As I sat there watching a grown man crying across the desk from me, I wondered, “What kind of person have I become?”
I was firing another person I had once thought was a pretty great staff member and I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong.
I mean, I really never knew what he was doing with his time, and a lot of things were being left un-finished, but he was always nice and answered the phone every time I called.
So, why was I having to fire him?
At the time, I thought it was his fault.
He wasn’t doing the job, wouldn’t fill out the paperwork I had added to his list of To Do’s, and just wasn’t stepping up to the plate, I told myself.
Over the course of the following years, while I was overseeing a team of 250 employees, I learned some invaluable keys to make sure I was never in a position like that again.
They’ll save you a headache or two as well and turn you into a master recruiter today:
1. Hire slow, Fire quick
I repeat this mantra to all the business owners I work with.
It’s the one single piece of advice that most changed my process and mindset about hiring and firing and it’s only been reinforced throughout my career.
The truth is, people will show you best how hard they’re willing to work during the hiring and interview process.
They want to put their best foot forward, and if they really want the job, they will jump through hoops of fire to get it.
I never sort through thousands of resumes anymore.
Using a Google form with my first set of qualifying questions, I narrow down the field to those who answer my questions the way I want.
Then, depending on the position, I create a series of tasks or tests for the potential applicants to complete until one finally rises to the top.
At the same time, once an employee has shown you that they aren’t interested in working hard for you, believe them right away.
I’ve seen VERY FEW times when a person is able to bring their performance up to a excellent level once they’ve become comfortable at half-ass.
My next point will help you figure out when it’s time to train and when it’s time to fire.
2. Clarify the goals and expectations
Do you have a written set of policies and procedures?
How accurate and detailed is the job description for the position you’re hiring for?
Is there a written plan for how a client moves through your business, from first contact to post-service?
What about a written vision or mission or goal of some sort?
Do your staff know what they need to do to meet those goals?
Are the goals clear and measurable (and ideally tied to a budget and financials?)?
When you set clear expectations, it’s not hard to identify when a person isn’t meeting those expectations.
If they aren’t meeting the expectations and you can’t train them to, firing isn’t a personal decision, but a business one.
You can have empathy for someone who isn’t capable of doing a good job without letting your business pay for it.
One of my favorite books about this topic is The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack, where he discusses the benefits of “open-book management” and the benefits of the whole team taking part in setting, clarifying and achieving goals in a healthy competition laced with bonus opportunities -money does motivate!
Meanwhile, as you finish reading the book, take 10 minutes to write down exactly what you want this person to do in their job and rank those duties/skills by their order of importance.
Maybe you want someone who can organize, type, answer phones, do sales, update your website, do your billing, and run your errands.
Is that realistic?
Which tasks are truly the most important?
Now, narrow down the list from above and identify just the top 3–5 most important skills or characteristics you need this person to have.
Create your hiring process around those skills/qualities — every question or task you ask the applicant to complete should be related to one of those 3–5 skills or qualities.
Assume you can teach anything additional they’ll need to do.
Find a way to test each skill through your hiring/interview process and only the ones who actually have what you need make it to the top.
3. Let them do the talking
When I first started interviewing and hiring, I made a classic mistake that I see almost every small business owner make: telling the applicant what I want to hear.
I was just so excited about my business, the position I was hiring, and all the great things we were doing that I would go on and on telling every candidate about the job and what it would take for someone to do a good job at it.
Unfortunately, that made it really hard for me to distinguish one candidate from the other because all they had to do was nod yes.
Next time you are hiring and interviewing, ask questions and then shut up.
Let the applicant answer the question.
When that awkward silence occurs, just stay quiet for another minute.
They’ll typically want to fill the silence and you’ll hear the gems.
Don’t respond to their answers with anything other than a follow up question and write great notes about how they answer each question.
Focus on those top 3–5 skills or characteristics you’re looking for and don’t allow your interviews to be overrun by side talk about topics that aren’t really that important.
Forbes posted 50 common interview questions in case you’re not sure what to ask.
4. Eliminate Mercilessly
One of the most difficult things to do during this process is allowing people to self-eliminate.
When you hire for a job by placing an ad and get 400 resumes, it can feel both overwhelming and comforting in a way.
You might think, “well, if I have 400 resumes, there’s certainly someone in here that will be right for me.”
You might have 400 resumes, but you’re going to have to read them all.
At just 30 seconds each, that’s 3.5 hours spent reading resumes.
Never mind the cover letters, and any time you might spend actually thinking about or absorbing the information in those resumes.
Plus, how much does a resume really tell you?
It gives you a general overview of their history, and there is some science to picking information out of a resume (I’ll cover that in a future post), but it doesn’t tell you anything about how they will work with you or whether they will fit in with the culture of your business.
In my “hiring funnel”, I start out with an online questionnaire.
Applicants have to first answer several questions about how they might handle some common scenarios they’ll face in the job, what their goals are, and anything else that might help me get a feel of their fit for the particular job according to the 3–5 identified priorities.
That one step alone eliminates nearly half of the people that would otherwise send me a resume and cover letter with the “spray and pray” method.
I still make people submit a cover letter and resume somewhere along the line, but even the submission of those documents becomes a part of the “interview” and testing process.
One important lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes the best people have the worst resumes.
They’ve been too busy working hard for someone to spend a million hours/dollars on a resume that’s top of the line.
And a person with an impressive resume is not always as impressive in person.
Once I eliminate at least half of the applicants by having a questionnaire as a first step, I chose only the top 20% of those responses to move on to the next phase.
I cut down to the top 20% with every step of the process until I’m left with only 3–5 people who earn an in-person interview.
It can be tough not to hold people’s hand in the process by answering a lot of questions or making concessions for this or that, but I HIGHLY recommend against doing that.
If they need your help to get through the hiring process, they will need as much or more help to get their job done.
Not a good start.
I have several systems I use to expedite the process, like Gmail’s Canned Responses to create the replies and messages that will be sent to all applicants and Youcanbook.me to allow applicants to schedule a phone interview with me once they make it that far (it connects to my google calendar).
As a recruiter, it’s always a little stressful for me to get down to the top 3–5 candidates before I pass them on to the business owner I’m working with.
But it always works.
The cream of the crop naturally rise to the top when I’m clear about what I need from them and I make them show me instead of tell me.
Nothing can replace that last step, where you get to judge your “chemistry” with that person and see how it “feels” in a face to face interview, but every applicant shouldn’t get to have your valuable time in that way, only the ones who earn it.
Also, the process is greatly improved by having a lot of applicants in the first place and attracting the best candidates.
I’ll write an article soon about how to write a captivating headline and job ad that‘ll have the best people running to apply and how to get that ad in front of the right people.
Bridgett Hart recruits and trains outstanding people for attorneys and doctors through her company In-House HR . Bridgett knows that people are the secret to taking a company from good to great and she prides herself on her no-holds barred approach to getting the right people on the bus, and the wrong ones off.