Recruiting tips

By July 5, 2012 4 Comments

I do just about all my reading on the Kindle app on my Samsung Galaxy Nexus these days. The 4.65in screen is big enough to read from comfortably, so much so that I use it at home in my bedroom when my Kindle is just across the room. I prefer it to the Kindle for a number of small reasons (the phone is always with me, no need to synch, backlit screen, better UI) but the killer is the touchscreen. Highlighting interesting passages is now very quick and when I finish reading a book I check back through my highlights to get a reminder of the bits I liked best. Best of all, these are saved forever (or at least for the life of the Kindle format…).

I’ve just finished reading The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else which I highly recommend to anyone who has to do a lot of recruiting. These are the best nuggets from the book from a startup perspective, as culled from my highlights:

  • Compromise on experience; don’t compromise on character – this is especially true for startups when budgets are tight
  • Rely on auditions to see why people achieve the results they do – use presentations and other real work simulations in the recruitment process and if possible find a way to work with people before you commit
  • Most of us dodge the hard work of extracting lasting truths from the zigzags of our own careers. We don’t want to know why we stumbled at certain points. We may not even care to pick apart our successes that much much. We would rather settle for a soothing narrative – revealing little about the real reasons for success or failure – instead of staring at the raw truths of why some people achieve great things and others didn’t …. It takes a special sort of courage to revisit the critical junctures in our lives, and to look at them calmly and with clarity. Why bother? The answer: because that is where insights are born – startups are unpredictable and hard to understand and people with the courage and ability to find the real reasons for success and failure are a huge asset
  • It’s not enough to know that a candidate .. can deliver .. a successful performance. It’s far more important to understand the path that particular candidate travelled to achieve that result. Some paths are built on durable habits that will lead to many more good results. Others involved flawed choices that may work for the moment, but already contain the seeds of future trouble – it isn’t the quality of the decisions made previously that counts, it is the quality of the decisions they will make in the future that need to be assessed
  • Bosses need to be clear thinkers, decisive actors, powerful builders of teams, and morally sound leaders – these are more important than a rock star CV
  • Among the professors’ conclusion: traits such as organisation, aggressiveness, commitment, persistence, proactiveness, setting high standards and holding people accountable were especially closely tied to later success in leading companies owned by private equity firms. Meanwhile traits such as teamwork, flexibility, and being open to criticism were less valuable – venture backed startups are more fluid and typically benefit more from supportive cultures than private equity backed companies, but this is interesting none the less
  • Being able to see people’s potential is especially important in smaller scrappier organisations – when budgets are tight think about what can go right and hire for potential
  • The more you know about your core values the easier it will be to shrug off flaws that don’t really matter – mission statements, values and a clear sense of culture bring clarity to the search for talent
  • Draw out the “hidden truths” of each job. It’s unnerving how many talent hunts go astray because no one ever makes a brave, clear-headed call about what the job really requires – this is particularly challenging at startups where roles are fluid and founders often morph their jobs to fit round new hires, the key is to make sure nothing important is being ignored, including latent conflicts of opinion about the role being hired for
  • When you are an aggressive listener, you interview candidates differently. Once you get past the initial pleasantries, you don’t ramble or try to make friends. You stay focused and intensely interested, but not “palsy”. Zero in on the issues which matter most to you, which usually relate to the candidate’s core character. Ask a lot of follow up questions. Keep digging.
  • Resilience – often the ability to recover from setbacks is what separates people who surpass expectations from those who disappoint – especially in startups where setbacks are frequent and often have the potential to be fatal
  • Curiosity is invisible on many resumes yet it is a remarkable talisman in many careers – again, especially at startups where there is no rulebook to play from and the path forward has to be invented
  • Efficiency is another oft-overlooked virtue – at least I think so, but that might be because I pride myself on my efficiency…
  • Self-reliance rounds out the list – in more ways than one..

The Rare Find is a great book. I feel a bit guilty quoting from it so liberally. Hopefully some of you will go buy it. You can read my review on Goodreads, I gave it four stars.