Reporting for Duty

I’m travelling, which means I’m captive in a long metal tube going an insane speed that contains about 300 other people, of which at least 2% are crying babies. Thank you British Airways.

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the reason I’m travelling, or part of it: I’ve hired someone new, and I’m going to meet her (in person) for the first time.  By Expedia standards I took my sweet time – I got notice in September; she just started last week.

Part of the delay was that I was hiring in the UK – where to give 2-3 months’ notice is typical. I am pleased that I was able to get away with about six weeks, which I looked at as a positive sign from the Employment Gods. This means I spent two and a half months looking through CV’s and phone screening people and having lots of disappointment. The fact is I’m picky.

This does not engender you to your coworkers as much as you’d think.

  • For the four people on the interview loop (not including the executive member), this meant interviewing about 8 or 9 people. One actually approached me and asked me to “just pick one already”.
  • For the 20-odd FTE’s and extended contract staff this person would manage, this meant waiting an interminable four months for a local manager, having to deal with me by email and conference call, and having to run things and try things and just deal.
  • For the three internal candidates who were not accepted, this meant wondering just WTF was I looking for anyway, Ms. or Mr. Perfect? (Well, yes…)

Because I was.

The duty of a hiring manager is not to get a warm body into the job – I don’t care how hard the employment market is. The duty of a hiring manager is not to be convenient to him-or-herself, or to his-or-her extended staff, or to his-or-her coworkers on the interview loop.

The duty of a hiring manager is to pick the person best suited for the job.

I have, in my employment history, hired two people in haste. The Scots have a saying that’s relevant – “Marry in haste, repent in leisure”. The two times I hired in haste I had to repent – then put on a PIP (performance improvement plan) – and then “manage out”, as they say.

This is even less pleasant than it sounds – you take a morale hit in your team for hiring someone who is not effective and needs babysitting, you take a hit as an employee of the company because there is this outlying question of “Why did you hire that person, again?”, and the company takes a hit because you just spent resources – hiring resources, placement resources, HR resources, team resources, that-person’s-worth-of-resources on what ultimately finds itself as a failed experiment. The first time I hired in haste I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to fix the problem, the second time I recognized it for what it was and followed the appropriate procedure. Hiring in haste is an expensive, expensive mistake.

You know, as a manager, when you’ve made this mistake. It’s like that first date, in the online dating world, where everything looks pretty much okay and then you get to day 1 (aka, first date) and discover they aren’t what they said they were and aren’t capable (or willing) to do what you need them to. And then it becomes the exercise of “do I try to fit this square peg into this round hole” or “do I cut my losses”?

You also know, as a manager, when you have made the right choice. On day one they are asking the right questions (and there had better be questions). They are asking “why” in the right places, and they are doing things without babysitting. You find they insert themselves exactly where and how they need to be inserted, you don’t have easy answers to every question, and they don’t require an inordinate amount of babysitting.

So no, I wasn’t going to “just hire someone already”.

Some companies go to great lengths to avoid the temptation a frustrated Hiring Manager may face – recently I talked with a friend who works at Amazon about this very topic, and he pointed out they have this person who is, in effect, the Bar Setter. This is the person on the loop that is not in your team and would have only cursory excuse to work with you should you get the job, and that’s the whole point: they are there because they have no skin in the game, other than to see if you’re a good fit for the company. They will not be given to the frustration of “just hire someone already”… unless perhaps they’ve been dragged in on too many loops for the same position (which, it should be noted, could be an effect of the job description not actually describing what you’re looking for).  It’s an interesting solution for the problem, and should I find myself in this bind again I may use it.

Although I consider my lesson learned.

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