How to Hire the Right People for the Job

A few weeks back I caught a few minutes of The Today Show and noticed a short segment about a hiring day at the Intrepid in Manhattan, specifically for veterans returning to the civilian work force. It got me thinking about a column I wrote for The Wall Street Journal earlier this year about focusing on the type of person you need to fill a position, rather than just their qualifications and experience.

If you don’t have time to read the column, just know that I’m a big believer in hiring the right “type” of person for a job, and then training that person to do the work following my systems. It’s worked well for me in all of my businesses because I create systems that almost any person could follow and get the job done according to my standards.

Ultimately, we need the right type of people in a job more than we need the right qualifications – brain surgeons notwithstanding. We need the kind of person who will not only fit well on our team, but who will also connect with our customer or client base if required. What good is a super-qualified person who can’t fit into your company culture? You might need someone outgoing, or anal-retentive, or just plain silly. You might need a cheerleader, a peacemaker, or a rock star.

You might need a hero.


What Type of Person Do You Need?

What do we know about heroes? We know they will lay down their lives for our country. We know they can follow orders without complaint, work hard for long hours and under extreme conditions. We know they’re tough. We know they will work well in a team environment. We know they have conviction, and will stand up for their beliefs.

Could you use someone like that in your business? I’m guessing, yes. Would you be willing to train a hero to do the work your open position requires? I certainly hope so.

My friend and business partner Paul Scheiter of Hedgehog Leatherworks tried out my hiring-by-type strategy to great success. Paul was looking for a new craftsperson to help out in his workshop. During the interview process he discovered that out of all of the applicants, those who were on time and prepared for their interviews were all former Boy Scouts. (When Paul told me that Jake, one of the young men who applied, actually showed up in a suit, I cried real tears.)

He thought about it and realized Boy Scouts were a perfect fit for his company. Paul makes leather sheaths for knives for outdoor and survival enthusiasts. Boy Scouts are into the outdoors, have some experience with handcrafting (got to get those badges!), know all about camping, and have strong values and discipline. Now, whenever Paul is looking for a new employee, he posts an ad: “Former Boy Scouts Wanted.” He always ends up with dedicated employees who “get it,” people who are genuinely interested in the work they do and who share values with Paul and his loyal customer base.

Where to Find the Right People for the Job

Some people need heroes, or Boy Scouts; some people need a different type of person entirely. For example, if you had a building security company and needed to test your systems, you might go looking for groupies and superfans, those people who always seem to get past security to find their favorite movie star, and train those groupies to test the security you’ve established for your clients.

Or, perhaps you need people who are compassionate and selfless in providing care and comfort for your hospice care business. Why not hire nuns, or former nuns? Or, if your customers are coming to your retreat to chill out and detach from the world, why not hire surfers to help with customer service?


When This Strategy Backfires

Years ago I wanted to hire really aggressive salespeople, and I had this idea about how to weed out the non-aggressive people. I asked everyone to interview at 3:00 a.m., thinking the most dedicated applicants would show up, and anyone who didn’t show up just didn’t want the job badly enough.

I ended up with one guy who showed up drunk off his ass (no, it wasn’t me), and a UPS guy who was just getting off work and thought he’d check it out. Turns out, my method had inspired only the most desperate people to show up. The aggressive, dedicated salespeople probably thought I was out of my mind, and so wisely stayed away from a witching-hour interview.

Lesson learned: When hiring by type, don’t play tricks. Just narrow down the attributes you are looking for, and then figure out what sort of group that person might belong to – heroes returning from active duty, former Boy Scouts, groupies, nuns, surfers, or whichever group makes the most sense for your business.

What Type of People Does Your Business Need?

What type of people would you love to hire for your business? What type of people would your customers or clients call heroes?


13 thoughts on “How to Hire the Right People for the Job”

  1. Which is bigger, 9/16 or 1/2? WHO CARES??? Unfortunately this is a common type of question those involved in the hiring process typically turn to as I have witnessed time and time again in the HR profession. The better thought to pose is, “tell me about a time you needed a wrench, didn’t have one, couldn’t get one and solved the problem anyway”. THOSE are the people I want working for me.

    I can teach someone about wrench size scales in a relatively low amount of time, furthermore if it doesn’t fit – just get a different one. However you can’t teach ingenuity and determination and when there is limited time to delve into a persons gumption, why waste time asking which wrench is bigger? To tell you the truth, I have to think about it myself….but I can get results – wrench or no wrench!

    1. Hey Lindsay – I love how you put that. The 9/16 question is simply someones ability (or lack thereof) to do math.  The wrench question has no right or wrong, it demonstrates how a person thinks.

      My question back to you is this. What if the person can’t think of an example?  What if they say… I never experienced that situation.  Obviously that doesn’t mean they are not qualified, but it does mean that the interviewer wont get the insight she needs. How does one respond, or pose a new question in that circumstance?

      One final thought, I want to reiterate your quote… “You can’t teach ingenuity.” Perfect!

      1. Thanks for the comment Mike and for the “what if” you posed.

        Ideally, in the situation that the interviewee does not have a specific example, I’m looking for that candidate that can reflect on the intent of the question and offer their own alternative. For example; “I don’t have experience with that particular situation, however what I’m hearing is that you would like to know of a time I overcame a challenge.” As an HR professional and soon to be full time small business owner, I would probably need to stop myself from hiring this person before they shared what the challenge was!

        Of course, this is an ideal rather than a typical response, so when I get the typical response of ” I don’t have an example” and the awkward silence sets in I will rephrase to broader terms. In some cases, even with broadening the question or example to basic human behavior terms, the candidate may still be stuck, in which case my response is simply, “I can sense you’re having difficulty with this question, let’s move on”. The last thing we want to do is coach the candidate into the response we are looking for. They either have it or they don’t.

        1. Thanks so much for the feedback Lindsay. That “awkward silence” is what I fear would throw me off track.  One final question… how do you limit your bias when doing interviews.  I mean, we all have a bias (of course we deny it), but I find that sometimes the best person is the person least like me and I connect with least.  Is there a way for the interviewee to keep bias under control?

          Thanks again for this wonderful feedback.

          1. Limiting my own bias: easy – lived and learned! It didn’t take me long to learn the competitive edge a team and a company can gain when there is diversity of backgrounds, thoughts, training and perspectives. When conducting an interview, to keep my own bias in check, I simply stick to the job description, position needs and the interviewees abilities. I’ve worked with and hired lots of people I wouldn’t necessarily invite to the backyard BBQ, but wouldn’t take a million dollars for them on a trade.

            The interviewee limiting bias: Know the position description and needs, know the company your interviewing with and for heavens sake – KNOW YOURSELF! For the interviewee, this is the time to toot your own horn! Please be prepared with your accomplishments and the results you’ve achieved that relate to the position! Overall, stick to the facts and how you will succeed in the available position, you don’t and shouldn’t have to make BFF status during an interview and if you feel like you have to, you probably don’t want to work their anyway – just keep looking.

          2. Thanks so much for this feedback.  I like the fact that you point out “stick to the facts”  I think interviewees and interviewers that stick to the facts may find quickly that people who don’t seem like a “personal fit” are a fit and people who feel like the perfect “personal fit” are not right for the company.

            I think we put too much pressure on just getting the job, instead of getting the RIGHT job!

            Thanks for this great experience and advice sharing, Lindsay.

  2. Mike… what if you need a specific skill AND a type. How do you go about finding people with the right combination of skill and personality/attitude?

    1. Great question Flint.  From my experience “type” wins every time.  In fact “type,” which to me means cultural fit, attitude, energy, etc. speaks to the intangibles and is the stuff we can’t train people on. We can’t train intelligence. You can’t give people their energy. This is stuff they have or don’t.

      On the other hand, skill, is the one thing we can give them.  If you have someone with the right attitude, get it done energy, super intelligent, and the same values of the company, they will pick up the skills instantly.  In fact if they don’t have the skills (aka prior experience), all the better, since you won’t need to untrain bad habits.

      The lesson here… hire on “type” (the intangibles) and give them the skills.

  3. I just happens that I am working at a friends office today (I was in downtown NYC and needed some desk space… and he not only gave it to me, he bought my breakfast AND lunch… incredible. He is awesome!) Any who, he has the right people. I sat in the call center, and this guy was great on the phone and helped customer after customer.  Nicely done. Excellent hire!

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