2013-04-19

Hiring the Best

A commitment to hiring the best requires a significant departure from typical hiring practices, because of the very nature of the beast: the best are rare by definition, and sought-after by nature. That means that when they're available, you have to hire them. This sounds straightforward enough, but it's harder to put into practice.

In order to have the best, you have to always be hiring, whether or not you need people. I'm not suggesting you staff up to a thousand employees when you only need ten, but you should be open to the idea of hiring people now up to the number of people you think you'll need a year or two from now. Allowing moderate over-staffing gives you the flexibility to make an excellent hire when the candidate is available, so that when you really do need them, you aren't forced to accept less than the best because you're in a time crunch.

Which brings us to the correlary: when you're hiring for a specific opening, you have to commit to not hiring people who don't meet your standards, no matter how badly you need to fill the position. That may mean that while you're searching for the perfect person, you have to outsource, hire contractors, or hire temporary workers. That may mean that your current employees have to go a little outside their comfort zone and pick up the slack until you can find someone who is a good fit. Just don't buckle: every time you lower your standards to fill a position, you're lowering the average quality for your entire operation. Don't do it.

Both of these ideas - hiring when you don't need to, and not hiring when you do need to - are somewhat counter-intuitive, can be very difficult to stick to in practice, and can be even more difficult (if not impossible) to convince management of. But if you want to have the best, the only way to get there is by hiring the best when you can, and refusing to hire anyone that doesn't meet your standards.

It's also important to understand that candidates who don't look good on paper may turn out to be rock stars of only you knew you should hire them. If you can possibly manage it, try setting up an apprenticeship program. Take on candidates that seem promising despite being apparently unqualified. Give the paperboy the chance to prove he can write code even though he never went to college. Give the mechanic the opportunity to show he's a diamond in the rough for your sales department.

The purpose of your apprenticeship program should be genuine apprenticeship - a learning experience for the prospect, and for your team as well. Don't just treat it as a temp-to-hire situation. Find out how far this person can go if you really back them up and give them the tools to succeed. If it doesn't work out, cut them loose. If it does work out, guess what? You just picked up an excellent employee that no resume search our recruiter world ever have found, and they'll likely show more loyalty to your company than an industry veteran ever would.
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