There is almost nothing you can do as a leader that will have a greater impact on your organization, both in terms of expense and productivity, than hiring a new employee. Interviewing prospects, then hiring and indoctrinating the lucky new employee will cost your organization between 125% and 200% of that employee’s annual salary. Hire the wrong candidate and you introduce an unpredictable influence on your

  • organizational culture
  • other employees, and
  • your customers.

Why, then, do so many organizations approach hiring with all of the wrong ideas? Why do they tend to hire the wrong people for the wrong reasons? Don’t get me wrong, frequently an organization hires the right person for the wrong reasons and, less frequently, actually hires the right people for the right reasons. However, the current average tenure (length of employment) for all industries today is just over 4 years and the average tenure for those between the ages of 25 and 34 is a mere 2.8 years (these numbers have remained relatively unchanged for more than 10 years). So, on average, we are spending 5 years-salary for 4 years of employment.

A Wrong Reason

Why is this happening? As I mentioned, far too many companies hire for all of the wrong reasons. One BIG reason are the job descriptions that require knowledge of a specific computer application. For example, consider what typically happens when a person has years of field work experience, but only two or three years of experience on the computer application the company uses to do the work? That would be like turning down a Java developer with 25 years of experience because she hasn’t used Eclipse yet, or turning down a healthcare analyst with 30 years of experience because she has only used Cerner’s Millenium product yet. If I have a chance to hire a Mark Twain-style writer, would I really turn him down because he hasn’t used Microsoft Word before? Should the computer application be part of the decision-making process? Yes, of course, but to the degree of turning away real talent? No, absolutely not.

This is what I mean about hiring for the wrong reasons. When 25-30 years of practical experience is outweighed by a lack of a couple years of experience on a computer application, something is really wrong.

What are the Right Reasons?

When you want to hire a new employee into your organization, there are three things you want to focus on. They are discussed here in order.

  1. Cultural Fit
  2. Skills
  3. Diversity

Cultural Fit

Start with a review of the candidate’s ability to fit in with your culture. This is THE MOST important aspect of the candidates qualifications. A good culture fit reinforces the behaviors you are trying to instill in your organization. However, a poor cultural fit, creates poor behaviors. For example, consider the results of trying to build a culture of discussion and professional debate and then hiring someone who yells and demeans those who disagree with him?

When interviewing a candidate, evaluate whether they possess the traits of humility, hunger, and common sense? If a person is humble, they will put the needs of the team before their own. They will do a thing, not for the accolades, but to see it done. They will accept and execute the decisions of the team even if they disagree. Candidates who are hungry will do what it takes for the team to be successful. If that means working a little extra, they’ll do it. If it means doing uninteresting work, they’ll do it. If it means learning a new skill, they’ll do it. Candidates with common sense work well with other people. They listen without interrupting. They are willing to both give and take feedback as the situation requires.

Do not consider hiring candidates that may seem like they can’t work within your organization’s definition of psychological safety. If someone can’t abide by the fundamental cultural beliefs of the organization, they don’t belong in the organization.

If a candidate is a bad fit, don’t hire them – no matter what other skills they possess.


Next, does the candidate in fact possess the capabilities that your team needs? Be realistic, sometimes it is better to hire for an overabundance of one skill with the understanding that some training will be needed to support other, less critical skills. For example, I’d hire the Mark Twain-like writer and send her to a class on Microsoft Word. I’d want those writing skills, that clinical analysis knowledge, that Java experience before I EVER let the lack of experience with a computer application be a deciding point. The technical training I’d have to provide would be a small amount compared to the depth of practical knowledge I’d be bringing onboard.

Also, even if the candidate isn’t a perfect skills fit, is it possible, by changing some of the responsibilities of other team members, to improve the fit? It’s not uncommon at all, when hiring a new employee to re-think the team they are joining. Nobody will fill a gap in a team’s skills perfectly, but sometimes a little rearranging can make for a much better fit.


Lastly, does the candidate add to the diversity of the team by providing a perspective not currently represented on your team? We are all familiar with the different perspectives offered between the sexes and races, and it is a good idea to start there, particularly in the United States, where racial and sexual discrimination are still quite prominent in the business world today. Consider other factors as well. For example, where did the candidate grow up? In an urban setting? A suburban setting? On a farm or commune? What kind of schooling did they receive? Was it more liberal arts focused? Engineering focused? Were they raised in a wealthy family or one that went from paycheck to paycheck? Will they shake things up with their different perspective?

To be clear, you must be very careful when considering diversity. For example, diversity doesn’t work when you say, “we can only hire someone who is Asian or was raised in a poor household.” Diversity doesn’t mean looking for a specific list of traits; diversity is about considering the traits the candidate brings with them and how much those traits add to the team. Look at your team, not just in terms of their knowledge and skills, but their backgrounds and upbringing as well – consider your new candidate in terms of the new perspectives they could bring to your team.

Prioritize: Culture, Capability, Diversity

It’s important to prioritize these considerations. If a candidate doesn’t meet the culture needs, you don’t want them on your team no matter how great their capabilities or different their perspective. If no one is happy working with them, you won’t have a very effective team. If two candidates are humble and hungry and offer the same skills, the one that offers the greater diversity will do more for your team.

For More Information

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