Such is the advice of Garrett Miller, author of the new book Hire On A WHIM: Four Qualities That Make for Great Employees. As the president and CEO of workplace management company CoTria, Miller frequently coaches companies and gives keynotes on the subject of workplace productivity.
Shortly after starting CoTria, Miller says he started to reflect on the things that made him successful in his previous career, and one thing he always came back to, he say, was hiring.
“I started to wonder, ‘Why did I have so much success hiring?’ As I wrote down qualities that made them [great hires] great, I began to see these four threads that wove them all together. And suddenly, the word ‘WHIM’ popped up,” he told me in a phone interview recently. Thus, the inspiration behind his new book.
“No matter how good you are as a manager, you can’t teach someone integrity.”
WHIM, as the book’s title implies, is an acronym for the four qualities Miller believes are the foundation for a great hire: work ethic, humility, integrity and maturity.
Why these four qualities? “What makes these qualities so unique is that you can’t teach them,” Miller says. “No matter how talented a manager you are, you can’t teach someone to have more integrity. That’s something life teaches you. And, yes, you certainly can learn these qualities, and you can grow in these qualities, but as a hiring manager, I can’t adopt you without these qualities.”
What’s conspicuously absent from WHIM is the mention of skills or experience, but as far as Miller’s concerned, that’s no accident. He says he’s not discounting the importance of experience when making a quality hire, but even the most experienced employees will make poor hires when they lack any one of these qualities. “What separates the great employees from the mediocre employees? And it comes down to these qualities.”
And only a candidate who possesses all four qualities will do, Miller insists. He says he learned this lesson the hard way that “if you hire three and give a pass to one, you’re going to pay for it…It cost me dearly and my team dearly. And it’s affected my reputation as a manager, because everyone I hire is really a reflection on me, isn’t it?”
“Peel back the onion” by asking unexpected interview questions
To help others avoid the same mistake, Miller provides a list of questions at the end of each chapter in WHIM to guide hiring manager through the act of “peeling that onion back so that you’re really seeing the individuals – as opposed to someone who answers questions well.”
Miller says that one of his personal favorite interview questions is, “What one event helped to shape you into the person you are today?” because it’s an unusual question that generates a thoughtful answer – one that reveals whether or not a candidate “can come through adversity on the other side and grow from it.”
In fact, Miller seems to have a soft spot for unusual interview questions. “One last thing I do in an interview is I sell them out of the job,” a tactic that Miller uses to keep himself from setting false expectations and reducing the amount of “I wasn’t expecting this” feeling from new hires. “Once they’re in the ‘I wasn’t expecting this phase’ part…in a sense, they feel you’ve lied to them. So now, the integrity is busted, and they look at you without integrity. And you can’t have that in any type of relationship.
“We need to keep in mind the ROI of getting this right.”
But Miller also understands that sometimes just getting to the interview phase of the hiring process is half the battle. “It’s funny, because people think this is the greatest time to hire because you have so many applicants, but it winds up being a nightmare – you post a job, and you get 300 resumes.” While Miller doesn’t have an “easy answer” to those hiring managers who are overwhelmed with more resumes than usual right now, he is adamant in his belief that as time-consuming as the process is, going through those resumes thorously will pay off in the end. “What takes more time is when you hire incorrectly. We need to keep in mind the ROI of getting this right.”
He suggests having a sort of litmus taste when going through resumes that revolve around WHIM, such as screening for charity or volunteer work. Another piece of advice he has is giving priority to those resumes that come from personal recommendations and networking, which he has personally found leads to a lot less “spam” and a higher quality of candidate.
“I can’t guarantee a great hire every time, but I can guarantee MORE great hires,” Garrett says of what readers will get out of his book. “My goal isn’t to be right, but to share what made my career so great,” Miller says of his purpose in writing these book. He hopes others can take away the lessons he’s learned and apply it to their own careers, and understand that “no matter how good they are, they can be better.”
So what is the secret to his success? “It wasn’t because I was a good manager,” Miller says, “but because I hired great people and then got out of the way.”