Vanity plate

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 8.15.38 AMCrossing the street to head into the office this morning, I waited for a car to pass. Although I didn’t recognize the car, I noticed that it sported a company logo’ed license plate on the front. When it got closer, I recognized the driver, waved, and continued across the street.

That got me thinking.

The person driving the car is relatively new to the company. He’s a good guy, and I’m glad he’s proudly waving our proverbial flag. I thought about how many people we’ve hired over the last several years and how each person changes the face of our company a little bit. After all, our brand is the sum of all the people (and their actions) behind it. I wonder if we’re thinking about that each time we have a position to fill.

I’ve got two open slots right now, and to do my job right, I not only need to think about the functions those people need to perform, but also about how those people will represent our brand. Whether they ever talk to a customer, their words and deeds have a part in shaping our company. They’ll affect coworkers, vendors, and even the community.

Think about it in terms of that car. What if the company license plate had been on an old beater, belching exhaust and dripping oil? Would it have made a difference if that guy had been blaring Megadeth or Jimmy Buffett or the Grateful Dead on the stereo? What would people have thought if they had seen the car run a red light and swerve around a pair of schoolchildren? What if it crawled down the street twenty miles under the speed limit at all times?

When I hire someone, I’m essentially hanging my logo on that person for better or for worse, just like that license plate. I need to put as much time into finding someone who will wear it well as I put into evaluating her functional skills. Every graphic designer, web developer, accountant, engineer, marketer, and technician is an investment in the company’s future.

Back in the day, we used “world class” as our deciding characteristic when it came to bringing people on board. Today more than ever, I understand why.

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Gut check

In my career, I’ve had the privilege of hiring several people. Although I’ve enjoyed the company of every single one, not all of them ended up being a good fit for their respective positions. On the flip side, some have far exceeded my expectations.

On balance, the good choices have outweighed the bad, mostly due to learning some tough lessons along the way. Not only have I learned which questions might lead to the most insightful answers, but I’ve also learned how those insights might indicate fit. I’ve learned which questions I can ask and which questions I can’t. I’ve learned how to read between the lines on a resume. I’ve learned to check references and to verify education. I’ve learned, essentially, to do my homework.

I’ve also learned to trust my gut.

The most important tool I have in my interview arsenal is my own intuition. It took awhile to get the nuance right, but I think I’ve figured it out. A bad gut feeling is enough for a veto. A good gut feeling signals a need for supporting evidence.

Every time something about a candidate has made me uncomfortable—even if she looks great on paper and doesn’t botch the personal interview—she has ended up being a poor fit for the position in question when I’ve hired her anyway. If I’m not excited about bringing a particular person on my team, I shouldn’t do it.

The flip side isn’t so simple. Gambling on a good gut feeling alone isn’t always a sure bet. The few times that I’ve done that, jumping ahead of my usual due diligence, I’ve been sorely disappointed. I still need to check the facts.

Of course, no one gets it right every time, but I’ve learned two important lessons: to trust my gut when it says no, and to be skeptical when it screams YES!