How I Hire: A Simple Equation

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A hiring decision requires just a numerator and a denominator. And the result of the equation must be greater than one. The equation has revealed itself each and every time I have made a great hire. The equation does not require keen analytical ability. In fact, I don’t assign a real numeric value to either end of the equation but I can tell if the numerator outweighs the denominator.

One of the best hires I ever made had only o.k. credentials and was a college athlete. His college experience involved basketball and maintaining a low B average. That was it, there was not much more to discuss. Until he revealed that as a freshman in college he hung on to be the twelfth man on the team. (A college basketball roster is always twelve.) As a sophomore, even though there were new players on the team, he was still the twelfth man. Junior year? Twelfth man. Senior year? In his last year he was still the twelfth man, but he stuck with it and finished his career there. The numerator is tenacity, loyalty, willingness to try, competitiveness and completion. The denominator is lack of dimensions and grades. The numerator wins.

In another case with a good outcome, I met with a candidate for a CEO job. The interview had been difficult to schedule to the point where I was now talking to him merely as a courtesy. The job was already filled! The candidate suggested we talk anyway and it was clear to see that he was an incredibly talented leader. He had a robust and clear plan of what he would do as the CEO. He had the industry background that would work but most importantly, he had the zeal the take the company to the promised land. I believed him. What he sold me was hope. The numerator here is zeal, leadership and hope. The denominator is that the job was already filled. We figured out a solution to the denominator and the new CEO did a great job.

On the negative equation side, I have met with more than my share of candidates whose equation does not add up to one. The best examples are those who have a great numerator: good school, distinguished track record, right brand names in the experience category. The denominator is a smug attitude and a sense that the candidate is resting on laurels and expecting to automatically be hired. The numerator is a fine track record; the denominator is a lack of confidence that the job will be done and expectations will be met.

Other situations are more obvious. I met a young man not long ago who had a fine technical background and attended one of the best engineering schools in the country. However, he had been fired twice for exporting pornography from a client site. Numerator: Smart. Denominator: How Stupid Can You Be?

When hiring I may not know exactly what I want but I usually have a general idea of the skills and traits I have on my mental list. The numerator and denominator approach helps me construct the ideal candidate and how he or she can contribute. This is not an exact science, there is no form with numerators and denominators but I have found it to be a system that works.

My assumption is that all candidates are prepared and know how to dress and act in an interview. It can be frustrating when the potential is there for everyone to look and talk alike. And there are times when I believe the hiring process is overly complicated with forms, assessments and analytics that betray the judgment involved. The simple equation works.

I have made more than my share of hiring mistakes over the years. In each situation I didn’t pay enough attention to the simple equation. For candidates, what is your numerator and denominator? For employers, try a more simple way to create a hiring decision. You will like the answers.

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