After more than a decade of hiring people on a daily basis I’ve seen a thing or two when it comes to good vs. bad practices relating to the process of hiring employees. During that time I’ve also made my fair share of mistakes in the people I’ve hired which offered up a plethora of learning opportunities. What I've learned over the years is that making a hiring mistake can be costly and most of the time it is the employers fault the hire doesn’t work out, not the new hire themselves.
Hiring an employee is an interesting and vital part of business. Interesting in that the end result is bringing on a new person into your company with the idea that they will fulfill a role to help the company move forward. Vital, because hiring really is one of the most important activities a business can do outside of generating revenue. Without revenue streaming in there is no need for hiring and no company for that matter, which is why I’ve placed generating revenue a tier above hiring.
The act of hiring is often whimsical and mythical in nature, like a unicorn. Everyone loves to say they’re great at interviewing as they enjoy saying “I know how to pick em”, or “I’m able to sniff out the best from the worst in five minutes”. I always enjoy a good chuckle when I hear comments like this because the reality is that these words often stand on hollow ground. While we love to think we’re great at the process of identifying, vetting and selecting the best people the facts tell a different story:
With stats like this you’d think companies would focus more on their hiring process and approach to improve this area of the business similarly to how they spend endless amounts of time and money on activities like kaizen events and lean initiatives in order to improve yields by a couple percentage points.
In the end the numbers don’t lie as they tell us a sobering story – no one is perfect when it comes to hiring employees. However the quicker we build awareness around our actual performance in the area of hiring the quicker we can begin to improve it.
Below are the ten (10) most common hiring mistakes made in business. As you read through these make a note of how frequent an offender you or your company is with each:
Key Take Away:
The current job market is one of the most competitive hiring landscapes we’ve ever seen. Most of the people in the US workforce have never seen unemployment figures like we’re experiencing today. Orange County, CA unemployment rate in September 2019 was a staggering 2.9%. Meaning, 97.1% of people who are eligible and or able to work are in fact doing so. The numbers nationally don’t get much better, or in favor of the employer, as we’re experiencing 3.5% unemployment nationally. The last time the unemployment rate was this low was in 1969. What does this all mean – it’s a candidates market, not an employers market.
Most, if not all, the good people and therefore candidates are gainfully employed. If you want to improve your chances of landing great employees to help grow your company you need to ensure your hiring practices are addressing and or solving the 10 hiring issues mentioned above.
If you or your company struggle to hire great people one of the best things you can do to correct it is to seek advice and an alternate viewpoint. Ask your employees why they were for your company, learn what matters to them most and why they stick around. Another way to gain insight is to bring in an HR or recruiting consultant to review your current processes. Outsiders can often times see things quicker and easier than you can as they aren’t coming from a lens that is within the company. Their outsider perspective can provide unbiased feedback on the things you need to do to attract better talent.
Working for big business certainly has its perks, there’s no doubt about it. Stability, direction, benefits, work that is defined – you name it. For some, this is the ideal work environment. We plot along through our 8-5 and enjoy the consistent pace that comes with it.
For a growing number of professionals while the world of big business has its strengths, it also serves to hold us back in our careers which is why we turn to the start-up world. How do I know this? I’ve lived it myself. After more than 10 years of working for a $6B company I left and went into the start-up world.
My story, while it may not be unique, is a growing story many others now share.
Why do people like the idea of start-ups?
First and foremost, it can be an exciting place to work. Decisions are often made speedily, there’s typically much less bureaucracy, work is more flexible and of course it tends to be much more creative. We also have the ability to learn much more about our jobs and the impact it has on the overall company and or business. Therefore, it is possible to say being in the start up world allows us to become better business people in the process as we get to see the big picture, not just our individual roles and workloads like what happens in big business.
Then it’s settled, everyone should work in a start-up! I mean, who wouldn’t want to work in that kind of an environment?
Hold up compadres, pump the brakes a moment. The start-up world is no picnic. Yes, the start-up world is exciting and full of daily innovation and discovery but it can also be rife with challenge, uncertainty and stress. Not everyone is built or meant to be in the world of start-ups. We may think we are however the reality is some of us are just better off being in big business. Before you jump ship from your large company into the world of a start-up (and or small business) take a moment to check in with yourself on how you land with these five characteristics which are vital to ones success in the start-up environment:
1.Working Outside the Box
When we work for big companies often times our job and daily output is focused on a certain set of tasks. It’s the opposite in the start-up world as often times the mentality of those who are successful in this space is that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and company moving forward. This includes taking out your own trash! If you’ve ever said “that’s not part of my job description” in response to work that was requested of you I would recommend taking a hard look at whether a start-up or small company is the right move for your career. You don’t have an option to be picky in a start-up, the only option is to do it. Even if that means taking out your own trash.
Working 8-5 in a large company can be a great perk. If you’ve done that for any length of time you may have forgotten how nice it is to mentally shut off at 5PM. In start-ups working 8-5 is non-existent. It’s common to work long hours and or be tethered to your smart phone around the clock. The statement ‘work life balance’ is blurred beyond recognition in the start-up world. Those that are successful here know and understand that it takes time and effort to create something. How dedicated are you to making that happen and what are you willing to give up in the process?
Working in a large company doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is clearly defined and outlined yet it is typical that SOPs (standard operating processes) are at the very least available for workers who choose to use them. In the start-up world you may find yourself creating these on your own. Take a moment to think how you would feel about being confronted with a daily situation where you are supposed to be working hard, hell – harder than ever before, and there isn’t a lot of direction or support to help you in that effort. If the thought of that excites you than the start-up world may be a breath of fresh air, if not then maybe your 3 foot wide cubicle and plush ergonomic chair your large company bought is the safer bet.
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of a start-up in my opinion. Leadership. If you haven’t worked in the start-up world before you may not be aware that people in leadership still do much of the hands on work. In big business this is hardly the case. Neither camp of leaders are necessarily better than one of the other, it’s just a very different environment. In start-ups every person on the team has to give 150% to the cause which means those who don a leadership title still have to get dirty in the day to day work. The reason you want to consider this as a part of your ‘can I make it in the start-up world’ is because leadership ultimately can have a great or very grave impact on the start-up business. Seems a bit obvious but when someone is doing both daily work and in charge of strategic decision making their influence and involvement has a much greater impact. In big business if a company experiences a failure with one of their leaders it typically can be salvaged whereas in the start-up world one or two costly mistakes by leadership will send the company into a grave six feet under.
Start-ups offer an intimate working experience. Working in a start-up everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s close quarters with high amounts of communication, partnering and feedback. Collaboration of course exists in big business but not at the intimate level of the start-up. When we work for a big company we are often a part of a team but doing work independently, even times on our own little island. If you’ve come to enjoy your island and aren’t interested in having neighbors up in your grill on the daily than perhaps staying in big business is the right decision for you.
A professional life in a start-up can indeed be a rewarding and exciting adventure. Once we’ve spent some time analyzing what’s most important to us in our career and what we’re willing to do to get it than we’ll have a better idea of how the start-up environment and career fits in with our plans.
Twice in my career I've been in a slump.
Statistically I'm not sure where that puts me in comparison to others having to do with 'career slumps' however I can openly and honestly admit those two experiences were incredibly challenging and equally as eye opening in my personal and professional development.
What is a career slump?
It can be a lot of things. A career slump can be a period marked with stagnation, little to no growth, periods of failure, challenges with our mindset and passion to succeed. Career slumps are all of these things and perhaps none of them at the same time, it just depends on your situation. A career slump could include mediocrity, boredom for extended periods. Lack luster attitudes and or a general malaise where we 'mail it in' on the daily. These are characteristics of a career slump.
What I've learned from my two career slump experiences was it was near impossible to get out of it until I understood what got me there in the first place.
I'm nervous talking about this. Being vulnerable on a stage like social media isn't necessarily an enjoyable walk in the park yet I've learned that many others share my same struggles so I choose to offer my experiences in the hope that it helps others. Sharing also helps me understand myself better and become more confident with who I am, what I'm capable of and what my 'why' is for doing what I do.
There, right there. That's the answer! Getting out of a career slump isn't some magical experience or event that gets you back on track, its sharing and talking about what you're experiencing, how you're feeling emotionally and being aware of how that's impacting you and your career. Whether we want to admit it or not all of us at one point or another will experience a career slump. No one is perfect and times of strife in this life, more accurately our careers, are inevitable.
The key is to dealing with a career slump is acknowledging it, accepting that it’s real then acting to change it. Similar to the psychiatric process called the ‘five stages of grief’ how we handle dealing with a career slump is a process of admittance, understanding and then action. It's a lot of soul seeking and working through your feelings to try and understand your mindset and what brought you to your present place.
Here's what has worked for me:
1. ADMIT: Recognize and admit things aren't great. Say it out loud.
2. PRESENT STATE: Ask yourself how you feel in this moment. Write it down.
3. EVENTS: Trace back the last 6 months to a year and unwind your experiences, successes, struggles to understand the chain of events which brought you to your career slump
4. DIGEST: Sit on this information for a couple days. How does it make you feel? Do you now know why you're in a slump?
5. SHARE: Go find two people to talk with. Share with them your situation and present feelings on the matter. (I know...this is a lot of talk about feelings and emotions. Sounds awful, right. The quicker you can get beyond that the quicker you'll find yourself on the road to confident successful empowered you)
6. KEEP GOING: Keep sharing your experience with people. The more the better. You'll begin to notice the more you talk about it the better you feel and more accepting you are of the situation.
7. TRANSITION: Now that you know what's going on start out every day with 20 minutes of mindset activities to get you on the road to a positive you (workout, yoga, meditate, do your favorite activity, listen to music, sit in silence, etc.) It’s all about cultivating a positive mindset which drives who you are and your actions for the day in front of you.
8. ACT: commit to yourself that the experiences you had leading up to your career slump don’t define who you are. In fact, they make you better! Now is when we need to make some changes to our career. Implement a new office schedule, get rid of work if you’re overloaded, take on a new project to get yourself out of your comfort zone. Maybe you need to find a new job! Whatever it is, the new you, the new focus must be different than what you were doing the past month.
If we change nothing about our actions and mindset we’ll continue to be who we were during the slump.
This eight step process doesn’t happen immediately but you'll begin to notice a change in your overall outlook and mindset after a couple weeks of this. Keep it up, don’t falter. As positivity and empowerment come back into your life so too will your energy to kick ass and take names in your career.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well. It can be a lot to shoulder if you aren’t prepared for it. Next week we’ll be talking about this in great detail at an Orange County, CA based medtech event where women will share their stories of leadership and how they got to where they are today. These stories are invaluable to understanding our own situation and potential career changes.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
Key Take Away:
Successful leaders all have one thing in common – they genuinely care about others, especially the people who work for them. As a result, they utilize a servant leader mindset, operating side by side their teams leading through both words AND actions.
Perhaps you’re struggling to get in touch with how you feel about leadership and your own capabilities. If so, find 2-3 people and interview them. Ask them for their opinion and thoughts on how they think you would be as a leader. Would you be successful in their eyes? What blind spots or areas of improvement would you need to make in order to be successful leading others? Once you have an idea for how others perceive you and the areas you potentially are good at and or struggle at you’ll have a better appreciation for how you would show up in the role. From there it’s always good to read a couple leadership books to further understand if this career move is best for you. Try out ‘Go-Giver’ by Bob Burg and John Mann or ‘True North’ by Bill George and Peter Sims.
Recently I had an opportunity to get caught up with a friend of mine, and former customer, who I hadn’t seen in years. As we got reacquainted and talked about old times, corporate war stories and the like the conversation began to take a turn in an unexpected direction.
Here’s how the conversation unfolded:
Friend (F): “I’m working in IT now.”
Me (M): As I blinked with disbelief asking ‘Wait, did you say IT? What do you know about IT, you’re a purchasing manager – and a good one at that.” (we’re old chums, I can get away with crass comments like that)
F: Right. I started with this company and was turning around their purchasing department when out of nowhere they transferred me. We’re a small company and a vacancy came up in IT doing project management so my boss asked me to slide over for the year.”
M: “Slide over? Bet you enjoyed that nonchalant way of your boss saying “hey, the company needs help and we have no other options but you”.”
F: “That’s pretty much how it went down.”
M: “So how’s it been so far being in IT?”
F: “Awful. I feel like every day is Monday. I dread coming to work cause I don’t really know what I’m doing and haven’t received a lot of direction. It’s been a lot of fake it till I make it type thing.”
M: “Have you asked for help?”
F: “I have, multiple times but the problem is there isn’t anyone else to provide me with formal direction because others above me are trying to figure things out at the same time. I’m on Google all day trying to learn about IT project management, the lingo and work. Honestly, I’m not sure how much more I can take of this. I’m five months in and while I’m trying to be a good sport about it because I know the company needs the help this isn’t what I’m trained to do. Or want to do for that matter.”
The conversation continued with the two of us going back and forth on his situation, each time the picture of his job becoming gloomier by the minute. Two weeks after our conversation I found out my friend put in his resignation. Shocker!
So what happened here?
An employee was hired to do a job, things happened and the company asked said person to help them out by moving into a new role. Pretty straight forward, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, this type of unproductive resource alignment happens all the time. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Hiring someone who is an expert in one discipline to then transition them into another that is polar opposites of their skills is in my opinion a poor management choice, one that most often will lead to disenfranchised employees and of course employee attrition.
Let’s be fair here. There’s a measure of truth in that it’s important we challenge ourselves over the course of our career to learn new things, take on new roles, expand our capabilities. This is how we become a better, more well-rounded professional. With that in mind, it’s a delicate balance between expanding someone’s capabilities and forcing them into a situation because it’s what’s best for the company, not necessarily the employee.
If you’re in a situation where you need someone to be a good sport and pitch in to help the company out it’s advisable you approach them with the situation in tandem with a strategy to get them in and get them out. The must be a clear exit strategy to get that employee back into the job you hired them for. Transitioning someone into a role they don’t want, you didn’t hire them for and is a mismatch with their skill set is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps my friend could have been more flexible, or perhaps his employer should have realized the band-aid approach they used with my friend should have only been for a short time and not a long-term solution.
Back to our story.
I called my friend a week after I had learned about his resignation to ask him what happened. He then told me when he resigned his employer asked him in the exit interview why he was leaving. He responded saying “I’m not an IT person. It’s not my passion and I’m not being given any indication this situation is changing any time soon. I also have little support in my new role. I was hired to get our company’s procurement function online and effectively operating yet for the past five months I’m doing IT project management work that I have no experience in, or interest for that matter. I found a job with another company doing what I’m good at and what I love [procurement].”
It’s one thing to ask employees to be team players and have a company first mentality. It’s quite another to remove them from the job which was the reason you hired them in the first place to patch up a problem area that they aren’t qualified to handle. In this, we are setting up our employees to fail.
Key Take Away:
If possible, try not to position your employees in situation where they are doing the company a solid at the expense of their happiness or capabilities. If you must ask an employee to take on a task or job outside of their scope be prepared to have a strategic exit plan in place to get them back to the work you originally hired them for. The work they are best qualified to do.
You have no choice, you have to transition an employee into a role outside their capabilities and comfort zone. Sit down with the employee and explain to them the situation and why you are asking for their help. Explain to them it is a short term situation then lay out your plans to help them get up and running in the role or task, who they can go to for support and how you will work with them to ensure their success. Also outline their exit strategy to get them back into their original job so they know there is an end insight. Lastly, I would strongly suggest offering the employee a bonus or form of recognition as a result of their willingness to help out. This last piece should never be overlooked, otherwise you may find yourself without the employee in the near future.
Are your employees misaligned, doing work that isn’t their specialty? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges while helping to get your employees back to the work they love doing.
For the past 13 years I’ve worked exclusively supporting Orange County, CA ecosystem of growing gigs (aka consultants, freelancers, etc). It’s been a while ride to say the least with endless learning opportunities along the way!
During my time working with gigs and professionals alike I seem to find myself engaged in a variety of conversations having to do with professional guidance. I’m certainly no career counselor but have witnessed enough over the years to have noticed more than a few trends with the path and decision making an average career takes.
One of the most consistent questions I get from people I’m interacting with is…
“How can I become a consultant [gig]?”
This question is interesting in of itself because the very statement overlooks a very important consideration: do we understand what the life of a full-time consultant is like? And just as important, can I keep my full-time job and do consulting (aka freelancing, moonlighting, etc) on the side? Lastly, why are you considering being a consultant in the first place?
Before you start considering leaving your comfy desk job for the wild ride of becoming a career consultant spend time thinking about how you feel and perform with the following:
Key Take Away: Check yourself before you wreck yourself. (thanks Ice Cube for that insightful lyrical melody) Ice Cube was on to something here – before you jump into [consulting] spend time to learn about the life of a consultant and the realities that come with it.
Action Item: Rather than leaving your day job, start your consulting experience by picking up a couple small jobs you can do on the side in the evenings or weekends. This will give you a chance to learn how to interact with clients, manage projects and your time. Do 3-4 projects then reassess those experiences, what you learned, how you performed and things to change for the future. Once you’ve done that you’ll have a better perspective of the life of a consultant and whether or not its right for you.
Being a successful leader often requires a set of skills which are very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Being in a management/ leadership role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, s/he is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider one thing before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next leadership opportunity:
Do you have what it takes to be an effective leader?
Before you consider a career in leadership think about how you deal with these five questions:
1. Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
If you don’t care about others or aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon
2. How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on technical work, such as product development, software development, etc. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. People who have technical backgrounds, such as engineers and those in IT, tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. Once you’re in a role of leadership your focus is now more on people, not the product or technology.
3. Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4. Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything.
5. Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the business world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
If you’re considering going into management take the time to think about how you show up with these five questions on leadership. What’s important to consider is that if you don’t have these intangible skills now can you develop them over time? The answer is most definitely yes, it’ll just take time, patience and a willingness to always be listening and learning.
Key Takeaway: If you think or believe "people problems aren't my business and should be kept out of the office" than do yourself a favor and stay away from management career opportunities.
Action Item: Write out your answers to these five questions and sit on the information for a week. Share it with 1-2 people close to you. After you've had time to digest the questions and your responses you will have a better idea how you feel about further considering a leadership role. Sometimes the best course of action is to take none at all which means remaining in your individual contributor role a bit longer.
About the Author
Serving over a decade in the technical services industry in Orange County, CA, Travis Smith has developed a talent for assessing technical talent and overseeing technical projects. His other areas of specialty include: leadership development, business development, resource planning and creative solutioning.