If you are getting ready to take your business to the next level, hiring talent can be an exciting, life-changing opportunity. Or it can be a painful, expensive exercise in frustration.
Here are some secrets for success — based on 10 years in retained executive search, with some extra sizzle from 20 years in PR, marketing and new product launches. The principles apply to any organization of any size.
1. Hiring talent should make your life better. As leader of your organization, what do you absolutely LOVE to do? What tasks are draining your time — and possibly hindering the path to the results you seek? The key is to build the team around you so that you can unleash your strengths and increase the level of personal enjoyment and professional satisfaction that you deserve.
2. Hiring talent is an acquisition of assets. What goal are you trying to achieve for your organization? What infusion of new skills would make a difference? Do you need to strengthen functional expertise? Or get access to new customer sets, incorporate new technologies — maybe even lay groundwork to sell the company. What is appropriate compensation? This is the conceptual stage of preparation. Seek input from colleagues and trusted advisors. Test your assumptions.
3. Get specific. Before hiring talent, decide the must-have requirements and responsibilities of the position. Years of experience. Functional mastery. Industry sector expertise. Size/revenue level of previous companies. Critical track record results. Now add some soft skills. Personality traits, workstyle that would be a culture fit. Define beforehand what would be a clash, so you can watch for red flags. Consider incorporating assessment tests to evaluate personality fit.
NOTE: New technologies and social media enable hiring decision-makers to get very granular in hiring talent. If you are ambiguous or too broad in targeting, you will not be at parity with your competitors. Focusing on the spec also provides a polite and truthful way of telling someone why they are not being considered for the role.
4. Merchandise the position. Here’s the secret sauce in hiring talent. First imagine an actual person. What is the unique selling proposition you offer? Weave a vibrant story that resonates and would capture the attention of the person who can walk in the door and make a difference in your organization. The reader should say: Wow, this sounds just like me! Create a highlights document — created to create buzz in your market and attract the interest of candidates (in addition to outlining your must-have requirements)that you can use in sourcing emails or internet postings.
NOTE: When you are thinking of hiring talent, these pre-planning steps will give you a strategic advantage! Now you are ready to deploy your opportunity into the marketplace! Share highlights of the role with your professional network! Post the position on-line!
5. Only focus on candidates who meet the spec. Hiring talent is a speed game in the executive search business, as well as best practice companies that may be your competitors. The key is to move quickly through resumes or databases — looking for the combination of must-have requirements so that you invest your valuable time only on qualified candidates who could be The Perfect Fit.
6. Been There/Done That. A competitive market does not allow the luxury of teaching someone the nuts and bolts of a job. You want a proven track record. Someone who can replicate the process and success of a previous role — inside your own organization. Think plug-and-play. Not OJT. (On-the-Job-Training)
7. Avoid the temptation of wishful assumptions. Do not fall in love with a candidate who falls short of the specifications you define. “Wow, she’s so smart. I know she could learn abc and probably also help us with xyz.” This could be an erroneous and risky leap of faith.
8. Phone Screens + In-Person Interviews. When hiring talent, someone in the organization — or an outside consultant — should go through the chronological career history with the candidate. Reasons for leaving, gaps in employment, etc. Look for quirks, red flags, untruths. This can be done via phone screen. Then, if the candidate advances to the next step — an in-person interview — the focus can be on confirming experience as it relates to your role, evaluating approaches, how someone handled challenges in the past or point-of-view on your particular scenario.
Bonus tip: Don’t forget to Google! How do candidates present themselves in social media? Have they been in the news? Does the resume work chronology agree with company information that might be available on the Internet?
9. Reference Interviews. This is an important step when hiring talent. Come up a list of questions on personal traits and performance style. Get at least three professional references: supervisors, perhaps a peer and someone who to the candidate (if applicable). Call them! This exercise should confirm what you learned from the candidate and provide guidance for how to on-board/manage. Be alert for any red flags.
10. Background check. You might surprised at the skeletons that hide in candidates’ closets — even at the top executive level. Felonies, embezzlements, DUIs, revoked professional licenses, sex offense convictions. I’m not kidding. Thus, important to do screen that encompasses, criminal, financial, credit card, degree verification, confirmation of professional licenses, drug screen.
DO NOT SKIP THIS FINAL STEP. Any offer of hiring talent should be contingent upon successful completion of reference interviews and background check. Better to break the engagement before entering into an expensive marriage that is destined for divorce.