Hire and Fire Until You Get It Right!

Hear me out before you hunt me down…! It’s a controversial talking point, so I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

I read an article lately that rattled me; it ripped apart the notion of ‘hire slow, fire fast’ as categorical BS. However, in the start-up world, this advice can prove invaluable…

If I were to convert my learning from 800+ interviews and my email folder, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, into a 10-step recruitment process, this would be it:

1. Give yourself a buffer

It typically takes two months to recruit someone, so it’s critical that you plan in advance. Good candidates will have notice periods to serve, and you ultimately want to reduce your own risk of making a panic purchase.

2. Avoid the clichéd job ad

You have to nail that job description. Don’t copy it from the net and ditch those cliché keywords — ambitious, team player, goal-orientated etc. Instead:

  • Map out the technical capabilities and personal characteristics that you are looking for.
  • Differentiate between what’s pertinent and what’s an added bonus.

The job description is the bait that draws in (or drives away…) the talent. If you rush it, you’ll end up looking for the wrong candidate.

3. Hit the target

That job description needs to sit somewhere, and if you’re fed up of the unqualified ‘hit & hope’ candidates, you need to think about your options:

4. Never delegate recruitment

Your team is everything. ‘The team and the talent are by far the most important contributors to the success of a start-up’.

  • Talent hangs out in groups; reach out to your contacts.
  • If the role is specialised, target people; don’t be afraid to poach. Send a personal two-liner via LinkedIn messages; encourage interaction.
  • Never hand over the hiring responsibility.
  • Create an email folder and add a ‘rule’ that directs recruitment notifications to one place. You’ll feel less overwhelmed.

5. Cut ruthlessly

You have to be ruthless with applications or you’ll quickly lose hope. Here’s my quick scan and scrap approach to shortlisting:

  • No profile picture = no interview (let’s face it, what are they hiding?)
  • Confused job titles = confused ambitions.
  • Job hoppers versus job holders = alarm bells (they need to demonstrate a steady career path).
  • No CV attached to application= lazy (…and suggestive of future work ethic.)
  • Dear Sir/Madam = no. (Come on, they can’t even be a**ed finding out your gender.)
  • Candidates who reach out to you = hit or miss (it screams effort, but could be desperation. Suss out the portfolio; good candidates will have a portfolio).
  • Lots of CV errors = poor attention to detail (what else won’t they care about?)

6. Put 25 minutes on the stopwatch

Interviews are incredibly draining; plan them for the end of the day so you can tick other things off your task list first. Plan your initial character assessment and keep these tips in mind:

  • Clock the arrival time. If they’re late, it’s a no.
  • Break into chat to get an indication of what a day-to-day interaction would be like.
  • Start soft, bark later — see how the individual responds to being challenged.
  • Rate individuals immediately afterwards; it will help you to benchmark across candidates.
  • Assess whether individuals will slot into the team; you want a harmony of characters not just one profile.
  • Ask about salary expectations. There’s nothing worse than realising you can’t afford to hire the dream candidate.

7. Read the situation

Remember, a good leader won’t know it all; pull in someone relevant to the role and work together:

  • Avoid starting off by sharing a long intro to your company; you’ll lose 15 minutes and your insight will impact the answers you receive to questions.
  • Have a signal with your colleague when an interview is going badly; it’ll save you time.
  • Avoid the classic interview questions that spur on clichéd answers, instead probe and observe how their brain works.
  • Observe honesty when an individual doesn’t have the answer; it’s a vital quality to have in an employee.

8. Filter out the flakiness

While you’ll learn a lot about an individual in an interview, you do need to follow up on their skillset to filter out the doers from the talkers. Set a project-based task to test their skills:

  • Give a tight deadline of 3 to 5 days (try to allow for a weekend in the middle).
  • Make the task manageable and specific to the skill set.
  • Unless there has been advanced request for an extension, don’t accept late submissions.
  • If you’re happy with the assessment, bring the candidate in for a final interview; ask them to present and probe to check they did the work themselves.

9. Date before you marry

The recruitment doesn’t end until the probation period is up; in fact, it’s worth buying into the “date before you marry” model.

  • The probation period is there for a reason; mark the end date in your calendar.
  • If there are red flags, you have to address them. Be ballsy, honest and tell it like it is if it’s not working.
  • The recruitment process is painful, but don’t hold on to employees for that reason alone.
  • A good leader can fire people and not be swayed by pangs of guilt.

10. Commitment is key

A recent study of 200 start-ups proved that commitment was the outperforming employment characteristic that determined whether a business failed or not. That puts people at the core of your company.

Ultimately, to build a great product, you must build a committed team. In this sense, ‘hire slow’ by not rushing into recruitment. While there’s an element of luck to this, planning your approach definitely helps.

If an individual isn’t performing, have the foresight to see the implications it has for your business. In this sense, ‘fire fast’; those who don’t harness your energy, drive and motivation will hinder your route to success.

The strength of this country [ company] isn’t in buildings of bricks and steel. It’s in the hearts of those who have sworn to fight…” (Captain America)
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