Management Myth 27: We Can Take Hiring Shortcuts


Hiring is difficult to do well, Johanna Rothman writes in her latest management myth piece. Because everyone who is looking to hire has a job, they think they know how to hire. But it’s not easy. You want to hire the best people you can who fit the team and the organization.

“Hi, Tricia, I’m so glad you’re early for our one-on-one today. We need to talk about hiring. I finally have approval for those testers you’ve been after me to hire.” Stan, the CIO, walked around his visitor table and closed the door.

Tricia smiled, internally giving herself a high five. “OK, I’ll start the job analysis and then work with each of the teams. I’m ready for our next item.”

“Wait a minute. You don’t need to take that long, do you? It sounds like a lot of work and aggravation for not much return. You just have to hire people who can type, right?”

Tricia looked at Stan and started counting to ten in her head. “Stan, you know we’re agile, right? You know that our testers do more than type, right? They always have.”

“Tricia, you are so easy!”

“OK, but the teams aren’t falling for any of the hiring traps: barrel-of-the-bottom candidates, supposed ‘rock stars’ or ‘ninjas,’ not paying people what they’re worth, or people who don’t fit with the team. And we can’t ignore the time it takes us to hire people. You didn’t get the approval in time. The teams have been limping along without the people they need. It’s almost a crisis now. I was going to ask you for approval to hire contractors. But they would need to fit with the team, anyway.”

“I didn’t realize there were so many hiring traps,” Stan mused. “I was only joking.”

“Hardy har har. That’s me laughing at you,” Tricia said. “There are a ton of traps. We need people to work together and feel good about their team. This isn’t easy.

“Interviewing will take time away from feature development. I’ll be spending time phone-screening candidates. I don’t mind doing it, because it will save the teams time. I might work with the other managers or leads to help them learn. I’m not sure how this will work.

“You and I both know that hiring a person is the most costly and the biggest point of leverage we have in our organization. We want to make each hire great. I’ll start now.

“OK, what’s next on our list?”

Taking Hiring Shortcuts is Tempting
If you are a senior manager and you approve a req, it’s tempting to “help” another manager by giving that manager a hiring shortcut. But a shortcut is almost always a hiring trap—and there are plenty of hiring traps.

Don’t Hire Below Average People
One common hiring trap is to think that you can hire from the “bottom of the barrel.” I once consulted for a company that wanted to decrease the cost of their development. They purposely hired developers who were below average. They paid below average salaries. And the product? Below average.

By the time they’d been in business about ten years, their technical debt was significant. They didn’t have the technical ability to work themselves out of the debt they had built because they had consistently created a culture of below average people hiring people who were less capable than they were.

Don’t Hire “Rock Stars”
You might think I’m suggesting you only hire “rock stars” or “ninjas” or “gurus.” No, I’m not suggesting that, either. I am not a fan of people who call themselves any one of those titles.

When a person calls him- or herself a rock star, ninja, or guru, I wonder about that person’s capability to learn or become a part of a team. I once worked with a person who called himself the “code czar.” Yes, that was the title he gave himself. He decided it was his job to “clean up” the code everyone else had checked in.

He destroyed the teamwork on that project, never mind any semblance of code understanding on the part of the authors. Would you like to work with someone like that?

Sometimes, you need people with great expertise. I am suggesting you find and hire people like that, but not people with so much hubris that they cannot work with mere mortals like the rest of us.

Don’t Wait for the Perfect Candidate
There are many traps when you wait for the perfect candidate. You might think, especially if some company in your town has had a large layoff, “Oh, there are many great candidates to choose from.”

There are. Choose one who fits the team, and get on with your work.

The longer you wait to fill the position, the longer the team struggles with their current work. I once worked with a team who had been waiting for six months to find the “right” tester. The developers were developing system tests—not their expertise. They managed to miss some important problems, and they missed a crucial deadline in the market for the product. By the time they finally hired someone, they needed two more people to help them out of their testing debt.

The longer you wait for the perfect candidate, the more great candidates you miss. Don’t hire someone inadequate; hire someone who’s great. But that person doesn’t have to be perfect. (Are you perfect? I’m not.)

Offer a Candidate a Reasonable Salary
A job analysis will tell you what a job is worth to you. Once you know that, you can offer a candidate a reasonable salary.

If you ever get into the trap of offering a candidate a salary based on the candidate’s previous salary, you might encounter the trap of having parity issues in your department. If you analyze a job and know what the job is worth to you, you will have fewer parity issues.

Hire for Cultural Fit
Culture is what your organization rewards, how people treat each other, and what you, at your organization, can discuss. It’s not about who you would take on a desert island, or if you were an animal what that animal would be.

When you hire for cultural fit, you discover how a person works at work. You create auditions that show you how a person will perform the work and interact with coworkers.

Many people think cultural fit is hiring for personality. It’s not. Hiring for cultural fit is first assessing people’s technical abilities to see if they have sufficient skills (not tools), then seeing if those people’s interpersonal skills match the needs of the organization and the team. Note that if a person can’t do the work, you don’t even look at culture.

Hiring Shortcuts Don’t Help Anyone
Hiring is difficult to do well. Because everyone who is looking to hire has a job, they think they know how to hire. But it’s not easy. You want to hire the best people you can who fit the team and the organization. You want to pay them according to the value they provide.

Then you can see the team make their magic.

Remember, hiring is the biggest leverage you have as a manager. Use that leverage wisely.

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