Business Strategy

How To Hire The A Team

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We’re a start-up.  You know – innovative, agile, fluid (read not a lot of structure), close to our customers, and lean.  Very lean.

Our primary assets?  Ideas and people who can make those ideas happen.  Beyond the IDEA…a company’s success – no its survival! — depends on its ability to get the job done right and DELIVER for customers.  Not once.  Not twice.  But every day, time after time.

The key is having the right mix of talented, hard working people.  So start-ups need to be flexible and creative when it comes to hiring.  You will make hiring mistakes. We all do.  (hopefully they aren’t terminal!)

We’d been trying to fill a critical senior position for some time, on the hunt for a seasoned techie who could lead our technology team. Our tech team is responsible for our “product and service distribution center” – aka: our website.  After a long search, we found the IDEAL candidate – a great resume, a great interview and Voilὰ!  position filled. NOT…

While the hire looked great on paper and was articulate, that was as far as it went.  Lots of “shoulda’s” here, but then hindsight is 100% perfect…We “shoulda” dug deeper into the candidate’s background, his career goals, his work style. We “shoulda” asked more probative questions.  We “shoulda” just taken more time making the decision.

We knew we’d made a serious miscalculation the day he joined. The new Director was unfocussed and unengaged by his new responsibilities.  His on the job performance fell far short of the broad and deep experience his resume touted.  In fact, the situation we created by hiring the wrong person was more harmful to the company than the leadership void we’d been trying to solve. It was a downward spiral from day one in terms of project delays, team productivity and morale. It took us two months to unwind the hire and regain our footing and we wasted scarce resources – time and money – along the way.

Learn from our mistakes and save yourself some “pain”:

  1. Implement a methodical interview process so that candidates for a particular position are evaluated in a similar manner using comparable criteria.  Reference checks and background checks should be a standard part of any interview process.
  2. Have candidates interview with a functionally varied group of employees with diverse backgrounds.  This way you will gain a more granular understanding of the candidate and what makes her/him tick.
  3. Think about using a recruiter to fill your most strategic positions, if you can afford it.  This will give you access to a deeper pool of high quality candidates and recruiter pre-screening can help minimize the risk of a bad hiring decision.
  4. “Road test” high potential candidates if you can.  Invite them to spend a day (or two or three) on the ground at your office.  Assign them a project and observe.  How do they interact with the team? Is there chemistry?  Are they functional? Can they juggle?  Can they handle pressure? Are they technically competent?
  5. Look inside and promote from within whenever possible.  Assuming the needed skill set is available internally, or can be home grown, promoting from within has significant advantages and few disadvantages.

But more on that to come…

About the Author

Elena Bajic is the founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, a selective online career network for top performers.