May 1, 2009

Hire on attitude

Of course, there are times when you need someone for a job that has to be done right, or in a very particular way – if I’m in the market for a surgeon or an auditor I don’t want someone learning on the job – but most of the time experience is a poor relation.

So why do most recruiters hire on experience? Because they think it’s safe and cheap.

And they’re right, in the short run.

Safe and cheap? If someone’s made a living as a salesman, .NET programmer or marketing manager, if they’ve managed projects, PA’d or PR’d before, chances are they know the territory and can hit the ground at a trot, not stumble along, learning as they go.

Short run? If you’re hiring today and you need something done next week, contract it out. Hiring is a long term bet. Experience may make getting up to speed a little quicker, but the wrong kind of person is the wrong kind of person at any speed. Getting rid of problems costs time, recruitment fees, and the goodwill, productivity and attention of colleagues.

Hiring on experience is neither safe nor cheap. It won’t make the person fit the culture, pull their weight, perform to expectations, work as a team … it just means they walk in the door with some wear on their shoes.

Hiring good people is tough, there are no short cuts. If not experience, what?

Dee Hock, who founded VISA, wrote in Birth of the Chaordic Age,

Hire and promote first on integrity, then motivation, third capacity, fourth understanding, fifth knowledge and last experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.

Jack Welch, of GE fame, wrote about Hiring in Winning which I’ll paraphrase,   

  1. Integrity – “people who tell the truth and keep their word. They take responsibility for past actions, admit mistakes, and fix them.”
  2. Intelligence – “a strong dose of intellectual curiosity, with a breadth of knowledge to work with or lead other smart people. … Don’t confuse intelligence with education”
  3. Maturity – a “grown up. … withstand the heat, handle stress and setbacks, … enjoy success with equal parts joy and humility.”

Hiring is a huge step – for you and the newbie. Mistakes happen – beating 50% can be a challenge.

What do you look for?

Top of my list comes attitude. In the kind of roles I’ve hired for, there’s no routine. I look for the kind of person who crawls around under the desk to fix the wiring or borrows a screwdriver to fix the chair, and “that’s not my job” never lights up the Broca’s area of their brain.

After attitude, I’ll go with Hock and Welch.

Whatever you call it – integrity, do the right thing, the golden rule – this is the value with the most impact on skippiness.


Managing Skippiness