“Hire slow, fire fast” is great advice, but it’s not always easy to follow.
6 min read
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The well-worn business admonishment to “hire slow but fire fast” makes a lot of sense. The wisdom is that if “hire slow”, we take adequate time to carefully explore a potential candidate’s personality, work style, skills, competencies, etc., then there will be fewer hiring errors.
Fewer hiring errors means less wasted time and money.
“Fire fast” makes sense, too. The theory is that you let someone go as soon as you realize they are becoming a “bad apple” — whether that is in performance, ethics or attitude.
This great advice is more difficult to follow for entrepreneurs. Here’s why:
The smaller your business, the more critical each person becomes. Entrepreneurs usually wait until the very last possible moment before doing basic things like taking an office, buying that expensive piece of equipment…or hiring someone to take some of the load off whomever is doing it currently…especially if that person is you. Eventually, you realize…
You’re so busy! You need someone now. This is a crisis!
There’s a problem with “crisis management” — it causes rash decisions.
There could be a reason that someone whose resume looks so great that you can’t believe you’re getting them for that rate is available. Maybe those skills or that degree are not even, shall we say, “accurate”? You won’t notice if you rush the process.
If you are drowning in work or going through a growth phase, or if someone left unexpectedly, chances are you will scramble to find the right person. You can train them on the job, right? You can give them the basics and then surely, they’ll rise to the challenge, right? Most people are ethical, hard-working and decent, right?
Here are five things you must do before you hire anyone, no matter how desperately you need help today.
1. Write out what this person will do, and what type of person would excel in the role.
That’s how big companes do it. If the new hire will be answering the phone, or selling on one, would you ideally want someone who sounds like a lifetime smoker or fresh, positive and energetic? If you hate micro-managing, do you need someone who is resourceful and who takes initiative, in addition to performing specific tasks? When you think about the skills you need and the personality you want, you’re already more likely to find the right person.
2. Write an incredibly comprehensive ad.
Put your whole wish list in the ad. The skills, education, personality traits, all of it. Rather than scaring the right people away or giving cues for a false interview, you’ll be far more likely to attract someone who reads your ad and says, “That’s me! That’s me! I’d love to work for a company that appreciates who I am!” You can weed out any fakers in a phone interview.
PS: The length of your ad is irrelevant.
3. Put a “catch” in your ad.
One of the best pieces of hiring advice I ever heard came from a book I represented for my client Alan Blume. He said that at the end of every Help Wanted ad, there should be three pieces of precise instructions to apply for the job. One of them is a catch. Assuming the ability to follow directions is critical to the role, one of the instructions should be, “Reply to this ad but change the subject line of the email to…(whatever).” Those who don’t change the subject line can be immediately deleted because either they didn’t care enough to read the whole ad or they are not attentive enough to directions.
4. Interview intelligently.
A first interview is not an occasion to sell someone on how wonderful it would be to work for your company. It’s the chance to find out if there is a legitimate fit. Develop, ask and listen to the answers to questions directly related to the personality traits you’re looking for. The alleged skills are already on the resume. You can verify those when you check the references, and you should always check references.
5. Interview more than one person … and interview potential hires at least twice.
We all have a natural tendency to like whomever we like and dislike others. Obviously, the smaller the company, the more important it is that you like the people you’ll be spending 40 hours a week with, but don’t hire anyone without at least two interviews. The first one can be a short phone interview, ideally followed by two in-person face-to-face meetings. Important: NEVER hire anyone if they are only qualified candidate for the job. Keep your pole in the water long enough to get at least two equally qualified people. This will save you from rushing the process or making a scarcity-crisis based decision. It’s worth the wait. You will be investing their salary for weeks — perhaps months — during the training period.
If it turns out to be a mismatch, you will be throwing your investment out the window.
These five tips will help you hire much more consciously and carefully. They are doable for entrepreneurs, whether this will be your first hire or your tenth.
This is partly “Do as I say, not as I did” information. In my sixth company, I’ve had 42 employees and counting so far, and countless virtual and sub-contractors. The most at the same time under one roof at the same time was nine. I’d rather do almost anything than sift through resumes and conduct interviews, and I skulk around before I’ve fired (three people so far) because I know how sad and dramatic it will be. One young woman literally got on her knees, grabbed my ankle and wept … I relented. Two days later, she repeated the exact same behavior she swore she would never do again!
These hard-won lessons will help you hire slow and fire fast … and reduce the need to carry people who are doing just scraping by. To build a successful company from the ground up, we all need to choose the best people for the job. Rewarding and encouraging them, providing a good working environment, profit-sharing, etc. — all that comes after you find the right people who will invest who they are and what they know into helping you build your company.