Forget the talent shortage: what leaders are missing about hiring

2019-02-28 | BY Louis Song | IN Hiring, Recruiting

Forget the talent shortage: what leaders are missing about hiring

The current state of hiring is predicated upon a fundamentally flawed idea; that people can and should be judged almost solely on their present-day skills and experience, and that that limited judgment will allow you to identify the best possible person for your company.

What’s going wrong here? To start, this assumption ignores a wealth of information that is likely more predictive of a person’s future performance than skills or experience ever could be. That is – their character, their soft skills, and their willingness to learn.

Grit. Gumption. Drive. Cooperation. Leadership. Kindness. Positivity.

These are the traits that make for an excellent worker. Resume skills are great – but so-called ‘eulogy’ characteristics are what differentiate your best employees from your worst.

Who is your worst employee?

The person you most regret hiring. The one stirring up trouble, who is a little too aggressive with peers, perhaps authoritarian in their management style. Picture them and ask yourself:

  • How many years of experience do they have?
  • What are they good at?
  • Which skills do they lack?

As soon as we ask these questions, our clients are usually struck with understanding. That worst employee ever? They have 10+ years experience, all the requisite skills for the job, and are actually quite good at their core responsibilities. They are expert coders, or analysts, or data scientists. Their technical skills are almost never an issue.

What they lack is harder to define; they aren’t nice; they’re lazy; they cut corners and send curt emails and never look out for their peers. But how do you identify and measure these kinds of characteristics in an interview?

Who is your best employee?

Let’s work backwards. If you want to hire the best, first compile a list of what has, in the past, made for an outstanding employee in your industry.

Here’s the key: don’t picture your star employee as they are today; instead, think of them as they were the day you hired them. How advanced was their subject matter expertise? Their technical skills? Their ability to lead?  

In our experience, the differentiator usually comes down to character, motivation, and charisma. Without a doubt, a top performer needs the requisite skills in order to do their job; but these technical skills are not what will ultimately set them apart from the rest of your workforce.

Now imagine you had the opportunity to hire your best worker all over again – the only caveat is that you have to hire them as they were at the beginning of their tenure; not at their peak. Would you let that opportunity slip away?

It comes down to this; hiring a star employee at the top of their game is difficult, time consuming, and frankly expensive. Hiring that same performer 1-2 years before they hit their peak – now that’s a good idea.

How to identify a star candidate in the interview process.

Interviews are often locked into an uncomfortable script, in which the hiring manager asks a series of overly generic – or unnecessarily tricky – questions, blandly answered by a nervous candidate. These conversations are unproductive and unrevealing.

How can you do better? Shift your priorities. You aren’t looking for a unicorn candidate with the perfect experience, an exact knowledge of your unique coding languages, and a highly specific professional background. No, what you’re looking for is the type of person who will contribute to, guide, and elevate your workplace with their enthusiasm, motivation, sharp mind, and team spirit.

These are difficult traits to identify, especially in a 30-60 minute window. But we have a few tricks to help you better pinpoint a person’s character:

1, Have them meet the entire team

First, the act of introducing a candidate to a host of people will shake them from their regular script and help expose a more authentic personality.

Second, you’ll get to observe your candidate as they interact with the people with whom they’ll be working. Are they comfortable and amiable? Do they crack a joke? Do they seem to fit in – while bringing something new to the table?

Case in point: at Zappos, a company known for its incredible company culture, every prospective employee goes through a ‘social test’ to see how the candidate interacts with their peers. If the candidate fails to engage with their future co-workers, they’re cut from the process – regardless of their technical skills.

While meeting and interacting with the entire team can reveal key elements of a candidate’s character and communication skills, it’s important to limit the number of “deciders” in the hiring process. Not every member of your team should have the power to make or break a person’s candidacy; rather, that power should rest in the hands of one or two leaders who’ve proven their ability to spot great talent. The more “deciders” you have, the muddier the decision becomes.

2. Spend a few hours with your candidate

The current interview process is flawed; you can’t expect a couple of hour-long talks to result in a perfect match. Spend some actual time with your candidate – maybe at a coffee shop or somewhere less structured – to get to know them better.

Investing this time in your high-level candidates shows your commitment to hiring the best possible talent, and will be noticed by your current employees.

3. Do your due diligence

If you’re solely relying on the interview process to gather information, you’ll only occasionally – and usually by accident – find the right employee for the job. Branch out; speak with their colleagues, superiors, and direct reports. Don’t just ask about their work output, but focus on their demeanor and behavior.

*Pro tip: ask ‘what do other people say about X?’ instead of  ‘what is your impression of X.’ By reframing the question, you create distance between the reference and the candidate, allowing the reference to comfortably express their unguarded opinion.

Close by asking ‘if you were me, would you hire this person?’

4. Consult an expert interviewer

This may be your first time recruiting for a Senior Accountant or Java Engineer – but it’s certainly not ours. We aren’t just comparing the fifteen candidates from whom you’ve received resumes; we’re comparing your current front-runner with the thousands of candidates we’ve spoken with over the years. We know what qualities make a candidate stick, and which skills are more ‘nice to haves’ than ‘required.’

Not only will recruiters take the pressure off reference checks – we perform about 200 checks per month – but we’ll bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to bear on this complex process.

Start at the top – how you can lead a new era of hiring.

It’s simple; change your hiring paradigm, change your culture. How you spend your time and money is indicative of what you value – so when you make hiring a company-wide priority, you send a message to each employee that they matter.

The best companies have hiring committees embedded in each division of the organization. From the time a new person is hired, they are groomed to interview and select new candidates. An emphasis on hiring means you’ll attract better employees and increase retention rates. It also means each of your workers will feel personally invested – and responsible – for new recruits.

You already have a lot on your plate, and taking on the job of recruiter is probably not high among your priorities. Same goes for your internal recruiters; they have countless jobs to fill, and can’t devote an entire team to the selection of a single candidate. With agency recruiters you’ll hire smarter, increase employee morale, and help shape long-term employee satisfaction strategies.

Send us your information at to try a new way of hiring.

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