Want to Avoid Hiring Mistakes? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions

When you're a leader with an open position, you can feel a mix of feelings. On one hand, you might feel excitement and anticipation about the opportunity to hire a fabulous new employee who can help you to achieve even greater results. On the other hand, you might also feel anxiety and trepidation as a result of memories of past seemingly good hires gone horribly wrong.

With these sorts of high stakes, how do you increase the chances that the hiring choice you make will be a smart one?

While most hiring managers place a lot of focus on technical skills when thinking about the characteristics they are looking for in potential candidates, many often overlook the less tangible, "softer" aspects that often make the difference between hiring success and hiring mistake. To reduce the odds of making hiring decisions that you later regret, here are 4 questions to ask yourself as you finalize your job specifications.

1. What is the current culture of the company?

To get a handle on the company culture, think about how you would define the key values of the organization. The key values are not necessarily the ones you would find on the website alongside the mission. Instead, they are the values that actually play out day-to-day in the work environment. Is collaboration essential, or does the organization reward competitiveness? Is work-life balance encouraged or frowned up? Are employees expected to make decisions, or do they carry out directives from on high? As you think about values it can also be helpful to think about people who have failed in the past, and identify any styles that simply don't seem to do well in the organization.

Once you have narrowed down the key values, have them in mind as you write up the job description. Really aim to convey the culture of your company in the writeup so that you can attract those who are likely to be drawn to the sort of work environment you offer, and weed out those who don't resonate with it. In addition, make sure to ask questions that will help you to get a sense of candidates' values during the interviewing process. When employees are a good cultural fit, they are more likely to identify with the company, experience higher job satisfaction, and show greater productivity. As a result, they are also less likely to quit - saving you the need to go through the exercise of hiring someone else, sooner than you would like.

2. What is the desired culture of the company?

As you think about the future needs of the business, are there aspects of the culture that will need to change in order for the organization to flourish? For example, I once consulted to a pretty traditional and conservative organization that recognized a need for greater innovation and tolerance for risk in its leadership. Because of this, they were very intentional about bringing on new hires who were more creative and open to change.

While this approach sounds good on paper, I must stress one caveat: if you use this strategy, you must make sure that you are truly ready for the shift in culture. In the company I just mentioned, they might have been intellectually prepared for more innovation, but they certainly weren't emotionally bought into it. As a result, new hires frequently complained that although the organization said they wanted change, their colleagues frequently fought against it. Consequently, many of the new employees became frustrated and eventually left in search of organizations that were a better fit for them.

Thus, if you decide to hire for a culture you want, as opposed to the culture you have, make sure to be purposeful about appreciating the different styles of your new employees so that they can help shift the organization in the desired direction.

3. What sort of people thrive under my leadership style?

If you're the type of boss who prefers to give employees a general idea of what you're looking for, along with a lot of rope to get the job done independently, then selecting someone who needs a lot of structure may create headaches for you, and anxiety for her. Likewise, if you're a leader who is very task-oriented, and you hire someone who needs a close relationship with his boss, you might find yourself with a disengaged employee on your hands in six months' time. While as a leader, you should definitely be working on the ability to flex your leadership style to meet the unique needs of each of your people, on a practical level, you will want to guard against having too much of a mismatch between your approach to leadership and a candidate's preference for how he or she is led. So, take an honest assessment of your style and hire appropriately (while also recognizing that hiring a whole team of "mini-me's" will make your team susceptible to groupthink).

4. Are there any gaps in skill or style that I need on my team?

Reflect on the strengths of your current team, and look for skill sets or approaches that might be missing. For example, if you have a staff full of shy introverts, might you benefit from having someone more outgoing who would be energized by business development or getting out into the community? Or, if your staff is filled with innovators, would it be useful to have a pragmatist on the team who could help assess ideas for practicality and feasibility? Diversity of thought and approach tends to lead to better outcomes for teams. Therefore be intentional about ensuring there is adequate variety amongst the members of your team.

In addition, as you are considering gaps, make sure to think about your own position. Do you have a potential successor on your team? If not (keeping in mind that they don't need to be your clone to be successful), what sort of characteristics or skills would candidates need to make them a good fit in that regard? Do you have any tasks that you wish could be delegated to someone else to free you up for higher impact activity? One leader with whom I worked recognized that she didn't have the bandwidth to spend as much time as she needed mentoring her relatively junior staff, so she hired someone with more experience to help her in that area. Thinking ahead in these ways can help you to optimize your hiring decisions.

Jim Collins said, "Great vision without great people is irrelevant." Ask yourself these four questions, and increase the odds that your next hire will be one of the great ones!

For more leadership tips, check out Dr. Thompson's book, The Consummate Leader: a Holistic Guide to Inspiring Growth in Others...and in Yourself.