From XU Magazine, 
Issue 29

How to test for skills AND values in your hiring process

While hiring is exciting and motivating, it is also a physically, emotionally taxing process. And it can cost you financially in a big way if you hire someone you think is amazing, and discover later they weren’t a fit.

Yes, they need to have the right skills: but hiring on skills alone is not enough to build the right team. It’s not merely worker bees you need: it’s human beings who fit your firm, who have their own personalities and perspectives and creativity, and truly care about your clients. You need a hiring process to test for both skills AND values. 

Let’s presume you’ve identified your firm values. Putting nice-sounding words on your website is not enough: values must be lived and breathed by your team and clients. If “values” are words like integrity, respect, passion, excellence…what do they MEAN? What does it look like to serve clients with passion? How do your team members show respect to each other and to everyone they meet? You won’t be able to hire people based on vague words like ‘excellence’. You, and the potential team member, need to know what you expect and how they will be evaluated based on this. You literally need to hire and fire on these values: so everyone needs to be clear about what they actually mean in real life. In real work. 

It’s also tempting to “trust your gut” when it comes to hiring: but that doesn’t help you build a process which runs without you. Yes, listen to your gut: and also investigate your gut to determine what it’s telling you. What exactly feels right, and what doesn’t? What little things seem too small to make a fuss over, and yet give that niggling feeling? Every win, and every fail, helps you build your hiring process. What didn’t you check for? What did you discover later? How might you have tested for this during the hiring process? 

Hiring is not the time to give candidates the benefit of the doubt. This is the time for them to prove themselves to you. And reviewing an online resume and talking to them for an hour is not nearly enough to determine if this person will fit with your team and clients day in and day out, month after month, year after year. Below are some ways to test for skills and values in your next hire. As you go through this process, look for these flags: 

• Red flag: Big problem. A fail on the skills, anger or defensiveness or blame, unwillingness to honour your process. If there’s a red flag, they’re out. 

• Pink flag: Slight thing which gives you a little niggle, but it’s not fully investigated and there may be reasons for it. File this away, and if there are no more pink flags, they’re good. If pink flags pile up, they become one big waving red flag and they’re out. 

• Green flag: Specific values or skills fits which get you excited about this person. Remember your professional scepticism: one green flag does not negate a pile of pink flags or even one red flag. Don’t be so desperate to hire you ignore the signs.


Now let’s look at specific ways to test for skills AND values within your hiring process:

1. Look at the values. What questions can you ask to uncover these? Not “Do you have integrity” or “How do you show passion in your daily life?”  - they’ll merely try to tell you what you want to hear. Ask questions which require telling stories. Giving examples. Expressing emotions. For a value of “Responsibility”, you could ask what they loved or hated about their last job. If they explain how difficult it was, how they were misunderstood and had a bad boss, it’s a pink flag. If they say there were some tough things, and express what they learned and how they’ve begun applying that in their life, that’s a good sign.

2. What skills test (or tests) will you require? At what stage in the process? What is a pass, and what is a fail? What do you do with applicants who fall between the ranges? Many firms have demo bookkeeping or accounting work they set up for an applicant to complete over an identified time period. This tells you not only whether they can do the work, but how efficient they are and what they notice along the way. Their passing the skills test doesn’t make the full and final decision, but it’s another flag one way or the other.

3. What more can you ask for besides a CV or resume? At PF, we ask for a 3 minute video submission from all applicants. No CV, no resume, no LinkedIn profile. We don’t want a piece of paper saying how great they are: we want people who know themselves and are comfortable enough to talk to us. You might feel nervous about this (what if they don’t like video? what if they’re an amazing person but just aren’t comfortable on video?), but the people who are keen and are really interested in working with you, will make the effort. The point is not the greatest video of all time: it’s to help get a sense of who this person is before you look at skills.

4. How will you involve the team? Hiring people isn’t merely the job of the owners or partners: after all, the existing team will be talking to this new team member day in and day out, sending emails and messages, sitting with them in meetings, hearing their perspective, and spending time with them outside work. Holding a group interview as a part of the hiring process has a double benefit: your team get to see what this person is like, and the candidate gets to see what kind of a team they might be joining. 

5. Review for patterns: Check for patterns at every stage. What flags did you see? How many? What did that tell you? What did your team see? What little comments did they make? Did they try to circumvent your process in any way? Look at the big picture: not merely one ‘green flag’, one exciting thing which made you think “they’ll be the best team member ever”. 

Your process won’t work perfectly the first time, and you’ll need to keep adjusting from what you and the team learn. As you go, you’ll learn more about yourselves and your future team members, and will become better collaborators, communicators and decision makers. And you’ll consistently hire people who are right for you, and you for them.

Why leave it there?

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