We all have subconscious biases that can lead us to poor hiring decisions. We crave familiarity, so we favor people similar to us. We assume that what you see is what you get with job candidates and fail to go beyond the obvious in interviews. We get emotional about certain people, and we let stress and exhaustion derail us. Jack Welch once told me that as a young manager at GE, he probably got 50% of his hires wrong.
And by the time he was CEO, his error rate was still about 20%. So poor people decisions happen to the best of us. After almost 30 years of executive search experience, I've seen these things happen all the time. But you can get better at hiring by bringing discipline into your process. Here are a few strategies I recommend. First, create a checklist of the skills and attributes someone needs to do the job you're trying to fill.
My checklist starts with intelligence, values, and a few indicators of potential, including motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination, emotional intelligence, and portability, or the ability to excel in many different environments. For senior executives, I also watch for some key factors for leadership success, including strategic focus, results orientation, market insight, customer impact, collaboration, team management, and change leadership. But your criteria should be as specific as possible. If you are tempted to tweak your list doing the hiring process, ask yourself, “Has the situation changed, or am I being swayed by the people I've seen?”
Second, conduct in-depth interviews that address the candidate's ability to meet the requirements you've set out. Ask for examples of situations in which they've had to demonstrate their skills you're looking for. And don't forget to follow up with thorough reference checks. Third, enlist the help of other qualified assessors who understand the needs of the job as well as you do. I recommend no more than two other great interviewers. After that, there are diminishing returns
Finally, get some perspective. Ask yourself, “How will I feel about my decision 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, and 10 years from now?” Enlist the help of a decision advisor – not to evaluate candidates but to use as a sounding board. And take some time off. People sleep on decisions for a reason. People decisions are the most important ones you make. Rest assured you'll make smarter ones if you follow these four steps with discipline.