We all know that hiring mistakes are costly. Therefore it’s best to prevent them… but how? While employees with diverse skills and backgrounds are necessary to build a standout company, I find that there are universal attributes great employees tend to share.
When I hire, I:
Value an individual with a track record of success. I’m not just looking for someone who was promoted at her last job, and the one before that (though I am also looking for that). I’m looking for success over a long period of time. Ask what they have personally done of significance. See rapid progression in their career as a good sign. Shy away from individuals who want to be assured that the job is easy and who are most interested in making tons of money (yes, this can come out in interviews).
Look for someone who has a chip on his or her shoulder and something to prove. It’s not perfection you need to prize, or even the balanced resume. You want to hire people that have something powerful driving them to succeed. For example, someone who struggled in school, but who built several successful ventures while there, might very well be the perfect candidate. When I recruit, I ask about someone’s past as far back as middle school, and I want to know how they spend their time. I’m looking for a track record of excellence and bandwidth, along with a willingness to take on tough challenges and risks. I’ve worked with individuals who got straight A’s in school and did ballet, people who had lemonade stands that did better every summer, and folks who were the first in their families to go to college. And where they go to college doesn’t always matter. In fact, stats show that most CEOs of the biggest corporations went to state universities or less-known private colleges, not the Ivy League or other elite colleges.
Scout for someone who doesn’t take no for an answer. Some people see barriers; others see opportunities. The best employees have likely been told they “can’t” a lot of times. And yet, they did not let that deter them. Look at education activist Reshma Saujani, the co-founder of Girls Who Code. She was rejected from Yale Law School three times before she transferred in. Later, she ran for public office and lost by a landslide. But she had the intestinal fortitude to continue to chase her dreams to make a difference and she became a role model illuminating the power of bravery over perfection for girls—and everyone—everywhere.
Prize a person with a following. If this individual goes somewhere, will she inspire others to join? Never underestimate the power of someone’s recruitment ability—first, because it suggests this person has built up years of goodwill and trust with others, and is likely to do the same with you now. And, better yet, this often leads to a new infusion of great talent eager to follow this leader wherever she heads next,
Pick people who will help you and your culture grow. I learn from people I’ve worked with in more ways than I can ever count. They have experience with different problems, different organizations, and different attitudes. I can’t recommend enough the value of bringing in diverse candidates who will commit to helping you grow. Don’t eliminate people because they don’t seem like a “culture fit”—embrace the differences, and stay rigorously focused on the cultural attributes that actually define your company.
Finally, just a reminder—hiring anyone requires romancing. No matter how far along you are, you should remember that you have to be selling what working with you, and working for your company, will be like—and the recruitment process offers an excellent window into this. Don’t make your evaluation process so stressful that your candidates make your hiring decision for you.