How I Hire

My older son is in graduate school and has always thought he wanted a career in academia. His PhD will be in history, and he called to express his concerns about job opportunities. We ended up having a great discussion on hiring, both inside and outside of the academic setting, but he made me think about a few things. For any job there are far more applicants than jobs, there are certain things he can do to increase his chances of an interview.

I am a huge fan of Herb Kelleher’s philosophy of hire for personality and train to fit. There are minimum requirements for any job, but the personal qualities the individual brings is what will make them a good fit for the organization. Whether I am been hiring wait staff, pilots, or professors, it is their character and personality that will guide them in their interactions with the internal and external customers.

I was recently trying to hire an executive director for a nonprofit organization. I posted the job and got close to 100 resumes from highly qualified people. How do you process through all of that? I wanted to do telephone interviews with no more than 10 people, so I had to use the resume as my first tool. The telephone interview would help me decide who would be selected to come in for an interview with the board.

The resume provides important clues as to the person’s attention to detail. You would be amazed at the number of resumes I received that had not been updated or had multiple typos. There were resumes that did not match the job requirements, and those are quickly omitted. I looked for education and experience, but I also looked for things that might give a clue to the individual. Do they volunteer? Are they involved in civic organizations? Do they have outdoor interests or any particular skill? Do they list multiple part-time jobs that might indicate a person is too busy for the position I might be offering? But most importantly, what makes that individual unique?

The next step is a telephone interview. How do you gauge a person’s personality in a brief interview? In a face-to-face interview, the applicant comes in and presents his or her best self, dressed in their best business or appropriate attire. You can see the individual and how they interact with everyone they encounter. This can provide some important clues, but here I am screening and maybe even hiring based on a telephone interview.  The cost of replacing an employee is significant, so I need to make good decisions.

If I am selecting 2-3 people to interview in person, I will do a group interview for screening and will ask another key person to participate on the call with me. A group interview can provide important clues on how the candidates relate to other people. I like the interview to be collaborative and somewhat relaxed, because I want to “see” as much of the real person as possible can. We begin by explaining the process and then ask for brief introductions. The applicant’s introduction can make or break the interview. We look for introductions that are engaging and presented well, but not read nor rehearsed. Is their introduction consistent with the resume we reviewed? Do they seem to be at ease with speaking? The ability of the applicant to comfortably discuss the questions and job expectations is important, but it is also important to see how the applicants relate to one another and the fact that others are present.

In the end, I am looking for someone who is highly qualified, presents well, and can relate to people, as well as the organization’s mission and vision. I am looking for good communications skills, written and verbal, and who is technically and professionally competent yet well rounded. I’m asking for a lot, but I’m willing to wait for the right person. He or she is out there. #hireihire

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