Hire People

Hiring is a critical manager function. Building bench strength with talent who will perform, and add to a positive culture, is key to success. Hiring can be hard, yet fun. You get to meet new people and team with colleagues in ways that you do not usually work together. Seeing the applicant pools can be interesting and informative.

Screening candidates

Directly review as many of the candidate materials as you can. Résumés may be screened by recruiters and human resources in larger organizations. This type of screening risks missing an applicant who may be a great fit but was overlooked for minor reasons. It is good to understand the applicant pool. What kinds of people are applying? How many? Flipping through the résumés manually is the best way to understand how the job posting fits in the market. Was there something wrong in how the posting was framed, resulting in a less than optimal pool of applicants? And most critically: Did recommended names you got from others make it through the gauntlet? If not, why? Many successful and well-qualified candidates are missed due to computerized programs. I once manually pulled an interview candidate who we knew personally, and who was qualified. Looking back to find out why the system blocked him, we found out he did not check the “right” choice in all four boxes for competency levels in every Microsoft Office program. Automated screening tools can be helpful as well as barriers.


For the hiring panel, include someone who would be the candidate’s peer when possible. You will get a glimpse of the dynamic between them, and the incumbent peer may be able to flag gaps or strengths you may not notice.
If you are hiring for a position requiring functional deliverables, a practical exercise may be an excellent screening tool. Taking an hour to have candidates write a press release, summary, computer code sample, or whatever is relevant, can quickly help you weed out incompetence. This is preferable to learning months later that the person is not able to do what you need done.


The old wisdom of hiring through references is advisable. It is tough to know from interviews how someone will do in the job, and a failed hire results in cost, lost time, and morale problems. Hire on attitude and low risk when in doubt.

Attitude is often more important than competence level after basic qualifications are in the right range. A person who sours the group easily, pushes back on the mission, embarrasses the managers with inappropriate comments, or feels unhappy in the position can bring down productivity and morale far faster than someone who is not quite as advanced in the field.

Flashy superstars often impress us during interviews. They are not always the best team players, however. Will she do what is asked, or will she want to be in charge? If you are hiring at a large organization, hiring internally is often lower risk than hiring externally. While fresh talent is appealing and may be better in the long run, you will need to invest much more time familiarizing the person with the practices and culture, with no guarantee she will be a good fit.

If you are able to hire a person to support you in a deputy or chief of staff type of role, congratulations. That is a fortunate position to be in. Choose someone who complements your strengths; find a person good at the functions in which you are weak. For example, if you are good at strategic direction and navigating through chaos, but weak in daily program management details, hire someone with a solid operations background. The right partner or second-in-command can make work life far better by leveraging your ability to get things done well. You can focus on the areas in which you excel while delegating significant responsibility.