#126 - Hiring: begin with the end in mind
Plus: Managers matter; Tech asssesments; Don't flinch from giving feedback
The current top question on the submitted question list is on writing a job advertisement. This will probably take more than one issue to address. It’s a absolutely key question (and I’m going to write out “job advertisement” pretty consistently, because too often we forget that’s exactly what it is — a document whose purpose is to be advertise our job and attract potential candidates), but first I want to address the hiring wrong-way-round approach I see too often in our community (and, to be fair, in many many others).
A very common meta-mistake a lot of teams make when hiring is to consider it as a sequence of discrete, loosely related checkboxes, to be completed in the order that they’re needed. Write up a list of features we expect a new candidate to have; post it some places; recruit some candidates; figure out some interview questions; choose someone to give an offer to. Then once someone’s hired there’s a second series of checkboxes, which must be completed in order: onboarding; figuring out what they should work on; evaluating and managing their performance.
I call this a meta-mistake because this mental model then causes a bunch of mis-steps and needless hassle, for the manager, the team, and the candidates.
The truth is that everything described above is best worked on as a single coherent process. The process begins with a (funded) but still vague need on the team, and ends with a successful, integrated, new team member killing it after their first six months. Adopting that mental model and taking it seriously means front-loading some of the work, but enormously increases the chances of success. Not only are will you end with a team member who doing well, but you’ll have had a better candidate pool, and the non-hired candidates who might be (or know!) a good match for future opportunities, will think well of the professionalism of the process.
And like most processes, when planning for how it will unfold, it’s best to begin with the end in mind.
Let me begin with a bit of unsolicited advice for your own career development. When you’re next interviewing for a job, and it’s your turn to quiz the hiring manager, ask the following common question: “What does success look like in this job? What would make you say, after six months, ‘This was a good hire, this really worked out well’?” This is a common, almost banal, question, but one where the answer can be very helpful for you in evaluating the job. So is a lack of an answer. If they do not have a coherent and confident response, that’s a red flag. They do not have a plan to make sure a new hire succeeds in their job; they can’t, because they’re not even sure what outcome they’re aiming for.
From the hiring team’s point of view, the whole purpose of any hiring process can be summed up by them being able to honestly say to themselves “This was a good hire, this really worked out well.” From a candidate’s point of view, the purpose is to end up in a job that can put their skeills to good use, and to succeed at a job they enjoy. A hiring team able to clearly articulate that successful end state makes both sides more likely to get what they want.
So it’s disappointing how many times I’ve lobbed this softball of a question at hiring teams (as an advisor or as a job candidate) and watched people scramble and duck for cover as they search for something to say in response.
Lou Adler relentlessly popularized the idea of “performance-based hiring,” focussing first on what the successful candidate will actually do several months in (“performance profiles”) rather than looking for people who have a laundry list of features the hiring manager thinks they should have. His book has some really strong sections. But it’s not a new idea. There have always been managers who thought of hiring, and communicated their open positions, using precisely this approach.
There are some completely general advantages of starting planning of hiring process from the final state, success three-to-six months post hire:
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