How to Hire The Right Person, Not the Best Person

By: Brian Westfall on April 12, 2018

Hiring the right person for every position isn’t just a small business concern; it’s the main small business concern. According to a Gartner survey on Top Technology Trends1, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) say it’s the most significant challenge they’ll face in the next two years.

When tackling this challenge, there is no single strategy or formula that will produce the right hire 100 percent of the time (trust me, Google tried). Every small business will need to figure out a process that yields the best results for them.

But there is one common tactic that we want to address here, because it will definitely lead your hiring decisions astray:

“The best candidate on paper is the right person for the job.”

We understand the logic behind it. The things that you find on a resume or skills assessment are quantifiable and, more importantly, easy to compare between candidates. It also feels better when you can justify a hiring decision based on solid data like skills and experience rather than a gut feeling.

Only 11 percent of new hires fail because of reasons that can be seen on a resume or skills assessment. Small businesses that focus solely on what’s on paper are missing the important predictors of a great employee, and risking costly bad hires.

In order to find the right person for the job, you need to get away from what’s on paper and find new ways to evaluate important intangibles (e.g., cultural fit, communication style). These factors play a bigger role in whether a candidate will sink or swim.

Here are some tips on how to get a more complete picture of all your shortlisted candidates.

These are our top tips for hiring the right person:

1. Do a Culture Fit Assessment

2. Implement Job Auditions

3. Make Hiring a Collaborative Effort

1. Do a Culture Fit Assessment

Corporate culture dictates everything from communication styles and team dynamics, to the clothes people wear and the goals they rally around. Best described simply as “how things are done around here,” culture encompasses beliefs, values and much more.

HubSpot shows off their corporate culture to attract job candidates

If you’re not accounting for whether skilled candidates will mesh well with your culture, you’re turning a blind eye to one of the most significant indicators of future success. A meta-analysis of 172 separate studies found that employees who fit well within a company’s culture lasted longer, performed better and had higher job satisfaction.

You can parse out some of these details in an interview, but the best way to determine cultural fit is through a culture fit assessment.

This is a survey administered to candidates as part of the recruiting process with questions about their motivations, goals, preferences and other qualities to help hiring managers make more informed decisions when it comes to hiring the right person.

Here are some examples of questions you could include in a culture fit assessment:


What it can tell you

What’s your dream job?

If there’s a large enough disconnect between your job and the dream job, the candidate is likely to leave sooner rather than later.

What would be your ideal work schedule?

Night owls aren’t going to like it if your company asks everyone to report at 7 a.m. everyday.

How could a manager best support you?

Whether your managers take a hands-on or hands-off approach, they need to align with what candidates expect.

What do you hope to achieve during your first six months here?

A candidate that expects speedy progression up the ladder in a workplace where it doesn’t exist will cause problems.

What does work-life balance mean to you?

Is a candidate likely to stay after-hours to get needed work done? Are they prone to work stress? This question can tell you.

Leveraging existing personality tests in your assessment like Myers-Briggs or Social Styles can also prove useful in revealing whether a potential hire will fit your company culture.

The best way to perform these assessments is by using a recruiting platform with integrated pre-hire assessment functionality (e.g., talentReef) or a standalone tool that determines culture fit (e.g., Saberr).

Besides providing you a bank of questions to pull from, these systems will also automate the process of sending assessments out to candidates, recording answers and, in some cases, comparing results to current top performers.

2. Implement Job Auditions

Resumes and interviews are hotbeds for lies. They also don’t accurately reflect real, applicable work scenarios. If you’re hiring a salesperson, wouldn’t you want to see if they can successfully sell someone on your product? If it’s a designer, wouldn’t you want to know if they can design a killer landing page?

Enter the job audition: an emerging tactic where candidates are put in real scenarios relevant to the job they’re applying for. Respondents to LinkedIn’s 2018 Global Recruiting Trends Survey named job auditions as the second most useful innovation to candidate evaluation, behind soft skills assessments.

Job auditions can take a few different forms with increasing degrees of commitment from the business:

  • A day in the life. At Mogul, a women-only social media platform, candidates that make it through the interview stage are invited to spend a day in the office working on the team they’re being considered for. Since implementing this strategy, no one at Mogul has quit in the past three years.

  • A contract assignment. One of the final tests when being considered for an analyst position here at Software Advice is completing a contract assignment for our blog. Candidates get paid for their work, and if it’s good enough, they’re hired. If the position doesn’t involve a deliverable like a blog or a design, you can skip the payment and give candidates a hypothetical project to complete instead.

  • An extended tryout. Candidates that make it far enough at Automattic (makers of WordPress) are hired for three to six week trial periods where they’re paid $25/hour whether they’re an engineer or the CFO. If they impress, Automattic hires them on full-time.

The great thing about a job audition is that cuts both ways. Not only do you get a chance to see how candidates perform in their desired role, but it also gives candidates a glimpse into what their job and day-to-day will actually entail. Each party can then make a more confident decision if it’s the right fit or not.

3. Make Hiring a Collaborative Effort

Any deficiencies in your company’s candidate assessment process are only going to be amplified when the responsibility falls on one person’s shoulders.

Even the best hiring managers and recruiters with all of the candidate data in the world can’t overcome their individual biases (in fact, the tendency to view the best person on paper as the right person for the job is a form of information bias).

To mitigate any one individual’s limited perspective, even the smallest companies should work to involve more people in evaluating talent and making hiring decisions. A study of more than 1,100 different companies found that high-performing organizations were five times more likely to incentivize and prioritize collaboration.

This means every candidate should be interviewed by at least two people in your organization—preferably three—from different departments. It also means no individual should have an overriding vote.

The best practice is to do the opposite: any person involved with assessing candidates should have the ability to veto any decision to hire someone. Your employees are going to be regularly interacting with prospective hires if they get the job, so they care about getting it right.

Facilitating all this collaboration can be a pain initially, but a good applicant tracking system (ATS) can make it easy. With a system like Workable, different users can jump in when prompted to score candidates based on preset criteria, or leave open field comments to prompt discussion.


Candidate evaluation in Workable

If a Bad Hire Happens, Try Again

Jim Collins may have put it best in his book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t”: “The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”

Having the right people is vital to any company’s success, and implementing the tips here will help you make that happen more often than not. But as we mentioned up top, there is no magic bullet when it comes to evaluating candidates. Bad hires will still make it through from time to time.

When it happens, cut ties and start over. Seriously. The average cost to recruit someone is a little over $4,000. But the cost of a bad a hire? More than $50,000. As painful as it is to have to find quality talent again, the effort will always be worth it in the end.

1Information on Gartner’s Top Technology Trends for SMBs Survey

Gartner conducted this survey in April and May 2017 among 699 U.S.-based SMBs, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded nonprofit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers, or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.