In the June 9, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a manager asks how managers hire.
When you’re hiring, how do you know who you want to hire? By that I mean, how do you identify the job you need done, the skills and potential for growth you require in a job candidates? I admit I’ve made some hiring mistakes as a manager, but it’s awfully hard to pinpoint what I’ve done wrong. It’s just as hard to figure out what I did right when I picked my best staff members!
I don’t think the problem for most managers is knowing what they want. If they don’t know what work needs to be done, they have no business managing.
Managers hire for profit
If you have doubts about what a job is all about, here’s a good test: It must involve work that is profitable to the company. If it’s not profitable, question the legitimacy of the job.
Of course, this means you must understand how the work of each one of your employees fits into the big profit picture. Most managers I’ve said this to roll their eyes and tell me they’re not finance managers and it’s not their job. If they really believe that, they need to sit down with their company’s CFO and figure it out. Profitability is every manager’s job. Or, why are you even a manager?
The problems with hiring
But let’s focus on hiring.
I think the challenge for most managers lies in the faulty hiring process they’ve been taught. This process emphasizes talk rather than demonstration, and personality rather than ability. It hampers their ability to hire well.
There seem to be two main problems with how managers hire.
Problem 1: Hiring to the job description
Most managers know what they need to get a job done. However, they are usually saddled with over-written, static job descriptions that better serve the requirements of a Human Resources applicant tracking system (ATS) than the ever-changing needs of their company.
Don’t believe me? Is your own job and the work you do today the same as your original job description? How much has your job changed since you started it? (I’ve asked this question of hundreds of times. All I ever get is bitter laughs.)
When a manager interviews to fill the job description, that may satisfy HR. But is it going to meet the manager’s changing, evolving needs? Worse, is HR sending candidates to the manager just because their resumes and applications contain words that match words in the static job description?
Hiring to the job description is a mistake. (The problem of job descriptions themselves is for another discussion.)
Problem 2: Managers hire people they like
Generally speaking, managers are schooled by HR experts in the art of interviewing, if they’re schooled at all. But, what does HR know about hiring anyone but HR staff? HR is not schooled in specific work disciplines like engineering and marketing. Consequently, HR’s interview instructions tend to emphasize only general attributes, mostly relating to personality and attitude.
Managers that know what they want often don’t dare ask candidates to deliver it because to do so would violate the traditional rules of interviewing. Whoever heard of putting a job candidate in a room with all the tools they need and asking them to demonstrate how they would do the job?
Instead, managers learn to sit and talk banalities with applicants. Even managers who know what work they need done end up hiring workers based on irrelevant rules and criteria that have been hammered into their brains by an antiquated and ineffective employment system.
An executive of a multinational telecommunications firm complained to me that his company keeps making the same mistake. “We hire based on personality,” he said. “More specifically, we hire people we like because the interview methods we use don’t really reveal whether the person can do the work.”
Put another way, managers focus too much on who they want, rather than on what work they need to have done. “To hire” does not mean to acquire a worker; it means to acquire the use of (that is, pay for) certain services to get certain work done. The focus must be on the person’s services and on the work. Unfortunately, most managers have absolutely no concrete proof that a job candidate can do the necessary work until after they hire them to do it. This never comes up in the interview, because the manager is too busy trying to “assess the candidate.”
Can the person do the work you need done?
The hiring process has become warped into a personality assessment. Consider the common questions asked in interviews: What is your greatest strength? Your biggest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? Such questions are so general and meaningless that hundreds of books are available to teach you how to respond with equally trite answers. But what has any of this to do with the work a manager needs done? Next to nothing.
In what I call The New Interview, the manager and the candidate work together on a “live” problem or task. This maintains a focus on the work that needs to be done, rather than on the keywords in a job description. The best example task is one that clearly affects the profitability of the department. My guess is that, if you were to review your interviews against the success of your hires, either you’ve just gotten lucky some of the time, or your best hires actually showed you they could do the work.
In my experience, if an interviewer conducts such a working meeting with sleeves rolled up and focuses on an actual work task, the candidate will quite naturally reveal their personality, attitudes, skills, growth potential and “fit” on other scales. It comes out in the conversation and in the shared experience of working together during the meeting — just like it does at work. No clever interview questions are required. (You’ll still learn whether you like the candidate, but your opinion will be based mostly on whether they can do the job!)
What’s a manager’s job?
If you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard me say this before. A good manager should be spending 10-15% of their time every week identifying, recruiting and cultivating people to fill current or future positions. Hiring is a key management function and you need to develop your skills to do it well.
A job candidate must be able to do the work. If you don’t — or cannot — directly assess this, why are you even a manager? I mean no offense, but I suggest you think about it.
If you’re a manager, how do you hire? Do you put 10-15% of every week into hiring? Who was the best “hiring” manager you’ve ever known, and how did they do it? What are the worst hiring practices you’ve encountered?