Never Make A Bad Hire Again

 
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By Jennifer Welsh, Founder of CultureOps

The feeling when a strong candidate accepts your offer is optimistic and inspiring. A wave of relief and you can finally feel safe visualizing all the new person will manage, the load they’ll assume. You envision progress and count the days. The search is over. Recruiting is hard. Cheers all around. Until...

The moment you realize that hire was a mistake brings an onslaught of disappointment, confusion, and even guilt. How did you miss the signs that are so obvious now? The runners-up have moved on, and starting over is a tough pill to swallow. You’ve wasted time and money, and delivering the news to your team will be weird at best. The setback feels devastating.  

The reality of a bad hire usually surfaces slowly, creeping into your consciousness until you can no longer deny it. That benefit-of-the-doubt-because-they’re-ramping-up phase lingers on too long, and you have to face the music. Maybe it takes weeks to realize, or even months. But when you do, there’s only one plan to follow: Pull the Bandaid off and learn from what happened. If you can find some good lessons in the shrapnel, all’s not lost.

But how’d you get here in the first place?

Hiring the wrong people is one of the worst (and most common) mistakes startups make. It happens for many reasons, but usually some version of poor planning is to blame. By planning, I mean - articulating what a role will solve and deliver, mapping near and long-term goals, and identifying what the ideal candidate should bring to the table, both personally and professionally - before you start looking. None of this is rocket science, but it’s commonly overlooked in organizations that are moving fast and lacking process. Startups :)

Slow and steady

I’m typically a fan of fast action. But when it comes to hiring, it goes a long way to be methodical and diligent in your process. And speed is not your friend, especially when you’re feeling desperate. It’s worth the upfront investment to identify your needs carefully and really know your target. This will help you avoid being distracted by candidates that don’t meet your need.

There will inevitably be unforeseen circumstances and people that don’t pan out. But applying some common-sense methodology to your hiring process can drastically improve your chances of being laser-focused on the right people and avoiding the wrong ones, from the outset.

After years of startup experience - hiring / celebrating, firing / regretting, losing people I liked, detesting people I loved in the interview process, and seeing the same happen to friends and colleagues, here are some of my favorite insights to help you focus on the right people for your organization.

1. Don't procrastinate

Don’t wait until it’s an emergency to start the hiring process for a role. You’re at an extreme disadvantage when you’re desperate - nobody operates with a sound mind in that state. You’ll dismiss red flags and focus on what you want to see.  

A lot should go into your preparation before you start considering candidates. So start the process as soon as you identify a need to be filled, even if you aren’t ready to hire quite yet. Start clarifying the role as early and as much as possible, and build the bones of a job description and candidate profile. You can always iterate as you go.

The important thing is to start documenting your vision for the role as early as possible. You’ll have more creative ideas about what and how a role can contribute to your organization when you’re not feeling pressure to hire immediately.

2. Attract the right people in the first place

The recruiting landscape has become so competitive that some companies are making job posts sound like yoga and dogs and rosé all day. Perks in the startup landscape are undeniably fun. But let’s be real - joining a startup requires grit and ridiculously hard work, demanding long hours and expectations beyond most corporate jobs. You have to pay to play, living and breathing the mission. While perks are easy to brag about in the recruitment process, I imagine you have a meaningful mission that’s more worthy of emphasis in a job post and on your careers page. 

You only want to talk to candidates that are attracted to your mission, so don’t lead with perks in your job posts. You might consider excluding that stuff entirely. Attract candidates who are drawn to your core mission, and let them be surprised and delighted by the fun stuff later. Icing on the cake.

3. Flaunt your culture, not your perks

This will attract people who are aligned with your mindset and your work style and deter those who aren’t. Remember, culture isn’t unlimited vacation and shuffleboard. Your culture is HOW you operate. If you’re a company that communicates a lot on nights and weekends by email, and you value responsiveness, come out and say so to ensure you’re only attracting candidates who are down for that in the first place.

If you feel like your operational style sounds unappealing to advertise, you might want to consider tweaking. But don’t hide behind unlimited vacation and free snacks. If someone is truly aligned with your mission, they deserve an honest understanding of your culture to inform their decision to join or not.  So before you jump into a role description or benefits, advertise what your company is for, what your company is against, and how you make sh*t happen.

What’s unique about how you get things done? Describe your work and communication styles, and anything else that depicts what being on your team really feels like. And what are some things you don’t tolerate? You can think of a job post like a dating profile: “Must love dogs, spicy food, and traveling! No smoking. Allergic to cats.” If you have particular nonnegotiables, put them front and center to filter noise and save time.

Bad dates are the worst, so don’t worry about deterring people. That’s the point. Just focus on attracting ideal people. You’ll benefit from quality over quantity by having more time getting to know great candidates, instead of doing speed rounds with a high volume of thumbs down.

4. Make role descriptions specific

When you get to the role description part of a job post, go beyond high-level fluff. Get down to the nitty-gritty, within reason. When a role isn’t really clearly defined, it invites a bunch of the wrong applicants to waste your company’s time, and their own. Include key responsibilities and the hard and soft skills, of course. But your biggest priority here is to be real.

Include specific kinds of challenges the role is expected to solve and known obstacles, the more detailed the better. Include deliverables that will discourage unqualified people from even applying. Remember, you only want to deal with candidates who are down for your mission, your work style, and what the job really is. Anyone deterred by the reality isn’t worth interviewing anyway. So don’t hold back.

The last thing you want is for candidates to actually join and feel like they didn’t have all the information. That will send them straight to the door. Or worse, they’ll hang out as they’re looking for a new job or trying to get their old job back. Double whammy. Being super real up front will help avoid this nonsense.

5. Design A Badass Interview Process

A thoughtful interview process is your absolute best defense against bad hires. After you post job descriptions and attract good candidates, it’s essential to run a results-driven interview process that gives everyone the opportunity to assess fit in meaningful ways.

A common mistake I see startups make is touting the importance of recruiting and then not being intentional about the process behind it. A candidate’s journey, regardless of outcome, shapes their impression of your company. Interview processes that are not thoughtfully designed and well-managed see grave results: wasted time, bad hires, good candidates lose interest or get a bad impression, they tell other people or document it online, and so on. All the work you’ve done to define the role and create a good job description is a waste if you’re not running a good interview process.

Design a candidate journey map that includes if / then logic with defined tasks, action owners, and timelines for every step of the way. Going through that exercise gives your team an opportunity to think through all the touch points in a candidate journey and define how your brand responds in different scenarios. It's better to brainstorm about this proactively than to be reactive in a moment. Schedule that meeting now. And remember - after you've designed your process -  a plan is nothing if it’s not implemented. Whoever manages recruiting should be accountable for managing this program effectively and constantly finding ways to improve it as you learn what works best for your team.

CultureOps specializes in operational design to help startups avoid expensive mistakes. If your interview process could use a facelift, check out our free resource: How To Design A Badass Interview Process. And for help customizing plans for your organization, reach out to us right here. We’d love to help!