Why did that candidate reject your job offer?

This post was inspired by a slide on Greylock Partners’ Debugging Recruiting slidedeck 

There are a few reasons good candidates can reject your offer. 6 of them come to mind. They are:

  1. Another hiring manager made a better offer 
  2. Salary package offered wasn’t enough 
  3. You took too long after the interview to send an offer – even a few days after can be too long in some job markets
  4. They got a job offer from a stronger employer – could be a dream (e.g. Disney) or larger (Fortune 500) company 
  5. You spooked the job candidate during the interview 
  6. Role expectations weren’t clear – reporting relationships, decision authority, types of client & project assignments 

Some reasons can be controlled while others need you to stay near a crystal ball. In any case, don’t take a rejected offer to heart.

 

How to not make potential hires nervous

A bunch of factors can make job candidates nervous:

  • New and unfamiliar environment
  • Clear or apparent power imbalance between them and you
  • You asking incredibly hard “curveball questions

You might say, “Well, that’s part and parcel of interviewing for a job.”

But there’s one hitch with this thinking…

Their nerves can become your problem

You are interviewing people to find the best person for the job, right?

Imagine that among your pile of candidates, there is a perfect fit hire. They’re are confident with the work, good culture fit etc.

But what if they easily get nervous during interviews?

Chances are you could just say, “Nah” 👎.

Not helpful for either of you, so let’s cut the chance of that happening.

Do these 4 things to make candidates less nervous

1. Check the interview environment

Make sure the interview space is:

  • Comfortable with reasonable space to move & no awkward furniture
  • Private and free from distractions like office or work-floor noise  

2. Start by saying a comforting statement

You might have heard that first impressions count. Try to incorporate a rapport building starter when you greet job candidates.

It can be as simple as: “Thank you for coming to see me today. Let’s explore and work out if our needs fit with what you’re looking for.”

3. Be patient when they get stuck

Resist the need to power through the conversation if a job candidate errs or struggles to respond to a question.

Instead, pause and wait for them to regroup. If it’s been a while, affirm their pause with a politely toned “Take your time.”

4. Focus questions around the work

Fight the urge to investigate a job candidate’s personality. Your line of questions should purely seek work ability and culture fit.

It will help viable candidates think straight. Beats the alternative: a cutesy answer to “What would your superpower be”.


 

How to seek culture fit during interviews

You won’t know how important culture is until you hire someone who doesn’t fit with your team’s.

Let’s not take that chance, shall we? But wait…

What is culture?

I’ll keep this simple and in the context of work.

Culture is a collection of actions, rituals and values. It’s driven by the beliefs we develop over time about how we achieve success.

Examples of culture include:

  • Action – Collaborative work 
  • Ritual – Celebrating after hitting a milestone
  • Value – Ethical behavior above all else

Interviewing for technical ability is one thing. But how can you probe someone you don’t know about such concepts?

The wrong way to seek culture fit

With time pressure during interviews, you can get tempted to be direct and ask candidates if they share the same values. 

Let’s assume your company operates in a regulated or professional industry. Ethics would be a critical aspect of culture fit.

If you were to be direct, you’d ask: “How would you describe your views on ethical behavior?”

Resist the temptation to do this. It signals to the job candidate that it’s something you value in a new hire.

They can feign a positive answer like these:

  • “I think ethics is very important. I like to make sure everyone does the right thing just like I do.”
  • “Ethics is #1 in my book. Without it…”

Not only are the answers generic, they don’t tell you how the person would act in right vs wrong situation.

So let’s explore a method which will tell you the truth.

Here’s how you seek culture fit 

As I said above, it’s best not to address culture fit with direct questions.

Best to ask indirectly and follow one of these paths:

Drill into how they acted in a past situation 

“Tell me about a time you found yourself in a tricky situation. One where you had to choose between right and wrong. What happened? How did you deal with it? Why did you deal with it the way you did?”

Or test them with a hypothetical situation

“Think of a time when you caught a friend doing something they shouldn’t have. How did you deal with it? What was the result?”

These two lines of questioning should get you more data than, “Do you value ethics?”.

Another way to seek culture fit

Ethical behavior is a critical value for regulated and professional work environments. But in other spaces, it’s not as important.

Remember that people’s actions and rituals can also reflect culture. We can seek culture fit by looking at these.

In some cases, these are more important than values. 

But to do this right, we need to look at ongoing actions, not just once off measures people take.  There’s a term for this: habits.

Here are examples of work routines with related good habits:

  • Problem solving – writing everything down, using reference guides
  • Decision making – calling on expert help, playing out scenarios
  • Meetings – setting alarms & reminders, maintaining calendar 

Every potential employee will have good and not-so-good habits. Your job is to work out if theirs align with your team’s.

We think we choose our success. We do not. We choose our habits. It is our habits determine our success. 

Tom Foster, Habits, Success and Choice

Can we interview for habits? Yes, we can.

Imagine you’re hiring for a supervisor role. Here’s the rundown:

  1. This new hire will start and run meetings
  2. Your team faces constant time pressure
  3. Punctuality is critical to your team culture 
  4. You want to find out if a job candidate is consistently punctual

Once again, it’s not wise to directly ask a candidate, “Do you tend to run on time?”. What do you think their answer will be?

Once again, drill into a past situation

Tell me about a routine meeting you had to run in the past 
↳  I used to run a weekly all hands meeting.

What time did you usually arrive?
Usually 5 minutes before the scheduled meeting time.

What did you do to make sure you were on time?
I set an earlier alarm for Fridays – the day we had the all-hands. I also set reminders on my calendar to trigger the night before. 

What happened when you were late?
This happened once or twice. I’d ask a senior staffer to run through the agenda while I was on my way.

With this line of questioning, you learn that the job candidate has set habits – alarms and reminder – for turning up on time. 

More data to work with than “Yes, I believe in being punctual.” 

 

5 hidden costs bad hires make you pay

Imagine you had to take a pay cut every time a bad hire cost the company in some way.

You could go home without a paycheck.

How? Because I’ve identified 5 hidden costs that bad hires make you pay:

1. Money Cost

OK, this one is not that hidden.

Money is an obvious cost of every hire:

  • Posting job ads – $
  • Background checks – $$
  • Employee referral fee – $$
  • Recruitment agencies – $$$ 

When you make a bad hire, all this money will feel wasted. 

2. Time Cost 

Hiring can take as long as 6 months from when you start. Then there’s the time until you discover the hire isn’t working out.

That’s a lot of time in limbo. Let’s not forget that people in the business world often say, “Time is Money!”. 

3. Productivity Cost

Think of what would happen if you hire someone with a promising resume, give them big responsibilities and they fail to produce.

A bad hire’s low productivity risks the quality of certain work. Not only that, it can hurt overall productivity levels. 

Your job gets harder to make sure this doesn’t happen.

4. Emotional Cost

Bad hires can be incompetent, messing up even the smallest of tasks. Or they simply refuse to do what needs to be done.

Both issues can wreak havoc on your day-to-day emotions.  

5. Reputation Cost

Firing a bad hire early on sounds like the right call. But it could still cost your or your company’s reputation.

There are 3 ways this could pan out:

  1. Your employer’s brand could get tarnished on employer review sites like Glassdoor. “Toxic management. 1 star”.
  2. Their negative actions on the team could have a lasting impact on how your employees see you. 
  3. Other managers – including your boss – could see your making a bad hires as a sign of weakness.

Want to avoid these costs?

It’s key that you understand that bad hires happen because hiring is a game on chance. But you can take action to stack the odds in your favour.

Start off by thinking about how you can better focus your hiring.

Then look into how you can ask better interview questions

Take it a step further by looking into how hiring committees can give you a more rounded perspective on potential hires.

 

Can bad hires be caused by your mind?

Your mind can cause bad hires if you don’t think about how it influences your hiring decisions.

To control this risk, you need to make yourself aware and curb the influence of your unconscious biases.

Let’s unpack this idea.  

5 minutes to make a hiring decision?

I’ve known many managers who swear by their ability to make fast hiring decisions. I’ve been guilty of doing this in the early days. 

I often ask other managers if they do this and why.

Some respond with a confident response not unlike this: “‘I’d know if someone’s right for the job in a few minutes. This aint my first rodeo!”

That’s not enough time to process

A part of your mind is processing your experiences in the background.

This is your unconscious mind at play. It interprets what you see and feel, and links it your past experiences and personal values.

It’s always processing your experiences, but is most active in the first few moments of an interaction. 

What your brain processes in the first few minutes

When you first meet the job candidate, your unconscious mind is taking notes on:

  • The office environment
  • The candidates’ clothes, shoes, haircut, smile, posture, tone of voice
  • What your conscious mind is thinking of all this

It compares these notes to the ones it has saved from your past experiences in similar situations. 

Your conscious mind interprets what the job candidate is saying while weighing in the feedback from your unconscious mind.

If you end a conversation within a few minutes, your initial impression of the job candidate will weigh heavy on your decision.

That impression weighs even stronger if you ask questions that don’t require heavy lifting from the conscious mind.

For example, when you ask surface-level questions that verify facts on the resume in front of you.

The risk of initial impressions

The unconscious mind does not process any data on what the candidate is saying in response to your questions.

It does not know about your work or the questions you’re asking. It works on a primal level. It’s the epitome of superficial.

So if an otherwise good candidate doesn’t match your unconscious mind’s idea of good candidate, you could reject them. 

Experience the risk in this example

Imagine you’ve got 2 candidates to interview today:

  • Candidate 1 – poor culture fit, but stylish and confident speaker
  • Candidate 2 – good culture fit, but average style and modest tone

You only have 5 minutes to interview each candidate. Both have identical resumes. You don’t know upfront about each candidate’s level of culture fit.

Let’s assume your unconscious mind knows that you put high value on style and the ability to talk with gusto.

Which candidate will get higher weighting? Remember that the unconscious mind does not care about cognitive concepts like culture.

With a manager spending little time asking solid questions, Candidate 1 will appear to be the better suited candidate. Risky business.

How to overcome unconscious biases

Here are strategies to overcome the influence of your unconscious mind’s biases:

  • Be vigilant of unconscious bias. Before you start an interview, reaffirm the need to see past superficial issues. Seek rational explanations for statements like “She’s good” or “I like him”.
  • Bring in multiple perspectives. It’s much harder to be biased if you draw in data from multiple people who value different things. Think about setting up an effective hiring committee.
  • Spend more time in each interview. This gives the conscious mind more time to interpret the situation in a rational manner.
  • Fill this time wisely.  Ask solid interview questions, not filler conversation. This way, you’ll get more meaningful data for your conscious mind to interpret and add to your hiring decision. 

Here’s a visual summary of these strategies:

Combine all of these strategies in order to effectively combat bad hire risk from unconscious bias.

 

How to steal A-Players from the competition

This post is inspired by a presentation from Greylock Partners, an investment firm in Silicon Valley. As an early investor in Facebook and Dropbox, they know what it takes to hire top talent in competitive markets.

Before you start your journey to steal over A-Players from other companies, keep this in mind. It’s not easy.

You’ll need to:

  1. Use your network to source A-Player job candidates
  2. Offer them a lot more than what they are currently getting – and it’s not just about more pay 
  3. Make sure they have what it takes to be an A-Player in your work environment

Even if you pull all this off, keep in mind that poaching A-Players is risky in closely-knit industries where competitors often partner up.

Still eager to poach an A-Player or two? Let’s explore the 3 action areas.

Where to find A-Players

It’s all about the network

Your main source of potential A-Player hires will be networking. They are less likely than others to respond to job postings. 

Why? A significant number get new job opportunities from the people they impress in their day-to-day work.

They are passive candidates – if they are treated like an A-Player, they don’t actively look elsewhere.

How to do the networking

Seek new connections

You can increase your network by turning up to more industry events like conferences, mixers and casual meetups. 

You don’t have to go to these events holding up a sign with “Seeking A-Player. Are you it?”. If you do, send me a photo. It’ll brighten up my day. 

Build connections as naturally as possible. One way is sharing unique and  beneficial insights based on your work.  

Call on existing connections

You will ideally keep an open channel with various people in your industry. Quality sources for A-Player introductions include:

  • Vendor relationship managers. They talk with a lot of people in your industry including your competitors’ employees.
  • Coworkers. They might know someone – often a friend or subordinate – from a past employer looking for greener pastures.
  • Ex-colleagues. They might know someone looking to move from their current employer. Works best if they’re still in your industry. 
  • Industry influencers. Key people in your space can generate buzz around your job offer. Only if you have a relationship with them.
  • Alumni connections. Can be hit-or-miss depending on how open that alumnus is to helping others leverage their network.
  • Old professors and teachers. They often stay in touch with their brighter students, so ask them if one of these people are looking.  

What you’ll need to offer the A-Player

Once you get introduced to an A-Player, you’ll need to work out what you can offer them. Here’s the thing…

Show me the money

More pay is a key reason for many to change jobs. It’s best if you don’t skirt around this issue. Here are some tips:

Be direct 

Ask the A-Player in clear terms, “What do you get to get paid?”

If they ask, “What are you offering?”

Reply with “We pay competitive in the market. What’s your current salary?”

If their salary is lower than you’d pay

Offer a pay bump to a degree that would make them think seriously about your offer

If their salary is higher than you’d pay

Think about what you can offer – other than matching or beating their salary – to sweeten the deal. More on this in a later section. 

If they don’t want to disclose their salary

Be prepared for this scenario by asking HR the maximum salary you can offer. But don’t offer this off the bat. Do this instead…

Reiterate the need to discuss numbers followed by “What’s your idea of fair pay?” If they still don’t budge, you may need to negotiate.

Start with the salary you’d be easy with offering. If they baulk, say you’re open to negotiation. Work your way up, but not so much that it hurts.

It’s not always about money

Offering more money all the time can trigger a talent war with competitors. Luckily, it’s not the only reason A-Players make the move.

Think about what your team and company does better than others in your space. For example, you can offer the A-Player:

  • More autonomy. They’ll get increased authority to make decisions that affect their work.
  • Better technology. Your team/company uses better technology that makes the work easier or higher quality.
  • Direct reports. Some A-Players crave to be leaders. Can you offer employees who will report to them?
  • High quality clients. Your team has access to higher quality clients than their current employer does.

Hiring an A-Player? Make sure they’ll perform

You can only call an A-Player that, if they can replicate their past success in your work environment.

Check for mindset

This means they don’t rest on the laurels of their past results, but also have strong mindset traits like being a self-starter.

Check for culture fit

Their performance may be subject to forming strong relationships in your team and company. That happens best if they’re a culture fit.

You can work out culture fit by asking better interview questions that can help understand the values driving the A-Player’s actions.

If you’ve found someone else’s A-Player who’s ready to talk, keep the above in mind. There’s no guarantee that they are destined to remain one.

 

How to ask better questions in your job interviews

This post is inspired by the work of Tom Foster, a renowned management consultant from Florida. He’s a known authority on the concept of behavior-based interviewing. 

Better interview questions lead to better candidate data, which can lead to better hires. But how do you ask them?

First, these questions don’t qualify

Can you tell me why I should hire you? 

“I’m a professional and my references will attest to that fact. I have the right skills for this role. Like in the past, I will put in 100%.”

May the best boaster win. Might work for a sales job but not for technical roles. Rarely gives workable data on skill, culture or mindset fit.

Can you tell me a little about yourself? 

“I’m an innovative IT manager with 10 years experience managing all aspects of back-office IT function for Fortune 500 companies.”

Gives experts in humble bragging an unfair advantage. Opens the interview up to unwanted “that’s impressive” bias.  

Do you think teamwork is important? 

“Why yes, I sincerely believe teamwork is important. I have been a team player all my working life. Totally committed to teamwork.”

Innocent question about culture fit until you figure out that you’ve told the job candidate what you want to hear. 

What’s the risk with the above questions?

They don’t tell you anything about how the person worked in the past roles; only embellished high-level work summary.

They don’t tell you what values the job candidate drew upon when they faced key situations in their past work.

They don’t contribute greatly to interview structure. A more structured approach lets you drill into how the candidate really operates.

What’s a better kind of question?

Not many questions can result in a strong interview structure like when you ask behavior-focused questions.

Here’s the key benefit from asking such questions: they help you see if job candidates will align with your culture. 

“We identified the behaviors we want to see connected to our Core Values. Developing and asking questions around those behaviors has definitely helped us hire people who are a better match for our organizational culture.”

Becky Halvorson, Road Runner Food Bank

Here’s how you ask a behavior-focused question

I’ve broken down the groundwork needed to ask behavioral questions into detailed steps.

Step 1 – Audit competencies

Identify 3-4 key competencies for the role. These can be:

  • Technical (e.g. data modelling)
  • Work-relevant personal traits (e.g. self-starter)
  • Interpersonal skills (e.g. teamwork)

Step 2 – Pick ONE competency

Ideally pick the number 1 criterion that would lead to success in the role. I’ll use teamwork as an example.

Once you are comfortable at working with one competency, you can repeat this process for lower priority competencies.

Step 3 – Identify related behaviors

What behaviors show good teamwork? Cooperation. Support. Constructive feedback giving. You’ll look out for evidence of these behaviors. But how?

Step 4 – Create a scenario then drill deep!

You’re going to drill deep into a situation where the candidate was heavily involved in teamwork.

Setup the scenario

“Think of a time when teamwork was critical to your work.”

Ask background questions

“Why was teamwork required for the task?”

“What was your role?”

Seek a little more detail

“Who else was on the team?”

“What was their role?”

Start drilling for gold

“How well did the team work together?”

“What do you think the team did well?”

“What was your role in pulling the team together?”

Finally, drill down to the core

“How did you react when the team faced roadblocks?”

“How did the team deal with someone not pulling their weight?”

“What was the end result of your contribution to the team?”

“How would you do things differently if you had a second chance?”

Final thoughts

It’s tempting to cut to the chase and ask job candidates if they share the same values as your team.

It’s even more tempting to ask common interview questions like “Tell me about yourself” and call it a day.

But resist the temptation because these questions won’t give you the solid interview data you need to make a great hiring decision.

Ask better interview questions by having a behavior focus that lets you dig deep into the candidate’s ability and values.

 

How to make sure your hiring committee doesn’t fall apart

Without ground rules, hiring committees can fail their purpose.

Here’s how you setup your hiring committee for success:

Who should be in the interview room

According to Tom Foster, his view on setting up the “hiring team” is:

  • Don’t have random people sitting in on the interview – each person there should fit into one of the 4 specific roles 
  • Not all hiring committee members in the room at the same time – you risk intimidating job candidates by doing that
  • Maximum of 2 committee members in the room at any time – only 1 speaks while the other writes notes 
  • Every committee member gets to ask questions – no one is merely an observer; they play an active part in learning about job candidates 

What should every member contribute

According to Mark Horstman of Manager Tools, it’s worth deciding what each member will contribute before interviews start. Are they:

  1. Going to give a Yes/No decision on each candidate OR
  2. Strictly gather data and relay back to hiring manager

If you’re curious what his stance is, Mark calls for making every hiring committee member say Yes or No.

He says doing this changes the dynamic for hiring committee members.

They go into interviews with more commitment, knowing that the final hiring decision depends on their say.

 

4 people you will want on your hiring committee

Google’s manager use hiring committees, calling the process consensus-based hiring. But I found little on exactly how they do it.

Luckily, Tom Foster of Management Blog has more concrete advice. He suggests having 4 people on the hiring committee.

Each person has a unique role. They value one aspect of work more than others. So they will pick up things other people might miss.  

These 4 people are:

Hiring Manager

The central position in the hiring committee. They should have final say or at least have the most weighting in the final decision.

Manager’s Manager

Their role is to guide and support the hiring manager’s decision. They most likely have hired the same or similar role in the past.

Technical Person

Renowned for the technical skills and ability to see it in others. They will ideally work in the same area as the new hire. 

Culture Person

Helps you gain a better glimpse into the job candidate’s interpersonal skills and fit with the team’s culture. Could be someone from HR. 

Final thoughts

Remember you’re gathering data during interviews to get the complete picture. That’s the greatest strength of a hiring committee.

Let each committee member contribute to that end.

 

3 simple thoughts to better focus your hiring

You’re busy. I get it. Hiring is another thing on your already full plate.

Then again, the last thing you want to do is make a bad hire. But that’s what happens when you hire without prior thinking.

So let me simplify hiring for you with 3 thoughts. These will help you get laser focused when you start the process.

Thought #1 – Which qualities would get a new hire fired?

It’s not the most ideal situation to have to fire a new hire. So think about at least 3 bad traits that would get them fired.

You should be able to pick up telltale signs of bad traits during interviews. That is, if your interviewing is structured vs an informal talk.

I’ll give 2 examples of “fireable traits” to kickstart your thought process:

Example – which traits would get you fired in a customer-facing role?

  • Bad speaking manner
  • Lack of empathy
  • Low on the helpfulness scale
  • Goldfish-like memory

Example – which traits would get you fired in an analytical role?

  • Poor mathematical skills 
  • Can’t turn data into insight
  • Valuing theory over business problems
  • Lacking technical knowledge of key tools

Thought #2 – What qualities would help them gel with the team?

You’ll need to think about how your team – as a whole – likes to operate when getting work done. Here are examples:

  • Open vs Discrete/need-to-know communication
  • Informal (“call me when…”) vs Formal (written) reporting
  • Supportive of others or Solitary achiever
  • Casual vs Formal approach to stakeholders

Once again, your interview questions should help extract this data from job candidates. And now for the final thought…

Thought #3 – How can they prove to you they can get up to speed?

Regardless of how much skill or experience a job candidate has, they will take time to get on the same page as your team.

Every industry and work environment faces changes to process and technology at different speed and intensity. 

Moving forward, you’ll want to hire someone who will adapt well to these ongoing changes.

So think of job candidates as a blank slate. No skills, no experience. This will force you to ponder whether they could be adaptable.

How can they prove to you that they will:

  • Get up to speed fast with your team’s work AND
  • Continue doing so when technologies and processes change

One telltale trait of adaptable people is being a self-starter. They are more likely to take ambiguous situations (and so, change) head-on.

Summing these thoughts up

Bring a more focused approach to your hiring process by knowing the qualities you should and shouldn’t hire.

At the same time, think about how you can work out if the new hire will pick things up or bog your team down.

Final thought: it’s best to think about these things upfront. Way less stressful than doing so during the job interviews!