How to Hire Really Good People

Jul 30, 2007

Just about every firm in the A/E/P or environmental business today has identified its number one problem as “not having enough good people.” Solving this ongoing problem takes a lot of hard work and some creativity as well. It also takes a change of attitude in some of the people who do the hiring. Their job is to sell hard— to articulate exactly WHY working for the firm would be a good thing for any smart and motivated person to do. This is contrasted with the idea that those doing the hiring are gatekeepers— charged with keeping out all the bad people. When that’s what you’re thinking, you will treat a job candidate completely differently than you would if your assumption was that he or she needed convincing to join the firm. Here are some more ideas that I have used over the years to hire hundreds (perhaps thousands) of design and environmental professionals: Time is your enemy in the hiring process. I could say this 100 times over and the bottom line is most people doing the hiring in our industry just don’t get it. They let the process drag because they can’t confront those inside the firm who don’t make calls, return e-mails, or do what they are supposed to do. When the process drags, good people pull out. Hire for character and train for skills. That means you may need to be a little less married to specific technical qualifications and more interested in how people communicate, how responsive they are, how well-mannered they are, and so on. These things aren’t always so easily written up in a job description and then verified that the potential employee has them. It takes some qualified subjective evaluation methods to know whether the other non-technical attributes are there. Cast a wide net. Hiring good people takes a lack of prejudice. You can’t disqualify anyone based on race, sex, etc., not just because it’s morally wrong to do so, but because it’s bad business! Your clients most likely have a wide variety of backgrounds. And a diverse group of employees is often more creative. It’s smart to include as many people as you can in the “potential hire” pool. Hire at the entry level and promote from well within your ranks. This is another secret firms in other industries use to hire, build, and retain a talented workforce. Hiring in at entry level is always easier. If you pick the brightest neophytes with the best interpersonal skills and attitudes, you are bound to have some good people there who deserve a shot when it’s time to fill a higher-level job. And remember when looking inside the firm to fill a key job to not just look one level down in rank from the position you want to fill. Go as many levels down as necessary to find the right attitude, work ethic, communication skills, and commitment level that you need to fill your job. Get aggressive! You say you want to hire good people but what are you doing? Are you renting billboards, doing radio advertising, visiting 26 colleges, hiring recruiters on annual retainer, listing every single job opening on the Internet, paying recruitment bonuses, and more? Are you spending time and money training your managers in how to hire, going to career fairs, and paying recruitment bonuses? Is your CEO actively involved in recruiting? Get aggressive and get results! Reduce the number of people involved to hire someone. The more people you have involved, the longer the process will take. That’s a problem if you want good people. They are impatient and may not be totally committed to the idea of a job change. You need to woo them over and fast! Pay more. Stop trying to hold the pay down to the level of the people you already have and aren’t happy with. Spend what it takes to get the best. Use signing bonuses. Pay better salaries. Whenever I see companies with ridiculously high profitability numbers, my first thought is they are probably underpaying their people. And paying higher salaries makes it harder for your competitors to recruit your people away from you. There really isn’t any black magic required to get good people in your firm. You need to learn from others who have solved this problem and stop acting as if there’s nothing you can do. Originally published 7/30/2007

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