The fear of hiring

That may sound peculiar, but I often see clients get cold feet when committing to a new hire.There could be many reasons; no one wants to make a hiring error with a big job; concern that no one externally can fit into the culture quickly enough; an uncertain economic climate, which always gives an easy out; transitioning into a new job take time for everyone to “on-board”–and who has the the time? and so on.

But I think that the real reason some of my clients have a hard time deciding on a hire simply that they’re not ready to commit–they don’t have their heart into the hire. A new hire is, after all, a relationship. Not a lifelong one, but a commitment-of time, money, emotion, and a commitment together to improve things..

Certain clients remind me of the perpetual bachelor, giving a litany of odd reasons why not to put a qualified candidate on board; too young, too old, not cross-culturally aware, uneven English skills, too quiet, too forthright, too bumptious, no eye contact made, bad teeth, doesn’t look or dress like one of us, lacks ‘presence’, no thank you email sent..

There are plenty of reasons NOT to hire, and the higher up the more the criteria are behavioural and visual–a search firm should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff smoothly enough. But that is not what I’m getting at, which is having clients give every reason not to commit by focusing on the more nit-picky stuff rather than assessing and focusing on the strengths–what they have done well and how it can be applied elsewhere.

I presented one MNC client with 13 qualified candidates (over a number of months). Each time he would say the same thing ‘Great, Neal, Thanks. Er, who else is out there that we don’t know?’ As he was a large client, I told him no doubt there were others; there would always be others, but how about the ones he had interviewed already? After far too long, I told them this was counterproductive, and not worthwhile for him or us. He could not decide; all were missing something–as we all are. (And the coda to that story is those candidates went on to be hired at GE, Citi, McDonald’s, while he kept asking who else was available, that ‘perfect 10’. I later heard they found someone who lasted two weeks and quit).

Hire with your head and heart. If a hiring manager is not emotionally engaged to find and bring on the best, the process grinds, and will break.

It is, of course, analogous to committing to a personal relationship. It cannot be done over the internet or through social media and mobility. People have to look each other in the eye, break bread together before one commits to another, ask around and check the other one out, see what other people say, kick the tyres. And this is true of both sides, I should add, not one without the other.

And if scrutiny and time is not enacted, it translates to a fear of making a mistake and being hurt. But such is life, and such is business.

Those who are best at hiring are experienced, know what they are looking for and where they’re going, and know how to both engage and listen.

But more importantly, they are emotionally connected to find the best and get them on board, but not by asking for perfection. The role of management, after all, is to take the good–or very good-and make them outstanding, not to look for the diamond in the rough.

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