Hire People, Not Your Imagination


Countless times, I’ve been my own worst enemy when hiring. That’s because I spent too much time hiring what I wanted to see in a candidate instead of what I saw. A lot of managers do the same thing, resulting in turnover, wasted money, and internal strife.

Assessments and standardized hiring processes help, but as long as human beings hire other human beings, built-in bias will complicate matters. Here’s the deal: Most of us want a good hire but, at the same time, we often get interview fatigue and just want to hire someone. Eventually, those two dynamics converge and we start projecting the qualities we want on candidates—then we work really hard to convince ourselves the superstar we’ve created in our imagination is real.

I remember an Editorial Director search about 10 years ago. We had a candidate who impressed the hell out of me. He was talented, collegial, polished. My only hesitation was that he didn’t seem 100-percent enthusiastic about the opportunity. It felt like he was holding something back. I, on the other hand, convinced myself to ignore that nagging doubt. Not everyone expresses enthusiasm the same way, after all. Long story short, I made him an offer—and he took it back to his current employer as a bargaining chip, then promptly disappeared. Who was the dumbass in that situation?

Another time, we had to hire an Account Manager, a high-profile liaison between clients and our creative and production teams. After a number of interviews, the Client Services team identified their top choice. When I met the candidate for a final interview, I was duly impressed. But, again, something bugged me about her. For all her experience and intelligence, she came across as vaguely self-focused. We hired her. She was a disaster. After a month we let her go amidst considerable turmoil. At her exit interview she threw every one of her team members under the bus with startling vitriol. You see, there had been momentum in the hiring process, and I didn’t want to derail things with doubts I could barely articulate.

Heed Your Inner Egghead

The encouraging news is that most of us have a rational operator deep inside us, an objective little egghead who warns against hope-washing subpar candidates. It’s the tiny voice we hear only in moments of doubt or hesitation. We have every practical reason to ignore the voice: the team is shorthanded, the candidate has another offer, you’re sick of interviewing. None of that matters as much as making a hire you won’t regret later. Turn the volume way up on your internal egghead. You’ll never regret it.

There’s an old rule that says when you hire a winner, 99 percent of your problems are behind you; but when you hire a loser, 99 percent of those problems are ahead of you. It’s true—and there’s a reason why we so often hire losers: We don’t leave the selling to the candidate. The candidate’s job is to dazzle, persuade, convince, and wow you. The minute you find yourself doing the selling for him or her—silencing the little voice in your head—you and your team are screwed.

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