My last post discussed how to make sure that your company is not overly reliant on any one employee for your business’ success. Today, I thought I’d give you some tips on how to hire those star performers in the first place. If everyone you work with is a star, then you’ll be less reliant on any one individual for the success or failure of your company.
Jeff Haden’s article for Inc.com, “8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees,” discusses what differentiates the stars from the rest of the pack and most of the characteristics are even more true at small businesses than big ones. So, now that we know what characteristics incredible employees share, how do we attract them and pick them out in a crowd of applicants?
- Make sure your company has a good reputation. You won’t ever be able to attract the top candidates if your company has a poor reputation because you don’t treat your current employees well. Top talent has multiple options, so you need to convince them that your company is a great place to work as much as they need to convince you that they’re a superstar employee. You won’t be able to fake this, so make sure that your company is one where employees feel engaged, valued, and just plain happy. Happy, interested employees are more productive anyway, so making sure you take care of your staff will result not only in you being able to hire the top candidates for new positions but also in you getting the most out of seasoned employees.
- Put some effort into the job posting and job description and advertise well. Clearly, you won’t be able to hire a top candidate if no candidates even apply. Therefore, you need to make sure that the job description makes your opening sound like a job a top candidate would want to have at a company a top candidate would want to work for. You need to be honest about the role and the organization culture, but you also need to make sure that smart, ambitious candidates reading the job description will get excited and apply. Top talent needs to be able to learn and grow in any position, so it should be clear in the job description what’s in it for them, not just what’s in it for you. Also, use word of mouth, job boards, LinkedIn, Craigslist….whatever venue makes sense for your target candidates because they can’t apply if they don’t hear about the opening.
- Be harsh and pay attention to detail when you’re evaluating application packages. Take a look at the resumes and cover letters: Do they seem thrown together or organized with care? Are they specific to the position or generic? Do they clearly demonstrate the skills or experience that you listed as requirements in the job posting? Is the cover letter well written? More often than not, a resume and cover letter cannot tell you a person’s story or if the candidate will be a good cultural fit for your organization. However, they can reveal how interested the candidate really is in your position, how much attention they pay to detail, and whether they can communicate clearly and concisely.
- Be prepared for the interview(s). You expect candidates to do their research on the company, on you, and on any other interviewers that will participate before showing up for the interview and you should do the same for them. Make sure you’ve absorbed their resumes and have some insightful and specific questions to ask them. Generic questions tend to result in generic or canned answers. If the candidate has been able to fully prep in advance, it will be more difficult for you to discern the truth and to get an accurate read of the candidate’s personality. Which brings me to my next piece of advice:
- Ask tough (and weird) questions. For small businesses, cultural fit is just as important as skill level, if not more. In order to gauge this, you need to get to know the real person behind the proper interviewee on his/her best behavior. You need to catch the candidate a bit off guard so that they can’t stick with a canned answer and the best way to do that is to ask uncommon questions (remember to ask these in addition to NOT instead of the standard interview fare that will help you gauge the candidate’s qualifications). For example, ask a candidate what the nicest thing anyone has ever said to him/her is. This is probably a question he/she will never have heard on an interview before, so you should be able to tell if he/she is making something up. Plus, the answer will give you great insight into his/her values and who else in the world respects him/her. Some other unique interview questions include: Do you think it’s better for a leader to be feared or loved? What would you do with your time if you had enough money that you didn’t have to work? Why is your best friend your best friend?* You get the idea: the goal is to catch the interviewee off guard so you get an honest answer while asking a question that will reveal something about his/her values.
- Let the candidate meet the team. The candidate needs to be able to work well with the rest of your team in order to succeed, so let everyone meet and ask each other questions. It will allow you to assess the candidate’s social skills and pick up on any potential personality clashes, soliciting feedback from current employees will make them feel valued and included, and the candidate will have a better idea of if they’d fit into the team and feel that you’re open and honest about what working at the company will be like.
- Follow-up matters. A candidate should send you a thank you note within 24 hours (the best ones will say more than thank you and reiterate interest in the position as well as why he/she is an ideal candidate). If you don’t receive one, remove that candidate from consideration. Similarly, a top candidate needs to feel valued and will probably have other interviews and other offers. You need to follow up with them in a timely manner to make sure they’re in the loop about next steps, your hiring timeline, etc. or they will move on to another company.
- Be honest and fair. Don’t jerk people around. You should be honest and respectful to everyone because it is the right thing to do, however, if you need a business reason to be honest and respectful, here it is: If a candidate seemed disingenuous or unreasonable, you wouldn’t offer him/her a job. If you seem disingenuous or unreasonable, a top candidate will not accept a job. Those hiring often forget that they face competition just as the candidates do. If someone really impressed you, he/she likely really impressed all of your competitors as well. If you don’t treat him/her with fairness and respect that superstar you interviewed may end up as a superstar for your biggest competitor instead of for you.
What other tips do you have for attracting and hiring the best employees? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
*Be sure to stick with best friend here, don’t change it to any type of significant other because asking about a candidate’s marital status, sexual orientation, or plans for raising a family (or even making a candidate feel that you were fishing for such information) could be a violation of equal employment opportunity laws.