4.5 Mistakes Hiring Managers Should Avoid and How To Fix Them Posted at 0:00, Thu, 25 August 2016 in Industry Insights

Here at the MitchelLake Group we work with a lot of hi-tech startups. We love helping innovative people bring great ideas to life by matching them with other intelligent, innovative people. It’s just what we do.

In the course of working with a great many startups over the years, we have seen the full gamut of approaches to hiring from the good to the bad to the downright ugly. So much so that we could probably publish a list of the top 47 things people do wrong (or right for that matter) when hiring. But since you’re not going to read through a list of 47, I thought I’d highlight a much shorter list of the major mistakes we see startup hiring managers making time and time again. So here are the 4.5 mistakes that many hiring managers are making. Chances are you are doing or have done at least one of these.

1. You Don’t Have Job Descriptions…

You wouldn’t work on a new product feature without at least sketching out the requirements first, would you? So why do so many hiring managers expect recruiters to find them the perfect candidate without first sketching out the job requirements (i.e. writing a job description)? Kinda tough to find the perfect candidate without first knowing what that candidate looks like, don’t you think?

I’m talking here about job descriptions not job ads. A job description should be a mostly internal document which exhaustively lists every aspect of the role from day-to-day responsibilities to the overall reason for being to what the ideal candidate looks like. Often several pages long, think of this as the tech specs of the role. Not to be confused with a job ad which should be just that – an ad which highlights all the most attractive parts of the role for potential candidates.

The job description (JD) isn’t just for the recruiter either. It’s perhaps most important as a tool for the hiring manager and the interview team. When the definition of a role or the ideal candidate lives only in the hiring manager’s head, it’s impossible to evaluate candidates efficiently or accurately because, I can guarantee you, that role or ideal candidate will look a bit different in each team member’s head. Five people will have five slightly different ideas of what any role should be, no matter how simple the requirements seem. Defining the role in a job description doesn’t guarantee everyone will be on exactly the same page about every candidate later on, but it will get you a lot closer to consensus.

1.5…Or You Have Frankenstein’s JD

When pressed to write a job description, most hiring managers default to cutting and pasting (or having the recruiter cut and paste) bits and pieces from other job descriptions they find online. This Frankenstein approach is better than not having a JD at all, but only marginally so. By doing this, you’re basically saying that (insert role name here) is not important enough at your company to define properly. Even in the most derivative industries, each company is unique, each product you’re creating is unique, and the way you will go about that product development is unique. I’ll guarantee a product manager at your company is different in significant ways than a product manager at Google, Facebook, Salesforce, etc. So why copy their definitions?

Do: Take the time to really think about, and articulate, how to define each unique role at your unique company.

2. You’re Putting Too Much Emphasis on the Profile Instead of the Person

I get it. You’re busy and the thought of wasting time speaking to unqualified candidates gives you serious anxiety. So you come up with all sorts of proxies for quality. She went to Chico State? Let’s pass. Don’t like the way the resume is organised? Pass. Didn’t work at one of 10 companies you admire? Pass.

But in today’s market, the thought that you may accidentally pass on a qualified candidate without speaking to them should give you even more anxiety. I’m not saying you need to speak to every candidate – that would be silly. Of course you need some sort of screening process at the top of your funnel. Someone (hopefully an experienced recruiter) should be hunting for qualified candidates and screening out those who do not meet the bar.

The trick is to screen profiles for the possibility that the candidate is qualified. If their profile shows experience and knowledge that could possibly qualify them to do the job, then somebody should be talking to them. If that conversation does not rule them out as a candidate, they should move to the next step in the process, be that a coding test or an onsite interview or whatever is next in your process.

And yet, so many hiring managers gloss over the recruiter’s notes from the initial conversation and instead fixate on the profile or resume, discounting candidates for the university they went to 10 years ago, or the company they worked at for seven months, 3 years ago.

Do: Trust the process. Calibrate with your recruiter or whoever is running the screening process at the top of the funnel so that you’re confident in taking a call or meeting even if the profile is not the prettiest. Once you get to onsite interviews, throw the profile away and focus on the person.

3. You’re Not Conducting Group Feedback Sessions

Many hiring managers are reluctant to get their hiring team into a room to share and debate candidate feedback. They’re worried about groupthink, or they feel that it will be too difficult to get consensus and buy-in, or they are simply concerned about taking the team away from their ‘day jobs’ in order to spend yet another 30 minutes on hiring.

Instead, the hiring manager gets feedback individually from each member of the team and then filters and processes that feedback in a vacuum without the power of the group discussion where each opinion can be tested rigorously for meaning and validity. The result is that crucial hiring decisions often get made without a proper understanding of all opinions/questions/concerns, and without the buy-in that most decisions in the business achieve.

Each onsite interview should trigger a group feedback session where the hiring team gets together to share and debate their opinions on each candidate. Having an open and healthy debate on the merits of each candidate will lead to better hiring decisions that are more aligned to the job description for the role. Even in the case of a dictatorial hiring manager who does not need or desire consensus in each decision, this feedback process will ensure that they have the most robust information possible available to them in reaching that decision. And the buy-in doesn’t hurt either.

Do: Conduct a group feedback session after each onsite interview.

4. You’re Not Selling the Opportunity

Too many companies forget that interviewing is a two-way process. Interviewers take the (frankly arrogant) approach that the candidate would be lucky to get the job. They put the candidate through their paces, sending them to the whiteboard with little to no preamble and don’t take even five minutes to explain what’s so great about the role, the team, the product, the company.

Especially in a market like the one we’re in the midst of (again) in Silicon Valley, candidates are spoiled for choice. You can safely assume that every single candidate you meet will be choosing from several competing offers. When faced with so much choice, candidates gravitate to the teams and companies where they feel a connection. Will they feel a connection with your team if your time with them was limited to asking them to show they know how to write code to determine whether a string is a palindrome or not?

Candidates must be able to picture themselves working at your company or on your team. Take the time to paint that picture for them. Start out by telling them what you love about the team or the company or the product. Tell them a story about your last team outing. Tell them what you find exciting about the future and the direction the company is taking.

Do: Sell the candidate on the company and the role. Every interview, every time.

So, if you’re guilty of any of the items on this list, stop and think about how they might be impacting your hiring process. I guarantee if you avoid these four and a half mistakes, you will have a better, more efficient, more accurate hiring process.

If you are a high-growth technology company interested in building a world-class team or streamlining your recruitment process, please reach out to Greg and the team here.

Greg Russell is co-founder of the MitchelLake Group in the U.S and runs our MitchelLake Onsite brand.