21 Feb

A little while ago I made a bad hire for my company. It was my fault, I didn’t do the due diligence properly. Did I fail to interview them……..no, in fact precisely the opposite. That’s exactly what I did do and I learned very little. Given that our business day in day out is helping companies hire better people, I should have known better. This is my mea culpa. It cost us as well. Not just the time involved in hiring them but real money. Advertising costs, and salary. It hurt.

Now we do it differently. We’ve given up interviewing people for the majority of our roles. You’ve what? Yup, we’ve given up interviewing people. Think about what an interview is: you’re trying to assess whether that person is suitable for doing a job so how does asking them a series of questions or even some random testing actually tell you anything. If they’re super slick they know what you’re going to ask and just prepare the answers (which are often exaggerated to promote them in a favourable light) so they feed you what they know you want to hear and you sit there nodding thinking you’ve found a superstar. But you haven’t. Suppose you own a motor racing team and someone applies to you to be a racing driver in your team. Do you sit them down for a nice 1 hour chat or do you say….’ok sunshine, there’s the car…..let me see how fast you can go round that track’. My guess is the latter otherwise you’ll be hiring a lot of not very good drivers…..which is what I did. So now we do it differently…...really differently.

We recently hired a fantastic developer and rather than make him do a random coding test which tells me nothing about his business acumen only how fast he can code, we asked all the applicants to build a bit of functionality for us…….and we paid them. Typically between $200 and $500 depending on what they were asked to do. Why did we pay them? Well because we were asking them to do between 10 and 15 hours of work. That’s a lot of work when you consider the typical hiring process is a couple of interviews and maybe a test of some kind thrown in for good measure. There was no rush. We gave the applicants 6 weeks to do it. The one we hired did it in half that time.

Once you’ve drawn up your shortlist of 3,4,5 applicants, asking them to actually do some work for you has 2 main advantages:

  1. It weeds out the time wasters or those not fully committed to getting a new job

  2. Because the work is extremely in depth it allows you to see just how good they really are in in a real life situation

We’re going to be hiring a marketing person shortly so I’m not bothering to interview them, I’ll draw up a shortlist have a quick chat with them on the phone to explain what I want them to do and then they will get 4 weeks to put this project together: “How can we raise our profile in the recruitment software market”. It’s deliberately quite vague to allow the applicants to come at it from any angle they want. They will be instructed to write a detailed business plan to cover a marketing programme for the next 12 months. The person who gets where we’re trying to get to, who understand and demonstrates the challenges of SMB marketing in a B2B context will get the job. I won’t show their resume to my colleagues. I don’t want their judgement prejudiced by a perception of how good they think the person will be from just reading the cv. 

Designers……..give them a real project you need doing to do. The one who produces the best design gets the job. But don’t forget to pay them. For the ones who didn’t get the job they will at least be impressed that you have an innovative hiring technique and that you did in fact pay them. Same with a customer service vacancy we’ll have shortly. They’re going to have to present to us….’What makes good customer service and how could we ensure we offer the very best service levels to our clients’. What I want to see is that they done some research. I want them to tell me about new systems you could use to help, I want them to cite case studies from how other companies improved their customer service. I want them to tell us what we could do differently.

Will this work for every discipline? Maybe not but there are tons of jobs where you can get people to work on a real life problem or project your company has and pay them to give you what they think is the best solution.

So next time you make a bad hire ask yourself why and then ask yourself if you’d followed the above approach would the bad hire have managed to get through if you’d forced them to produce detailed work. Stop the boring formal interviews and let the real talent shine through by making it ‘game realistic’.

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