“I’m not looking for great storytellers. I want to figure out what makes people tick and how they operate on the job.” – Jay Goltz
In the following Q&A, small business expert Jay Goltz draws from his experience as an entrepreneur to discuss the lessons he’s learned – often the hard way – about what it really takes to hire and retain the best people to run a successful business (or, in his case, five). On Wednesday, November 9, Jay will host Hire with Purpose, a complimentary webinar to discuss insider tips, takeaways and tactics small business owners can apply right now to ensure they make the right hiring decision for their teams.
In your book, The Street-Smart Entrepreneur, you talk about lessons you learned the hard way. What’s your most memorable lesson in terms of hiring? I once interviewed a sales manager at a retail shop that had five salespeople, and I asked her, “How many people did you go through before hiring those five great salespeople?” And she said, “Just five.” I literally laughed and said, “Either you have much lower standards than I do, or you’re a hiring guru.” I hired her, and she turned out to be a hiring guru. She moved away about 10 years ago, but most of the people she hired while she was here are still with me.
The lesson there is that part of hiring well comes down to who’s doing the interviewing. There are some people who can hit a fast ball and some people who can’t. Likewise, there are some people who are great at interviewing and some who aren’t. There’s some element of natural talent there. And that realization has had a profound impact on my company. It used to be, when I hired, only 30 or 40 percent of the people I hired worked out great, and now it’s up to 80 percent. And that’s because we’re much better at hiring.
At the recent Inc500/5000 Conference, Gilt Group CEO Kevin Ryan mentioned how reference checks are often an underrated virtue of the hiring process. What’s your stance on that? I totally agree with that. Whenever I hear about people who are having problems with an employee, I always ask them, “Tell me how you hired this person.” No one has ever said to me, “I put an ad out, I interviewed a lot of people, I did some really thorough questions, and then I really checked references.” It’s always, “Yeah, I didn’t check references.” So people are getting what they deserve, I’m sorry to say.
The other thing is, when you’re doing reference checks, you have to read between the lines. I had a call in about a designer one time, and the reference just blurted out, “Oh, she’s really talented.” After interviewing [the candidate] some more, I realized she was really neurotic, but the woman I used as a reference clearly didn’t want to say that. All of a sudden, it made sense why the reference didn’t say, “She’s great. You should hire her.” When someone’s a great employee, people say things like, “Oh, you’re really lucky she applied. You should hire her right now. She’s a wonderful employee. I really miss her.” Is reference-checking 100 percent reliable? No. Even if you do everything right, you’ll still probably only have a 90 percent chance of them working out – maybe 80. But if you don’t do everything right, those chances go down to 30, 40 or 50 percent.
Aside from failing to check references, what are some of the biggest mistakes people make in the hiring process?