My 5 biggest hiring mistakes

I recently had lunch with a B-school colleague who’s an investment banker. Her philosophy:  “If every investment you make pans out, you’re not taking enough risk.”

I thought about that, and it’s true. My current gig entails hiring a lot of people very quickly, and it’s not unlike investing: you apply logic to a limited set of data, add a dash of intuition, then cross your fingers and hope for the best.

I’m not the last word in hiring strategy, but I’ve hired 70 people over the past 15 years, and I like to think I’ve out-performed the market.

Some of the best hires I made were people I took a chance on–they didn’t meet all of the job qualifications, but they seemed smart, eager, and honest.

Some of the worst? Well, here are my top 5 (so far):

1. The Insane Person. She met all of the qualifications. Okay, she kind of had the Ally Sheedy Breakfast Club thing going, but I figured a little quirkiness might shake up the status quo. It did.

2. The Genius. He met all of the qualifications, in addition to acing his SATs and majoring in Astrophysics. Only problem: he didn’t like to do stuff that was beneath him–for example, work.

3. The Weird Guy Who Picked His Skin. He met all of the qualifications. We’d interviewed a lot of people. We were tired. We needed to hire someone.

4. The Guy Missing a Tooth. He met all of the qualifications. I didn’t want to judge based on appearance. Maybe he had a good reason for not replacing his missing tooth.

5. The Champion of Principles and Fighter Against The Man. She met all of the qualifications. Stubborn as a mule, and always an axe to grind. Drinking a Diet Coke meant you supported the labor practices of some evil Communist regime.

So my advice here is pretty simple:

  • If you want to out-perform the market, you have to take risks.
  • You’ll strike out a few times, but you’ll hit a few home runs.
  • When in doubt, care less about whether  they’ve had x years experience in industry y using software z.
  • Care more about whether they’re smart, eager, and honest.

 (Having teeth is also good.)

10 reasons you didn’t get an interview

I hate HR people. They stand between me and the person who could hire me. They do evil things like scan my resume in 10 seconds and make a sweeping decision not to even interview me for a job I’m absolutely, positively, 100% qualified for. They are useless idiots, and I hope their company fails!

Unless they are me. I’m currently recruiting talent for a start-up that needs to hire 25 people in 5 months. I look at 50+ resumes a day. I scan 90% of them in 10 seconds and make a sweeping decision not to interview them. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Wrong experience. It doesn’t have to be a perfect match, but if the job is in the Online Media industry and the Summary section of your resume mentions Pharmaceutical Sales, I’ve already stopped reading.

2. Too many short jobs. If you have more than three 1-year gigs, you’re not going to get an interview. I don’t want to bring someone into the company who will need to be replaced in 12 months.

3. No promotions. I want you to be a superstar. If no one else thought you were a superstar, you’re probably not.

4. Career stagnation. It gets tougher the more senior you get, but if you’ve been a Director for the past ten years, I’m concerned that you won’t make the leap to VP.

5. Typos or formatting errors in resume. One? You probably get a pass. Three? Probably not.

6. General weirdness. Creativity = Good. Unabomber = Bad. I’ll look like a fool if I recommend someone for an interview and they show up in a hooded sweatshirt mumbling about big government.

7. Lack of educational credentials. You don’t have to be Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard. But you need a college degree, and it needs to be from somewhere other than Bob’s Online College of Hairstyling. Life is unfair. Boo-hoo.

8. Gaps in employment, or too much time consulting. What were you doing from 2001-2003, 2005-2008, and 2009-present? You just have to tell me, so that I can go, “Oh, okay.” If you haven’t had a staff job since 2002, you’d better have consulted for some companies I’ve heard of.

9. Companies I’ve never heard of and don’t know what they do. Nothing personal, but I don’t know if “BS Enterprises, LLC” is an ad-tech company or a furniture distributor. It’s in Cleveland? Hmm, okay. And that was followed by your stint at “LSD Technologies, Inc.” in White Plains? You appear to live in some parallel universe, and no, I’m not going to Google them.

10. Inability to concisely convey who you are and what you do. Your resume should read like an elevator pitch–a 10-second elevator pitch. If it conveys that you’re a smart, talented, promotable person with experience related to the job I’m screening for, I WILL put you in the YES pile. Really!

Bottom line…I’m going to interview 5 candidates. If, within 10 seconds, I don’t think you’re going to be among the top 5 candidates, I’m not going to interview you.

It’s not a perfect process. It kinda sucks sometimes. Welcome to my world.

The secret to operations in <50 words

1. Stability. Make the operations stable–product, process, and people–to minimize fire drills.

2. Quality. Improve the product and people.

3. Productivity. Improve the workflow process. Create a positive work environment.

4. Creativity. Don’t just optimize current operations; invent the future.

= 5. Improved P&L.

5 Fun Ways to Make a Meeting Last 2 Hours

(Humor, via The Hired Guns)

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a manager is the power to waste other people’s time. A great way to do this is by transforming short meetings into endless morale-sucks in which nothing is accomplished and big chunks of the work day are blown.

Here are some helpful hints for pulling this off effectively…

Why being a jerk at work doesn’t pay

According to a recent study, aggressive people make more money than nice people–up to 18% more, on average.

Depressing if true…but here are three major caveats:

1. The study doesn’t break out sales vs. non-sales. Aggressive salespeople generally do better than non-aggressive salespeople, because that’s the nature of sales. (If I were less aggressive I’d apologize for that remark.) Moreover, sales is a high-paying field for those who are good at it. Therefore, a large sample of highly aggressive (and well-paid) salespeople could easily skew the study results. Does that mean that an aggressive head of HR makes more than a nice head of HR? We don’t know.

2. The study doesn’t measure the impact of employee turnover. Today’s employees are more mobile than ever. Smart, talented people who work for a jerk won’t work for a jerk for long. They’ll work for the jerk’s competitor. The jerk may not care, but the company should.

3. Aggressiveness doesn’t always equal jerkiness. In a positive context, it means biased toward action, able to make tough decisions and act on them. Companies want people who are aggressive in that context–they should make more money than people who are more passive and laid back. You can be aggressive without being a jerk.

And if it turns out to be true that the average jerk does in fact make more money than the average nice person, just remember: you can still strive to be an above-average nice person rather than an average jerk.

Behold: the 2-question employee review

Long employee review formats that delve into too much minutiae are inefficient for most companies.

If you’re an HR person, intuition tells you that a longer review is better than a shorter one, because the more information you gather, the more insights delivered. But that’s only true if:

– the reviewing manager knows all facets of the employee’s performance well

– the reviewing manager is able to focus on filling out extensive review forms for each of his/her employees without being distracted by other priorities

Lengthy review formats are like long consumer-product surveys: they may actually generate bogus data. Consider that consumers rarely care about any product as much as marketers think they do, the result being that they are incapable of ranking a paper towel’s nubbiness on a 5-point scale. They just want to finish the damn survey and get on with their lives. The most accurate surveys are the simplest and shortest.

The two most important pieces of feedback about any employee are:

– What is this person’s greatest strength?

– What is this person’s greatest weakness?

Rather than add more questions, allow more people to answer these two questions. Provide a 360-degree review by surveying the employee’s peers and subordinates in addition to his or her manager.

In less time than it takes a single manager to fill out a long review, an employee’s entire circle of co-workers can provide multiple data points on the most relevant and actionable questions.

The employee gains incredibly valuable insights.

The manager gains incredibly valuable insights.

HR has its paper trail.

The best part? A company can conduct a complete 360-degree review of every single employee, from the CEO on down–in a single week.

With barely a blip in reduced productivity.

Basic blocking & tackling works

Great execution of a simple idea works better than half-assed execution of an earth-shattering idea 9 times out of 10.

Per this article in Paid Content, simply shifted its strategy from posting re-purposed articles to putting more emphasis on its daily news blogs. The result? It doubled its traffic. This is not rocket science. But that’s the point.

3 Great Ways to Get Sued for Discrimination

(Humor, via The Hired Guns)

Now that you’re a big, important manager, you’ll probably be called on to interview job candidates. Despite what the experts in Human Resources and Legal say (cough — who cares — cough), the whole issue of what constitutes legal and illegal lines of questioning is blown waayyy out of proportion. Some people are just too uptight.

Nonetheless, here are a few things you might want to say to reassure job candidates that you’re “in sync” with HR and Legal on those touchy topics:

4 Great Ways to Fail as a New Manager

(Humor, via The Hired Guns)

Hurray. The evil production manager you used to report to just got fired. Everyone on your team is happy. Even better: you’re the new production manager. Woo-hoo!

Here’s what you should do to ensure that you will fail: