When You Shouldn’t Hire “The Best”

“We always hire the best.”

“The people who work here are the best people in the world.”

“We never use the phrase ‘good enough’ in our hiring.”

I’ve seen countless companies completely mess themselves up by sticking to some sort of resolve to “hire the best” without thinking it through.  They hire the coolest, brightest, smartest, and quickest people and then have morale and retention problem that they just can’t figure out.  They leave out one essential piece of hiring “the best”–they forget that they need the best for the job.  So they end up with…

  • Brilliant technologists who are miserable working a Help Desk phone
  • Great managers who are lousy consultants
  • Great user support folks who are cranky systems administrators (this one is hard to tell, since systems administrators tend to be cranky anyhow)
  • Great applications people who are bored trainers

I’ve found that behavioral interviewing can really separate the best (in general) from the best for the job.  Here are my favorite questions:

  • In job x, you’ll often experience situation y.  Can you tell me about a time when you were in a similar situation and how you reacted?
  • How do you handle it when you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, and what sorts of situations make you feel like that?
  • I’ve made mistakes that could turn your hair grey to hear them.  Tell me about how you handled one of the worst mistakes you’ve ever made (I don’t make them tell me the details of the mistake).
  • How would you handle <some situation they’ll experience on the job>?
  • What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done in work or in life?  What made it so cool?

Their answers to behavioral questions will help you rapidly see that sometimes a completely awesome candidate just isn’t the best for the job.  And honestly, one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a hiring manager is to let someone’s degrees/qualifications/personality blind you to a bad fit.

So how about you?  How do you distinguish between to “the best” and “the best for the job”?

Photo courtesy of Rachael Voorhees