Hiring With Your Gut Is The Worst Thing You Can Possibly
Geoff Smart was born to hire. His father, an industrial psychologist, was a hiring expert, and he went on to study with Peter Drucker — widely considered the father of the field. It’s been 17 years since Smart founded ghSMART, his Colorado-based leadership consulting firm.
In that time, Smart co-wrote Who: The Method For Hiring, which outlines a comprehensive hiring method rooted in research. Last month, the Wall Street Journal featured the book as one that actually helps entrepreneurs find success. We recently spoke with Smart about the dos and don’ts in hiring. Here’s what he had to say:
What do employers need to keep in mind when they’re hiring?
Generally, don’t hire with your gut feel. Most people hire with their gut — they just decide if they like someone or not and then they hire them. That’s the most common way hiring happens in the world and it doesn’t work, it leads to about a 50% hiring failure rate — that’s based on about half a century worth of data on it.
If you’re not going to use your gut, then what are you going to do? You’re going to follow a four-step process that we outline in the Who book:
Step one is Scorecard, which means you’ve got to actually figure out what the person’s supposed to accomplish. What do you actually expect them to do or achieve?
The second step is called Source, and that’s the question of where you find candidates.
The third step is called Select, and that’s actually the hardest step. Once you’ve narrowed down to a few candidates, how do you really get to know them for who they really are so that you can make the right choice based on fit?
The fourth and final step is often forgotten by managers — it’s called Sell. When you’ve gone through all the hassle of finding an awesome candidate, how do you close the deal and sell them on joining your company?
People who successfully hire follow those four steps. People who unsuccessfully hire kind of wing it and get lousy results. There’s a 50% failure rate if you do the wing-it approach, and only a 10% failure rate — in other words, a 90% success rate — if you follow the four-step approach.
What are the most crucial hiring mistakes?
I think [hiring managers] screw it up in two places. The first is in the first step, Scorecard. They actually don’t think about the outcomes they want someone to achieve. They think about the profile of the kind of person they want to attract.
The average manager has a profile of the candidate they’re hiring, and that’s a no-no, you’re not supposed to do that. Instead what you’re supposed to do is say, “I’m going to hire this person to be editor of my next book. I need her to do these five things and achieve these outcomes.”
The second problem is in the interviews. Most interviewers talk about themselves the whole time and you really should listen and ask good drill-down questions. Try to understand what people have accomplished rather than spending the whole interview just talking about how great your company is.
If you’re interviewing someone by asking them hypothetical questions, you don’t get the truth, you get speculation. Don’t ask interview questions that are hypothetical in nature, ask interview questions that are reality-based in nature.
What’s the best way for an employer or HR manager to rethink his or her process?
Basically, they can evaluate whether or not they’re doing the following four very specific things:
No. 1 is to ask themselves if they’ve identified five to seven outcomes they expect a person to achieve in the job.
No. 2 is sourcing candidates through their most trusted business and personal contacts. We did a study for the book to find out where great leaders find their best talent, and 78% said through their own personal and professional networks. It wasn’t really through posting ads or even through hiring recruiters. Use social media in targeted way — make a list of 10 people you know, and ask them, “Anyone you know that I should hire who’s really good at [whatever the job requires]?” and then follow up with those people.
The third thing is, when you’re interviewing, really try to understand what someone has accomplished throughout their career. Ask yourself, “How relevant is that to what we need them to do here at our company?”
And the fourth and final thing is, once you decide to hire someone, you have a process for selling them. At my firm, for example, we identify one of our team members who’s in charge of closing our candidate, and then there’s all sorts of steps. We send balloons and flowers to the person, we take them out to dinner and celebrate with their significant other. It leads to a really high success rate out our firm, but I see other firms decide to hire someone and then they stop. They wonder why the other person doesn’t say yes. The answer is, because you stopped short of the goal line — the person signing their employment agreement.
How did your firm develop that specific strategy?
Trial and error is the short answer.
We just basically started throwing everything including the kitchen sink at people to let them know that we really think they’re a great fit, and to put a lot of positive pressure on them to accept their offer.
Is it always a process of trial and error, or is there a way to make it a little more formulaic than that?
I think there’s a checklist of five things that should always be included, but otherwise it’s pretty trial-and-error, given the culture of your company. We call the checklist “The Five Fs of Selling,” and the Fs are:
Fit. Have you sold the person on how you think they’ll fit at the company?
Family. You don’t want to ask people about whether they want to have children or if they’re pregnant. But it is helpful to know if their family and friends are supportive of their taking the job.
Freedom. A lot of the Millennials and Gen Y folks love freedom in their jobs. They don’t want to be told what to do every minute of the day. If you can show the candidates they’ll have freedom in their job, that’s a big plus.
Fortune. Fortune is kind of a jokey way of saying how much money someone is likely to make. We’ve found that if candidates know pretty specifically what they’re likely to earn in a job, that’s better. Don’t be vague, be pretty specific, and then people can count on it.
Fun. This one is very culture-specific, so whatever is the most fun part of your company’s culture, really emphasize that and the degree to which it seems like an interest match with your candidate.
Is an unconventional approach to hiring ever OK?
I like unconventional for selling a candidate on joining your company, when you really want to make it match the person’s taste. But I’m not supportive of unconventional when it comes to a hiring process, because there are better ways and worse ways to manage a hiring process. Completely freestyling it throughout the entire interview process is not a good idea.
Non-conventional is totally great for selling someone, but highly conventional and highly structured in what comes before selling someone is a better approach than sloppy, gut-feel kind of stuff.
What is it about the gut feeling that makes it so ineffective?
It’s the absence of data. Facts, data, reality. These are your friends when hiring, not just gut feel and falling in love with candidates’ personalities.
What if a candidate is great on paper, but you find they’re a little abrasive or you just don’t quite click?
It’s all about the results, so if they have, in fact, gotten really good results that you and your colleagues would agree are impressive, then we advise you to hire on results. Don’t worry too much about whether the person is too introverted, or if the person is a little nerdy, or they just didn’t seem socially as strong as you would like. Don’t get your heart set on hiring clones of you, or people who are exactly like you are personality-wise.
That said, if their personality makes you worry about if they’re trustworthy, if they have high integrity, or if you have more character-level question marks, we encourage clients to listen to their gut. If their gut is negative on the character stuff, they should continue to do their homework to find out what the real story is.
You touched on something I’d like to ask more about. People are drawn to those similar to themselves. How does that play into the hiring process?
It’s human nature to feel more comfortable with people who remind us of ourselves. However, that really, really, really limits the pool of talent you can hire for a given role.
You can hire people who share similar values, or similar aspirations for what you’re trying to do in business. But I think if you hire the very best people for a role, you might find that they have very different personalities from your own. It takes a degree of discipline to overcome the attraction. If somebody’s a lot like you, hire for talent not personality.
What’s the one thing all hiring managers should do?
If there’s one thing hiring managers should do, it’s to sit with their finalist candidates and listen to them tell a full text story of their lives. The one really important ingredient in any good hiring process is to have the candidate walk chronologically through their entire career life and tell you all the details.
At that point, patterns will become clear. Relevance of their background to your situation will become clear. Types of jobs they’ve loved and hated will become clear. Types of bosses they’ve had, that they’ve loved or hated, will become clear.
So much is missing, kind of like an iceberg where 90% is under the surface, when you do short interviews