Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Red Flags and the Hiring Process

One of the great things about being at a University is that you get to consider issues and then discuss them with business leaders, faculty and students. One of the topics that I’ve been considering lately is the hiring process. Companies know that it is important to emphasize the hiring process; they understand the costs involved with hiring the wrong person, but often times, other than the screening of the resumes, it’s an entirely unorganized process. Often times, when you evaluate the hiring process, you find out that everyone in the organization gets to ask whatever questions they want to ask of the prospective hire, and there is little effort to make sure that they’re hiring the right person, versus the person we simply like the best. On that topic, below is an excerpt from Sunday’s New York Times the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant, in an interview with Dinesh C. Paliwal, the Chairman, president and chief executive of Harman International Industries. From the interview:

Q. What qualities are you looking for when you hire?

A. I want to know how hungry they are. Are you hungry to get to the next level? Every day you come in the office or wherever you’re traveling, you make progress. And the next day it starts from ground zero. That’s the No. 1 thing I’m looking for. Next, I’m looking for whether they will bring the best out of the teams — and not just the peer groups, but people below them and above them.

And I’m looking for people with courage. The higher up you go, courage becomes the No. 1 thing. If I don’t have courage to listen to my instincts and my colleagues’ critiques, I’m not going to make the right choices because generally the right choices are a little tough to execute.

Q. So what questions do you ask?

A. Everybody in their life has gone through the good, bad, the ugly. How did you manage the worst part? What did you learn? Then I’ll say: “If I were sitting with your boss over a beer, and I were to say, ‘I’m interviewing John for this great job and he’s fantastic. He seems to be great at this and this, but. ....’ ” Then I will ask, “What would that but be?” Some people don’t want to answer that, but some of them actually go on to tell me five “buts.” I’m looking for honesty. I’m looking for self-confidence and people who are secure in their own skin. Another thing I generally ask is, “What would your subordinates say about you?”

Once I have decided that I want to hire somebody, there’s a final step, where I’ll invite the person and their spouse to join my wife and me for dinner. It’s a social dinner. It is an interview but it’s a not interview. And I learn things that I couldn’t learn any other way. Let’s say I’m interviewing a man. I’ll watch how he interacts with his wife. I’ll ask some of the same questions in front of his wife that I asked him before. Is he afraid to say again what he said to me? It’s amazing what you learn.

Here’s another question I’ll ask: “Tell me about a time when you had to give an assignment to your team and it didn’t go well. What was the process? What did you learn from that?” They might say they didn’t give a clear explanation of the challenge, the problem, the difficult situation. Or maybe they didn’t have the right team in place, and didn’t get enough support. But I’m listening to whether they see the big picture. If they start talking about two or three fall guys, that’s a red flag.

Here’s a link to the rest of the story: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/business/harmans-chief-on-how-to-reduce-office-politics.html?_r=0

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