How to Not Hire Jerks

Assessing team and leadership skills, cultural fit, and soft skills is not only easy, it's essential. In the process, you'll avoid hiring jerks.


I had a meeting with a young CEO (under 25) last month whose company will soon be an Inc. success story. He was getting paranoid about hiring older managers, concerned they would dismantle the team and the performance-oriented culture he was building. He asked point blank, "How do you make sure someone has the team, leadership, and soft skills that will fit our culture? I'm real concerned we could hire some jerks. We want managers who can build people up, not tear them down."

1. Observe the growth of the "360 Work Chart" over time.

On the whiteboard I drew a small circle with a bunch of spokes and labeled it a "360 Work Chart." Then I said that, during an interview, have the candidate draw a chart like this for each job he's had over the past five to 10 years, using the spokes to label the people the candidate has worked with at each job. This would include people who have worked for the candidate, if a manager, as well as the people he or she has worked with and for. If the circle and spokes keep on getting bigger over time, the person's likely a good project manager. Then ask whom the person hired from companies he previously worked for and if he was hired by a previous boss or co-worker. Then ask the candidate to rank the quality of the people on the current team and how he developed these people. Finally, ask who from the person's current or prior position got promoted as a result of the candidate's personal influence.

I then said that good managers can point to a track record of taking on bigger and more influential teams, developing and hiring great people including former staff members, and proactively helping people who work for them take on bigger roles. Don't hire anyone who can't prove this to you for a senior manager role.

2. The prime driver of cultural fit is organizational pace.

We were starting to run out of time but the CEO asked me if I had any tricks on assessing cultural fit. I then handed him my Performance-based Interview handbookand said it's all covered in here, but the short version can be summarized with a simple curve. I then drew an S-shape company growth curve on the whiteboard and said that two things define your culture: how fast your company is growing and the hiring manager's leadership style, which we just covered. Since you're at the rapid growth stage you need people who can make decisions with limited data, are comfortable dealing with ambiguity, are flexible and tireless, don't make excuses, and will break some rules now and then. He then said, "Wow. You've just defined our culture."

Based on this, I suggested he ask each candidate to describe a major accomplishment for each of the past three to four jobs. I then demonstrated how to do this using theMost Significant Interview Question of All Time, asking the CEO how he started his company. As part of the fact-finding associated with the question, find out the rate of growth of the project and how the person got assigned to it. Then for each project get examples of how decisions were made, where the person went the extra mile, and what rules the person had to break to get things done. If all of the stories hang together, the results achieved were positive, and the environment and manager's style are comparable to yours, the person will be a good fit with your culture.

3. How to assess soft skills.

It was 30 minutes past the appointment time and others were banging on the CEO's door, but as I was getting ready to leave he asked me one last question. "How do you assess soft skills?" I said, "First, don't call them skills; call them non-technical skills. They're too important to be called soft skills. From a practical standpoint, if you measure team skills and cultural fit as described on the whiteboard, the non-technical skills will stand out."

After I got back to the office I sent him a copy of a book I recommend to every manager who wants to hire stronger people and a link to this article on measuring soft skills." And in my email to him I said that evidence of strong cultural fit, appropriate soft skills, and leadership all based on the person's past performance is a great way to prevent hiring jerks.

A Must-Follow Checklist for Recruiting Exceptional People

After years of searching for and recruiting candidates, I have come up with a checklist that reflects my method for finding exceptional talent. The steps below are a mix of Performance-based Hiringtechniques and marketing tips I have picked up along the way. Give this checklist a shot on your next search assignment:

1. Prepare a preliminary performance-based job description.

If you want to hire great people, you need a great job. Most job descriptions are designed to weed out the weak, not attract the best. Here’s how to get started at the intake meeting with the hiring manager.

2. Determine the employee value proposition (EVP).

Ask the hiring manager why a top person who’s not looking would want the job at only a modest increase in compensation. If you can’t come up with a great reason, forget about hiring a great person unless you want to explode your compensation budget.

3. Understand the ideal candidate.

Prepare a candidate persona to understand how you’ll find the ideal person, create messages to attract the person and plan what you’ll need to do to recruit the person.

4. Get the hiring manager to agree to implement a high-touch recruiting effort.

The quality of the person you’ll hire will depend on the quality of the hiring manager and his or her ability to attract and assess top talent.

5. Implement a 40/40/20 sourcing plan.

To ensure you see and hire the best people available, not just the best people who apply, you need to segment the talent market by how active and passive the candidates are.

6. Implement a proactive employee referral program.

Your employees probably know someone they’ve worked with in the past who is an exceptional person for your open job. Don’t wait for these people to be recommended. Instead, get them into your pipeline ahead of time.

7. Use clever and out-of-box Boolean to develop a target list.

You don’t need to be a Boolean black belt but you do need to be proficient at finding people who areAchievers and one-offs. These are the people who are worth calling, networking with and recruiting.

8. Develop recruitment advertising messages.

You’ll need to create an elevator pitch, a number of voice mail messages, a series of emails and InMails for your campaign and a compelling job posting. These must all emphasize what the person will be learning and doing, why this work is important to the company, and what the person could become if successful. To captivate someone’s interest, tell stories rather than list requirements. This is Marketing 101 for hiring.

9. Conduct needs analysis on first contact.

In our Performance-based Hiring recruiter workshop we describe what you need to do to engage with passive candidates and get them interested in your opening. Make sure you don’t tell them about the job, screen them on compensation or use the word “awesome.” This post describes a piece of the puzzle, but you’ll need to attend the workshop to understand the full high-touch passive candidate recruiting process we suggest.

10. Debrief and convert prospects into candidates by offering a 30% increase.

The purpose of the first call is to create the opportunity gap. This is the difference between the challenges and growth potential of your open job in comparison to what the prospect is now doing. You’ll need to offer a high-potential passive candidate a combined 30% increase in job stretch, job growth and compensation to hire the person. This post shows how to pull it off by making most of the 30% a combination of job stretch and job growth.

Recruiting the best and the brightest, whether they’re active or passive, requires the latest technology tools in combination with advanced high-touch recruiting skills. While it takes an exceptional job to hire exceptional people, it also takes an exceptional recruiter. Following this checklist on every assignment will help you become one.

15 Oddball Ideas for Getting a (Better) Job

Over the past year on these pages, I suggested there were a number of things a job seeker could do to get a (better) job rather than wasting time complaining about the unfairness of the process. Following is recap of what I consider the most important advice. (Here's a link to the video series summarized below.)

  1. Don’t spend more than 20% of your time applying directly to a job posting. Unless you’re a perfect fit, it’s a waste of time. Here are some ideason how to spend the other 80% of your time.
  2. Use the job posting as a lead. Once you see a job of interest, search for all the jobs the company has posted. Then use some of the non-resume ideas below to connect directly with the department head or someone connected to the hiring manager.
  3. Become a true networker, not a glad hander. Networking is not about meeting as many people as you can. It’s about meeting a few well-connected people you already know who can introduce you to a few well-connected people you don’t know.
  4. Use the backdoor. If you’re not a direct match on skills and experience you need to be referred by a company employee or someone connected to the hiring manager. This will get you to the top of the resume stack since there are fewer gatekeepers watching the backdoor.
  5. Prepare a non-resume. If your resume isn’t a perfect match, but you’ve done something related, you’ll need to narrow the focus and amplify your accomplishments. A one-page job proposal or a video describing a major comparable accomplishment might just do the trick.
  6. Do some pre-work. An MBA student took my suggestion to prepare a competitive analysis for a company he had targeted. He sent it to the VP of Marketing and landed an interview. Mini-projects like this are a great way to demonstrate your ability.
  7. Send the department head a performance-based job description. If you’re familiar with the job, you might want to reformat the posted job description by describing some of the likely performance objectives. Send this to the department head with a summary of a few of your related accomplishments to get an interview.
  8. Offer a free or low cost trial. There’s always a risk in hiring someone. To reduce this risk, offer to work on a small project on a contract or temp-to-perm basis.
  9. Learn the 2-minute answer to any question. Get a two-minute egg timer. Find a bunch of standard interview questions. Turn the timer over and force yourself to answer each question out loud for the full two minutes using this technique. This will be great practice and a real confidence builder for an actual interview.
  10. Control the interview. Ask the interviewer to describe actual job needs. Then give a two-minute example of something you’ve accomplished for each one.
  11. Divide and conquer. You don’t need to possess every skill listed on the laundry list of qualifications to get seen or hired. Long ago I had a candidate for a controller spot get hired by describing some of the related things he had done extremely well and how he could quickly learn everything else.
  12. Prove you’re not overqualified. There are two dimensions to being qualified for any job. First, you need to be competent to do the work. Second, you need to be motivated to do it. No matter how competent you are, if you can’t prove you have proactively done this work in the recent past, instead of sometime long ago, you’re now overqualified.
  13. Interview yourself and send someone your answers to our Performance-based Interview questions. This Performance-based Interview template will help you get prepared. This video explains the process. To get an interview, send a recording of your answers to someone you found through the backdoor.
  14. Get phone screened if your appearance or age will send the wrong message. In The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired I suggest that a 30-minute phone interview focusing on accomplishments will minimize biases due to first impressions. Job seekers should request this type of phone screen if there’s any chance they won’t be assessed objectively.
  15. Be fully prepared to be interviewed. This webcast describes what it takes to be fully prepared. You know you’re prepared when you know how to make sure the interviewer asks you the right questions.

A 7-Step Plan for Putting 5 Million People Back to Work

As shown in the graphic below from the U.S. Department of Labor’s JOLTs report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover), there were almost 5 million open jobs in the U.S. at the end of November 2014 – an increase of more than one million since January. This growth comes on top of the 3 million jobs that were filled in 2014.


While the unemployment rate dropped to 5.6%, the total labor force participation rate remains at only 63%. That means there are 92 million working age adults in the U.S. who are either not looking for jobs or who do not want to work. Regardless, we still need to fill some of the 5 million currently open jobs with people who do. Given this objective, following are some ideas on how to get it done.

Some Out-of-the-Box Thinking for Getting 5 Million People Hired in 2015

  • Convert people descriptions into job descriptions. Most traditional job descriptions emphasize what a person must have in terms of skills, competencies and experience rather than what he or she must do or accomplish. By defining the work instead of the person doing the work, half of the skills gap will be instantly eliminated. A top U.S. labor attorneys recently suggested that this approach is more objective, more effective and more legally sound.
  • Use Marketing 101 ideas to advertise these jobs more creatively. Most job descriptions are written to weed out the unqualified. Aside from the fact that these posts are boring and ineffective, they also repel every qualified person who isn’t desperate. Here’s some advice on how to write job descriptions to attract the fully qualified by emphasizing what the person can learn, do and become.
  • Implement a transformational hiring process vs. a transactional one. It takes extra time for a top person to understand the career merits of a job change. When jobs are bought and sold like cars and appliances, everyone winds up using short-term factors to make long-term decisions. This videohighlights the dilemma and offers a step-by-step guide on implementing a transformational hiring process.
  • Expand the use of non-resumes to gain entry through the front door. In this post I provide job seekers some ideas on how to get noticed using the backdoor by presenting their skills in some unusual way. This could be in the form of a one-page job proposal, a video describing some big project they’ve handled, or some analysis that demonstrates their ability to handle the job. There’s no reason companies can’t use these same tools to reconsider potentially strong candidates who don’t pass through the standard skills and experience filters and assessment questionnaires.
  • Give candidates the answers to the questions ahead of time. As part of point 4 above, why not describe a big job challenge and have the candidate respond with a write-up of something the person accomplished that’s most related? Then invite those who have accomplished the most comparable work in for an interview. Here’s a sample email incorporating this idea plus the Marketing 101 advice above.
  • Give candidates and interviewers a loosely pre-scripted interview to follow. The problem with behavioral interviewing is that it’s cold, inflexible, unnatural and anti-EQ. The use of a Performance-based Interview in combination with a PowerPoint or Prezi template overcomes this problem. (Here’s a video description of this process). Using this format, candidates prepare their answers to basic job-related questions with the interviewer asking about specific details. This ensures all candidates are assessed on their ability to do the job, not their ability to get the job.
  • Separate the job offer from the compensation discussion. The interview process described here ensures that candidates fully understand the career opportunity inherent in an open job. This is not possible using skills-laden job descriptions and competency models in combination with behavioral interviewing. When a job represents a true career move, compensation becomes less important. On the other hand, price, i.e., salary, becomes the primary criteria when commodity jobs are offered. To address this, it’s important to first prove and present the job as a career move, and only then negotiate the compensation. Getting this part backwards is one way to either overpay or exclude the best people on first contact.

There are now more than 5 million open jobs in the U.S. To get them filled with the right people and finally make some headway on narrowing the skills gap, we need to rethink how hiring is done at the process level. Thinking out-of-the-box starts by recognizing that the box we’re now in was one built without windows.


A Radical, New Way to Interview Job Candidates

What happens before an interview can be far more important than what happens during one.


I recently proposed a radical, new way to interview candidates that has the potential to increase assessment accuracy by 50 percent to 100 percent in comparison to traditional behavioral interviewing. Even better, the approach will attract stronger candidates and increase the likelihood you'll be able to hire them without paying a salary premium. (This is what always happens when candidates recognize the career potential of a move.)

Here's the crux of the strategy:

Give candidates the questions before the interview, and make sure hiring managers listen to all of their answers!

The central idea behind this approach starts by describing the job as a series of big performance objectives rather than a list of skills and "must haves." You'll give these objectives to all candidates ahead of time, and during the interview, they'll use a semi-structured approach to describe their most comparable accomplishments.

Here's how this new interviewing process works:

1. First, describe the job as a series of performance objectives.

One way to do this is to first prioritize all of the skills and competencies in order of importance. For the top four or five, ask the hiring manager how the factor will be used on the job and how success will be measured. For example, "Must have 5 years of battery power design for MEMs circuits and a BSEE from a top university," would convert to, "Lead the development of a battery management power system to extend the life of the Apple iWatch by 50 percent." The assessment is based on the person having done comparable work in a similar environment. (Here's a post on how to prepare these performance-based job descriptions and the full manual.)

2. Use job branding to excite potential candidates.

In your job postings and emails, highlight the two or three most important of these objectives and why they're important to the company. This is called job branding. This simple step will do more to attract the attention of experienced top performers than employer branding. Rather than have people simply apply to the job, ask them to submit a half-page write-up of a comparable accomplishment. Here's an example of this type of job posting.

3. Conduct a 30-minute exploratory phone screen.

Start the phone call by reviewing the person's work history while looking at the "achiever pattern" for general fit. Then, use the fact-finding approach in the "Most significant accomplishment" question as you review the candidate's half-page write-up.

4. Explain the onsite interview process and give the candidate the questions.

Give the candidate a quick summary of the top four or five performance objectives required for job success and suggest that the bulk of the interview will involve digging into the person's comparable accomplishments. Have them use this performance-based interview template to structure their responses. As part of this, send all candidates this video for further background on the interview process, plus a list of all of the other questions you'll be asking.

5. Hiring managers need to follow the same performance-based interview process.

Since interviewers will be introducing the questions and conducting fact-finding, they need to review the template and watch the video, too. Here's a quick summary of the whole approach.

6. Assess the candidate using an evidence-based process.

This interview process provides all of the evidence needed to evaluate the candidate accurately using this Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard.

Here's why this type of process not only increases assessment accuracy but also attracts stronger candidates:

  1. The best people are only interested in the work they'll be doing, not the skills they need to do the work. These people will be more willing to engage in a preliminary conversation if they find the work internally motivating.
  2. Assessment accuracy increases, since it's based on the candidate's past performance in comparison to real job needs, not his or her presentation skills and first impression.
  3. The structured performance-based interview has been found to be more legally sound and more predictive than the traditional behavioral interview. Here's the key reason: Performance objectives are more meaningful and far more objective than a laundry list of skills and experiences.
  4. The structured process ensures all hiring managers are evaluating all candidates properly across all job needs. Most hiring managers naturally overvalue the quality of a person's technical skills and competencies rather than the quality of the results they've achieved.
  5. The use of a formal, jury-like evidence-based assessment reduces the impact of emotional or biased decisions.

While giving candidates the questions ahead of time might appear radical, what's really radical is making sure the hiring managers ask the right questions and the same questions to all candidates. Even more radical is having these same hiring managers define the actual work before defining the person doing the work.

Frankly, this is just commonsense disguised as radical.