Your First Hire as a Manager

Saying these two words is almost as much fun as hearing them.

Saying these two words is almost as much fun as hearing them.

You always remember your first hire, especially when ultimately it’s your decision to make, and not one made by a hiring committee. Being promoted into a managerial role is a big step in every career – in addition to more responsibility, the work is usually more interesting and sometimes the pay and benefits are better.

It may happen sooner or later, but eventually you’ll have to hire someone for the team you manage. It will probably be the first time you’ve gone through the process of initially screening resumes – with or without help from your HR department. But before you are able to start getting those resumes you will need to post the opening complete with a job description. Simply posting the job title isn’t enough – even if some companies do it.  

If you are lucky there will be an existing job description which you can update or quickly post, but you might be faced with the blank slate that comes with staffing a new position on your team. In that case you have to figure out what skills and experiences are required for the new hire and your team to be successful and how to translate them into a useful job description. The usual legalese and corporate stuff also has to be included but spending some time to write a good job description will pay dividends because you’ll get candidates that are more closely aligned with what you are looking for.  Instead of saying Windows Network administrator wanted which is fairly generic try saying that what you really want is someone to not only administer your Windows network but also help select and deploy a new ERP system. This will ensure that applicants know the position will require experience with ERP system deployments.  Saving everyone lots of time.

Sometimes those job descriptions are not only laughably optimistic but simply impossible to meet.  Like this one. 

Awesome Startup Software company looking for a superstar programmer with superior customer service skills, good client facing skills, great C-level presentation skills and exemplary management skills. PhD in Computer science preferred or equivalent experience; must have 7 years of experience delivering Ruby on Rails solutions; Must have 5 years of experience using Twitter to drive customer engagement,  Must be dynamic and able to close sales; Must have experience managing international teams; Must have native fluency in English and fluency in at least two additional languages – prefer Latvian and Tagalog. No relocation assistance or visa sponsorship offered.

This person doesn’t exist because Ruby is only 6-years-old and Twitter isn’t even 4-years-old. But a company posting this job description will still get thousands of resumes – some from people who might be a close fit and others from people who don’t meet a single one of the requirements but apply nonetheless. You can’t control who applies for an opening but you can ensure your job descriptions reflect exactly what type of applicant you are looking for.

Right now companies have both the luxury and the burden of  having thousands of applicants for every opening. A luxury because they are seeing tons of great people and a burden because they have to sift through a large pile of chaff to find a few kernels of wheat.  Sometimes HR departments use software to winnow the pile down to a reasonable number,  but sometimes the hiring managers themselves do the lions share of deciding which resumes are worthy of a few minutes with Google and further phone screens before beginning the interview process to determine a candidate’s fit.

Some resumes are so over the top that you want to bring the person in for an interview just to meet them. But luckily no has that kind of time.

Some resumes are so over the top that you just want to meet the person who wrote it, even if you wouldn't hire them.

Fit really matters. No matter how good a candidate’s technical knowledge and past experience is,  if a new hire doesn’t fit into the team’s particular culture as well as the larger company culture no one will be happy – not you as the manager, not the new hire and not your existing team. The wrong hire can play havoc with productivity and team dynamics. Unfortunately I know this from first-hand experience.

This was something I discovered when I made my very first hire. I had spent hours and hours preparing for my first hire as a manager. I carefully put together a job description that was realistic and reflected the actual duties. After it was approved by HR, it was posted on our web site and applications quickly started rolling in. Each day I eagerly looked over the new applicants before selecting the 20 most promising people screening each of them by phone.

Of those 20, I brought in the 10 most promising candidates spending 45 minutes with each person over a few days.  In order to be consistent I put together a list of technical screening questions so that I was sure I treated all candidates equally asking the same set of questions. All of these people had good credentials and technical certifications but when I asked questions that would apply their knowledge I was stunned by few of them could think independently. One of my favorites was to simply ask candidates to explain the differences between RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID5 and RAID10 and when each particular RAID array is most useful or applicable. Almost everyone could answer the RAID configuration questions, but only a few could then apply that knowledge to real world situations.

I eventually narrowed it down to three people  – all of whom were technically sound and also had good people skills in the interview.  These people I brought in for a series of interviews with my boss, my manager peers and the HR department. I then had everyone rank order their preference for the position and ended up divided between two candidates. I broke the tie and chose the candidate who seemed like a better fit with the company culture.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. When this person came on board we were looking for someone who could make immediate contributions,  but we quickly realized I had made a colossal mistake for multiple reasons.  This individual was only able to make it to work about 80% of the time in the first 90 days with the company. Of course there was always a good reason for those absences, but the bigger problem was a highly atrophied work ethic with a total lack of urgency when the individual was at work. No matter how much work there was to do,  this person never seemed to finish any task quickly, if at all. I counseled the individual and we put together a performance plan but that only helped only enough for the person to be adequate. Our company culture was one of support and development so terminations were frowned upon, plus I saw it as a personal challenge to help this person learn how to be a good employee. While this individual did improve with time, the term “good employee” would never apply.

Luckily I had a second opening to fill soon thereafter and my second hire was dynamite, quickly developing a reputation for getting things done and doing it with a smile. Hiring is always a gamble but thinking through each step of the process can influence the odds, in your favor, that you’ve chosen the right candidate and that the candidate has chosen the right company.

Whenever I have to fill openings on my team,  I remember all of my hires and I think about what went right and where I could have done a better job. Whether it’s asking better screening questions, checking references sooner, or even having different managers interview them just to get a fresh opinion – you can always improve your process. Hiring someone is a really important part of being a manager and needs to be treated as such. So what hiring stories do you have – good, not-so-good or otherwise? -t

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