Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How to not hire someone

There are plenty of guides on hiring people.  There are even guides to firing people (or "letting go", "releasing", "right-sizing" or whatever euphemism we're supposed to use now for screwing up people's lives).  I don't think I have ever seen more than a passing mention of how not to hire someone, and and almost nothing on how to not hire someone.  As with many of life's situations, a little common courtesy goes a long way here.

How not to hire someone- these are mistakes people make when hiring (or trying to hire) someone.  Here are a few hiring mistakes I have seen (and made) in the hiring process which led to losing a candidate:

  • Moving too slow.
    • Microsoft has made an art form of rapid assessment of candidates. Why? Because it gives them a competitive advantage, if they make the first offer on the people they want, they get them. And their competition does not.
    • If things are going to progress slowly make sure everyone understands and expects it- from the beginning.
  • Not offering feedback.
    • No, this is not just the candidate's responsibility.
    • Acknowledge receipt of documents, confirm appointments.
  • Asking for too much up front.
    • You do not need (or want) a candidate's Social Security number, salary history, or other sensitive data before you begin the vetting process.
    • Asking for this info can put off the candidate, and makes you responsible for the data.
    • Only ask for sensitive data if and when you need it, and treat it accordingly.
  • Forgetting to sell the position/your organization/yourself to the candidate.
    • Maybe if you get 400 applicants for 2 entry-level positions this isn't as important...unless you want the best two candidates.
    • This is critical when you have a hard sell- due to limited budget, high competition for candidates or other challenges.
    • Remind me to tell you about Captain Robin someday.

There are plenty more, but you get the idea- if you want the best people, act like it and treat the candidates well.

How to not hire someone- this is the way you handle candidates who did not get an offer, or those who declined an offer.

  • Provide timely and polite replies.
    • Again, this is not just the candidate's responsibility.
  • Candidates who decline an offer should be thanked for their interest and time, and wish them well.
    • You offered them a position, if you want a second shot at them later- act like it.
    • If it seems appropriate (and it wasn't already revealed), ask what drove their decision not to accept the offer.
  • Candidates not offered a position should be notified.  This will vary depending on the nature of the position and the opening, but it is the right thing to do.
    • Yes, it can be a pain.  It is more of a pain to be unemployed and strung along or left in the dark.
    • If you have 3000 applicants for 3 positions, posting a statement on the recruiting website may be enough.
    • The sad state of affairs today has so lowered the bar that an email message should be adequate for most situations, but put some thought into the message before you hit "send".
    • Why bother? Because it is the right thing to do, and because it builds good will.  A rejection message from you will (unfortunately) be better treatment than they will receive from many others, this reflects will on you and your organization.

About that rejection note, back in my auto tech days I applied to Rolls Royce for a technical training position, they turned me down- but the rejection letter made me feel better that the job I eventually got.  Sadly, I have lost the letter, but a couple of keys to the message were:

  • It was timely.
  • I was thanked for my time and interest.
  • I was complemented on my skills and experience.
  • I was informed that they had offered the position to a candidate whose "skills and experience more closely matched their current needs".
    • Not "someone more qualified" or even a "better match", but someone who more closely matched their current needs.  I don't know a better way to break it to someone that they aren't getting the offer.
  • Oh, and the gold, embossed seals with things like "By Appointment of Her Majesty the Queen..." were a nice touch, too.  I don't expect you to duplicate those, though.

Finally, remember the data you collect during the process needs to be handled appropriately.  There are legal and ethical issues with all that personal information, but you knew that.