their own opinion. We all think we're amazing at assessing character and candidates, but the research shows that what we really do is make an assessment in 10 seconds, based on a first impression. The rest of the time is spent trying to confirm that, even though we don't know that's what our brains are doing.

"The best thing you can do to fix it is to have a bunch of people (we say four people) interview every candidate. Make sure it's not just the manager but people who are going to work for, and around, this person. Have every person assign a score, average that score, and make your decision based on that.

"The second thing you should do is only hire people who are better than you in some way. Unless you walk away thinking, 'That person is better than me at organizing things, or running a process, or solving a problem, or selling to customers,' you shouldn't hire that person."

4. Build roles around people. Lori Goler, Facebook's head of HR, talked to the Post late last year about getting the best out of people. "One of the things that I like to focus on is finding people's strengths. I think people work best in their areas of strength. It's actually one of the philosophies we've tried to implement at Facebook, which is aspiring to build roles around people rather than people around roles—letting them play in the areas of their strength, and looking for the areas where they lose track of time and get into the flow of things.

"We find that that's where you get outlier performance. That's where you get the strongest engagement. That's where you get the spikiness that occurs in a good way in a company and in a performance."

It's interesting that we come back full-circle to "performance."


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…