I’ve recently been writing about business leadership and strategy, and I began thinking about something one of my mentors taught me about being an executive.
He said, “the most important decision you make is when you choose WHO.”
Hiring top talent is the not-very-secret, secret to success. But we all make mistakes sometimes.
Here are the top six (6) mistakes I see executives make when choosing business leaders:
1. Admire a past accomplishment too much
Very often a candidate will have an accomplishment in their past that is truly extraordinary. It’s more impressive than anything you’ve ever done and far outshadows the accomplishments of the other candidates. Wow! You’re hired!
Don’t: Hire the candidate based on this one grand accomplishment alone.
Don’t: Assume this breakthrough will be repeated for you.
Do: Make sure they are ahead of the pack on many of the other hiring needs too.
Do: Make sure to get them to talk about how they will think, learn about, and do the specific things you need done — don’t assume brilliant success on the prior thing will automatically translate to brilliant success on what you need done.
2. Put too much stock in advanced degrees
I know plenty of people with advanced degrees who are highly effective business leaders, but I know as many who are not. Advanced degrees alone are not proof of future business success. They are only proof that the person is capable of getting advanced degrees.
Don’t: Say “wow, look at all those masters and PhD’s – you must be better than all the others that don’t have them.”
Do: Get them to talk about examples of how they have done things like you need done.
Do: Get them to give examples of how they personally conceived of and led business change.
3. Too much experience
One of my first hires was to hire a telemarketing guy who had 22 years of experience being a telemarketing guy. I was so impressed! Oops.
Don’t: Hire someone only because they have a huge amount of experience in the thing you need done. Maybe they have so much experience in that job because they were never good enough to get promoted! If you are hiring an expert you may be OK, but if you are hiring a leader be suspicious. You are always better off judging and hiring for smarts and future capability than past experience — because the problems and opportunities are always changing.
4. Fall in love with the person
OK, when after the interview you want to go out for drinks with the person even more than you want to work with them, make sure you are not mistaking how much you like the person as a potential friend, with making the right hiring decision.
Don’t: Make this decision alone.
Do: Get others’ help validating the person’s capabilities and fit for the job.
5. Fail to check references
This seems so obvious, but for all the reasons listed above, I have seen people not bother, or get too busy, or need to move too fast to check references. Then they get surprised and burned. In all the cases above, add to the DO list: check references!
Don’t: Ever NOT-check references
Do: Always check back channel references, not just the ones they give you.
6. Pass over people who are too smart
The best executives hire the best people. Then the whole organization gets stronger.
It’s only weak, ineffective leaders who hire weaker people. Then the whole organizations gets weaker. Your team needs to make you bigger, better, and more capable.
Don’t: Get scared by smart people. It’s never a losing move to hire a really smart person.
Do: Always hire the smartest people you can find. See: Are You Smarter Than Me?
What have you learned about hiring top people?
This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.