Hire Talent, Teach Knowledge

Almost every company has them: positions that require skills and duties you don’t learn in college. We face this every time we hire at Morrison; what we do is largely unique and it is pretty rare to find someone experienced in all we do.

When we recruit, whether for our clients or ourselves, we start with an exercise I call “Building the Perfect Candidate.” This can only be done on paper so we list all the job duties (present and future potential), personal characteristics, and other factors we’d like to have – then hope we can find 80 percent of it.

That seems simple enough, but which 80 percent? Not all qualifications are created equal and shouldn’t be treated the same.

Twenty plus years ago I was a senior manager with a Big Four accounting and consulting firm that had a strong preference for hiring graduating students with stellar grade point averages and anyone with less than a 3.5 was unlikely to get an interview. I rankled more than a few feathers by often preferring candidates who spent a couple years flipping burgers or sweeping warehouses over those with higher grades but zero work experience. Flipping and sweeping have nothing to do with accounting or consulting but you do learn to show up to work on time, dress appropriately, put in a full day’s work, and that even if by some unlikely chance you are the smartest person in the room you aren’t the one making the decisions – or paying for them. You can’t survive a couple years in those environments without learning this.

Attitude can’t be taught. It can be learned if you’re paying attention and don’t already think you know it all but it can’t be taught. I’ll take someone who is inquisitive, persistent, innovative, and personable over a person with all the skills but lacking drive and people skills any time.

Few would disagree with this, but how can you know? There’s no surefire secret, but here are a few steps we’ve found very insightful

1. Don’t just interview someone once or twice. We interview a minimum of three times before passing someone on to a client; for our own team I’ve been accused of “stalking” more than recruiting. The fact of the matter is that you learn more about a person over time than in one or two interviews.

2. Check references, and not just the ones the candidate provides. Some feel the “Give me three references” approach is useless as no one will give you a bad reference; I’ve seen a few candidates who couldn’t come up with three people to say nice things about them so we still do it. But if at all possible, contact others who might know them. Listen for employers, business organizations, and others with whom you might have mutual contacts.

3. Have the stronger candidates talk to several people in your organization, and in several settings. Have them meet separately or in small groups with those who would be their supervisors, peers, and subordinates. When you think you have a finalist, take him or her to dinner and invite their spouse. Get to know them.

4. Ask about more than the technical aspects of the job. For example, “Describe a situation in which you disagreed with a major business decision” or “Tell me about a time you made a significant error and how you addressed it.” Ask questions that get at attitudes toward real-life situations.

Yes, this is time consuming and a bit of a pain. So is a bad hire you have to replace in a few months, and it’s a lot more expensive.

About the Author

+Brent Morrison is managing principal at Morrison, providing business valuations, business planning (including budgeting, cash flow forecasting, strategic planning), feasibility studies, interim executive CFO services, competitive grant writing,r ecruitment, and special projects that don't fit into any conventional category. You can contact Brent directly at bmorrison@morrisonco.net or via telephone at 530-893-4764 ext. 202.

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