MUHIMU KWA WAAJIRI "The Basic Formula for Great Hiring"
Most companies will tell you that talent is their number one priority. If that’s true then it’s surprising to me that so few put any kind of rigor around their hiring practices. The high cost of a bad hire is well documented, so we must assume that to consistently hire great talent, it must be cost prohibitive.
In my experience it’s quite the contrary. In fact, it’s actually the best use of time and resources. From my perspective, what the critical act of “making a great hire” requires is unwavering consistency and strong leadership.
Consistency is critical. In order to truly calibrate candidates, you absolutely must have a reliable baseline. Strong leadership is also key. If making the process both simple and successful is a priority, then you must mean it, and follow through.
I’ve had the pleasure of working at such great companies as Google and LinkedIn, and in my 20+ years tenure in this field, I’ve been on the hiring side of the interview seat many times over. From that perspective, I’ve come to know that the following is the basic formula for great hiring:
1. Write a clear job description: Do this first and make sure you can objectively score a candidate against both the skills and experience. 2. Assemble an interviewing team: This group should comprise the fewest amount of people required to get enough feedback, but no less than four. Pick one or two people from outside the area into which the candidate will be hired to reduce selection bias. 3. Assign interview topics to each person on the team: This will help ensure a better outcome as you’ll get more diverse information. As an important bonus, the candidate will have a better experience since they won’t get duplicate questions and your organization will appear more organized. 4. Grade the candidate on 4 dimensions: A generally accepted way to gather the right type of feedback is to score the candidate on:
Fit: How well will the candidate fit with your company’s culture? At LinkedIn we have well-defined cultural tenets and values so we can score candidates on their ability to drive meaningful transformation, to collaborate, to take intelligent risks and to act like an owner – to use a few examples.
Intelligence: How smart is the candidate? This may be where you choose to ask the candidate to solve a problem or complete a case. To make this most applicable, make sure the problem is related to the work the candidate will do. You may even choose a problem you’re currently trying to solve, without divulging too much information.
Skill: Is the candidate a subject matter expert and do they have enough domain expertise to be successful in your organization?
Leadership: Can the candidate play a leadership role relative to the intended position? This doesn't necessarily mean are they a good leader of people – although it may. It’s equally applicable to individual contributors as all; A players need to be able to lead cross-functionally.
5. Use behavioral questions: These are questions that ask a candidate to describe a time when they personally did something that addresses an issue you are interested in knowing more about. For example: “Tell me about a time when you had to challenge a superior. What happened?” This line of questioning is important because it helps standardize the type of feedback you’ll get through the interview process. It’s also important because it forces the candidate to:
Be practical, not theoretical – they need to talk about something they did as opposed to something they might do.
Be the central character in a story which helps the interviewer understand how they relate to others (by the way, when you ask behavioral questions make sure to ask for lots of detail and ask the candidate to use “I” not “we” when they tell the story. I’ve noticed this can make some candidates very uncomfortable but it really requires them to describe themselves and their history as opposed to something that was a team or company effort.)
Discuss their accomplishments
Tell a story from which you can quickly discern their communication strengths and weaknesses.
Prioritize what they want to tell you – they can only pick one story.
6. Record the answers: This is the most painful part, and the area where you may get the least compliance from your interviewers, but it’s critical. With at least four interviewers, four dimensions, lots of questions and multiple candidates, you’ll get a lot of information. It will be impossible to remember it all. I know some people think it’s distracting to be writing or typing during an interview. If you feel this way, then either pause and write between questions, or reserve time after each interview to write down your questions and answers. This information is helpful on many levels partly because it will clearly identify where multiple interviewers saw strengths and weaknesses.
7. Score the candidate’s answers: This is critical since this is how you will ultimately decide who gets the role. Make sure each interviewer scores the candidate across the 4 dimensions:Fit, Intelligence, Skill and Leadership. I find a four-point scale using whole numbers works best. It’s simple and provides enough information to get to a conclusion. It’s also an even number, so interviewers can’t pick a midpoint that tends to be less helpful.
8. Wash up: After each round of interviewers make sure the interview team sits down face-to-face for at least 30 minutes to discuss the candidates. This may seem like something that can be done over email but I find the face-time is the most useful exercise. This is when interviewers will be most passionate about the good and bad. Speaking rather than writing allows the interviewers to also go into detail when prompted.
9. Repeat: I’m pretty confident that if you follow these steps you’ll get a vastly improved quality of hire. If that’s the case, then do it all the time.
The hardest part of putting this in place is likely to be getting leadership to comply. With over-scheduled partners and insane travel schedules, face-time can be challenging, but it’s the one thing we all have to overcome if we’re committed to hiring well. Doing so will set a fantastic example for everyone else. If you need to convince your leadership, try using this in your functional area and record the results – then bring them to your leadership. No one is too busy or too important to do this right.