Hire people, don’t fill positions

Posted in Principles @ April 15, 2022

In the last 15 years I recruited hundreds of people for dozens of projects. From full time roles for long term jobs to small scale projects that needed somebody for a few hours per week, I was put in the position to fill the role and get the job done.

If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that you have work with people, not to fill a job.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply for all roles and all companies. If you’re hiring a structural engineer or a neurosurgeon, you’d better have an airtight job description with a very solid set of criteria you’re looking for in a candidate, and you’d better judge their resume!

But if you’re running a small business that operates in today’s online environment, you likely don’t have that fixed, immutable criteria. You’re likely looking to grow, and to do that you want somebody by your side to wear several hats and adapt as your business grows.

Needless to say, that person you’re looking for is a human being. They’re not the embodiment of a job description, so look at the human, first and foremost.

Sounds vague, right? Let’s take an example: you’re running a marketing agency and you’re finally at the point where you want to hire an assistant. What I’m saying by “hire a human, don’t just fill a role” is this: don’t necessarily look for someone who has “assistant in a marketing agency” in their resume. Instead, look for the qualities that role needs, and find a person that embodies as many of those qualities as possible. In our example, these might be: communication and organization skills, reliability, or a work schedule that matches yours.

Each company will need slightly different skills in varying proportions. The person you’re hiring might not be client facing, so it won’t matter if they’re shy and get flustered when put on a client call. What matters to you? Compile a list of ideal qualities you’re looking for in that person.

Post your job ads on relevant boards, explaining what your goals are, what your vision is, what your company stands for, and what’s expected from applicants in this role. And most importantly: ask candidates additional questions.

For each of the qualities you’re looking for, try to come up with relevant questions that will give you insight into the mindset, skills, and maybe even character of the person who’s applying. Aim for 2-3 questions and don’t force people to write essays, so be mindful of their time as well.

The question I like asking most is: if you didn’t have to work for a living, what would you do? It gets people to open up, and it sometimes shows you what really drives them. Usually, people are pollite or try to give the “right” answer (so many people answer with “I would stilll work and do my best to do my job”), but sometimes you get a glimpse of a hidden passion. It’s also a way to see how well they communicate.

Once you select candidates to interview, aside from the technical review, focus on them. What do they love doing? What drives them? Would that person be a good fit for your team? Are they just great at interviews?

People switch jobs often nowadays, and a lot of knowledge workers have great interview skills, even if they might be the best at their job, or the best people to work with. Try to see past beyond the curtain of politeness, and look at the person you’re interviewing.

Also, be open and honest about your own organization – you don’t want people who will hate working for you, and it’s better to find out if you’re compatible sooner rather than later.

In the end, think about the best possible outcome – in five years, would you be glad you hired “Jim”, or just “an assistant”?