The typical hiring process focuses on finding a person to fill a position. This leads to the position being defined by the current needs of the team or company. Thus, it usually gets simplified down to a list of desired skills. This occurs even in the modern world of IT. There are hundreds of skills that are utilized every day. However, we manage to find ways to reduce a position down to a set of skills.
To be clear, this is a good approach when you are looking for a short-term employee or contractor. That is why a short-term match is going to be the candidate with the closest match in skills. When a candidate has a skill match, they should have little to no ramp-up time. Thus, the percentage of time where they are not productive is minimized.
When we switch to looking at the best long-term employee match the importance of skills drop off. They do not become irrelevant but they should drop in priority. Instead, the fit for the team should be given more weight. Areas of this fit include items like personality, drive, work habits, etc. This is easily seen in professional sports. American football teams, for example, often will bring in players that they plan on growing into a position. This is done rather than trying to fill a position immediately. They have found that it tends to be too expensive to hire for the position directly. Resulting in cases where even a perfect match for skills may be a bad hire.
This would be a case where the hire does not fit with the organization. The long-term approach should be used in hiring full-time employees. It provides a better approach to building a team, keeps staffing costs down, builds loyalty, and more. This approach fits employees for the job they will have tomorrow as well as the needs for today. Please note, you can always stay tactical and hire consultants or employees that you only care to keep for a short time. However, when you do this too often, the costs can become detrimental.
The regular loss of intellectual property (IP) due to turnover is also a standard weakness of the tactical approach. This tends to cause a loss of quality as companies rely more on short-term resources than those that have more of a vested interest in the success of the company.
Strategic Job Descriptions
One of the first things to focus on with strategic hiring is how job descriptions are done. A focus should be placed on skills that are needed in the long term and not just the short term skill set. The short term skills should be considered “nice to have” as it will help the employee become productive sooner. Since we are looking at a long term investment, the skills that are needed in the long term should end up providing more value to the company. Thus they outweigh a slow start when the employee needs to learn those short term skills. Obviously, the applicant with a match of both short and long term skill sets will be the best.
When putting together a job description that is more strategic it helps to look at where you see the ideal employee in one, three, five, or more years. What skills will they need to have for that role or position? Do they need to have those skills today? On the other hand, do they need to have a certain set of skills that will help them get to that position/role you envision for them?
This approach teaches that it quickly becomes less about technical skills and more about soft skills. These include things like: the ability to learn, fit with the current team, ability to help build the team, work ethic. Also, do not forget skills and traits that will make the employee a fit in the company rather than just a fit for the job. The true benefits of a strategic hire may have nothing to do with the position they are hired for. The initial role may simply be a stepping stone to prepare the employee for a position where they will bring greater value to the company.
In the hundreds of interviews I have done of technical candidates, I cannot think of a single one where the answer to a technical question did much to sway me on choosing them. You do need to use technical questions to properly vet candidates. However, when you have a pool of candidates that all pass the technical test, what is the next step? How do you differentiate among them to find the best candidate? If you are looking at a short term fit, then the answer is “who cares?” You just pick one and make an offer. They won’t be around long enough for you to notice anything beyond what they were tested on. A strategic hire is different. You can find the best technical skill set in an employee that ends up being poisonous to the company and does serious harm.
The strategic interview needs to get the candidate talking. Ask them about their likes and dislikes, habits, goals, and anything else that can help you learn about them beyond their technical skills. You should be able to learn how they work and how they will fit (or not) into your team and/or group. Take a close look at the personality of your group and ask leading questions to see if the candidate will be a fit for that group personality and style.
For example, your office may tend to be very loud and full of conversations. If the candidate prefers a quiet and/or solitary sort of work environment, then they may not be effective, or may quickly become unhappy. Your team might often discuss ideas and avoids anyone feeling like they have personal ownership of a problem or solution. Bringing in someone that is happiest when they have some sort of ownership could cause friendly discussions to suddenly take on a personal aspect that stifles conversations.
I have found a great source of strategic questions come from those that are “too busy” to interview candidates. These are often high-level managers or executives that want to keep a finger on the pulse of their teams and hires. Unfortunately, they don’t have the time to get into the details of a position when evaluating a candidate. They may even start by saying they have no idea about the technical aspects of the job/role, but they want to get a measure of the type of person the candidate is.
The questions will usually be open-ended. This is because the interviewer is looking for a style or direction in the response. How the answer is delivered helps point to whether the candidate is a good fit or not. When in doubt, ask one of these senior execs or even the CEO, if you can get their time, about how they see the company and its employees. Where do they see the company going and what sort of people are going to be needed to make that journey? What is the makeup of the “ideal” employee?
The Bottom Line
These are just a few thoughts, but hopefully, it has sparked some ideas for you. Your team should be viewed as a long-term investment in time and resources. Therefore, hire with the big picture in mind. It will save you a lot of time and the headaches caused by turnover.