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How I hire the right people

Brag to me, but know when to shut up

by on
in Hiring,Human Resources

“Hire for attitude, train for skill.” That’s the latest craze in recruiting job candidates, and I’m sick of it.

Attitude is easy to fake. Someone can walk into an interview bubbling with enthusiasm, full of bright questions and observations. What they lack in hard knowledge they make up in soft appeals to my ego.

That doesn’t work.

I’d rather find someone who has the prerequisites to dive right into the job. If they’re honest and hard-working, great. But I don’t want to train for skill, investing lots of time upfront before the person produces a payback.

My favorite candidate

I view the interview as a chance for people to brag to me. When I ask, “What experiences make you a strong candidate for this job?” or “Can you isolate a specific strength you’ll bring to the job?” I’m really saying, “Okay, show off.”

I like clear, well-organized answers. And I notice when someone stops talking. I just sit there, attentive and noncommittal. I listen for the moment when the candidate feels he’s said enough.

Many interviewees love to ramble. They may begin to answer my question, but then their mouth takes on a life of its own. They hop from topic to topic, and eventually they forget what I asked. They tend to tell overly long stories and repeat themselves.

Three strikes and you’re out

I look for reasons why candidates should not work here vs. finding reasons to like them. For one thing, I don’t want “silver spoons.” If you’ve had it too easy, you won’t fit in here.

I also don’t want prima donnas. You should be willing to get your hands dirty. In the days after a disastrous blizzard, I was hiring a vice president. I asked candidates to tell me how they were coping with the storm’s aftermath. One woman—an executive with a big salary—told me how she was shoveling out her neighbor’s driveway and helping her company deliver canned goods to poor neighborhoods. She turned out to be a great hire.

Finally, I dislike “flat tires.” These are the monotone speakers who seem like walking death. They’re listless, apathetic and unhappy. You don’t need to be a cheerleader to impress me, but you should exude a little energy.

Will this stock soar?

I view candidates as stocks. Some go up, some go down. When I’m interviewing people, I try to predict to what extent I can ride them higher and benefit from their growth and success. Like an investor evaluating a stock, I assess someone’s potential by tracking his progress to date. I want to hear about concrete experiences, not lofty beliefs. I like to know what risks he’s taken, especially if he’s taken a demotion or made a lateral move to learn new skills.

Those who make their own destiny excite me a lot more than those who let things happen to them.

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