Here are five hiring mistakes you absolutely must avoid:
1. Thinking you can change a leopard’s spots.** All employees typically must follow company rules and guidelines, whether formal or unwritten. Still, some people can’t — or won’t. The outstanding salesman with the incredible track record of generating business and terrorizing admin and support staff won’t immediately play well in your sandbox just because you hired him. The kid who works Dracula hours fueled by Mountain Dew and Cheetos won’t magically transform into a model Mr. 8-to-5. For some people the work itself, and how they perform that work, is what matters most — not the job. Don’t think you can change them.
Instead: Two choices: One, decide you will accept the total package. If you desperately need revenue you might decide to live with the proven sales superstar’s prima donna behavior. Or letting the valuable programmer work nights may be okay even if everyone else works day hours and communication will be less than optimal. But if you’re not willing to accommodate or compromise, pass. There is no middle ground.
2. Hiring for skills rather than attitude. Skills and knowledge are worthless when not put to use. Experience is useless when not shared with others. The smaller your business the more likely you are to be an expert in your field; transferring those skills to others is relatively easy. But you can’t train enthusiasm, a solid work ethic, and great interpersonal skills — and those traits can matter a lot more than any skills a candidate brings. (According to this Leadership IQ study, only 11% of new hires fail in the first eighteen months due to technical skill deficiencies.)
Instead: If in doubt, always hire for attitude. A candidate who lacks certain hard skills is cause for concern; a candidate who lacks interpersonal skills is waving a giant red flag.
3. Selling your business. You absolutely need employees who want to work for you. That’s a given. But never try to sell a candidate on your company. Why? 1) Good candidates have done their homework; they know whether your company is a good fit, and 2) You skew the employee/employer relationship from the start. An employee grateful for an opportunity approaches her first days at work much differently than an employee who feels she’s doing you a favor by joining your team.
Instead: Describe the position, describe your company, answer questions, be factual and forthright, let the candidate make an informed decision… but never sell. The right candidates recognize the right opportunities.
4. Hiring friends and family. I know: Some successful businesses look like a perpetual family reunion. Still, be careful. Some employees will overstate a family member’s qualifications when making a recommendation. Their heart may be in the right place, but their desire to help out a family member doesn’t always align with your need to hire great employees. Plus friends and family see each other outside of work, too, increasing the chances of interpersonal conflicts. The smaller the company, the greater the potential impact. And one more thing: Two brothers in a five-person business may just wield more effective power than you.
Instead: Either set up an appropriate policy, like “no family members in the same department,” or do an incredibly thorough job of evaluating the candidate. In general establishing and following a policy is the cleanest solution if only because you will never appear to favor one employee’s request to interview a friend over another.
5. Ignoring intuition. Nothing beats a formal, comprehensive hiring process — except, sometimes, intuition. Always weigh impressions against qualitative considerations. And feel free to run little “tests.” I always took supervisory candidates on an informal tour of our manufacturing areas. Sometimes employees would interrupt to ask a question; I stopped because em