In Search of Hiring Excellence: Choosing the Best from the Best

Building a successful team is one of the most important things you do as a manager, but it is also one of the most challenging. People are hard – and interviews aren’t always the best ways to get a real sense of the person – but in many cases that is what we have on which to base our decisions.

At the beginning of this year we set out to fill a senior role on our Digital team. Every role is important to an organization but as the National Practice Lead for Digital this one especially was important to me – as part of the leadership group on my team this role would help set the direction for the ongoing evolution of our digital practice and would be an important partner for me in the years ahead.

As we interviewed people for the role, a surprising challenge arose. Often hiring managers wrestle with finding people we think will be able to succeed in a role, but this time we were inundated with qualified applicants. And not just based on experience – many of them had unique qualities or aspects of their portfolio which would have made for exceptional team members. With our list down to 10, we knew it was going to be a challenge to whittle it down to a final shortlist, and eventually to just one.

So, when you have the best of the best, how do you choose “the one”?

Satisfying the business need

First things first, we always must solve for what the business needs from a skill and capacity perspective – and that’s the info that most often goes into the job posting. It’s the appropriate level of experience, the knowledge and expertise – all the skills to get the day-to-day job done. For example, in the case of this role, we looked for strong digital-first client counselors, people who had exceptional backgrounds in digital strategy, and who were also new-business hungry, with the right mix of sector experience for the market in which they were hired.

Key to this – but also, frankly, throughout the whole process – is building a strong partnership with HR. I make it a priority to brief our recruitment team in detail, and provide similarly detailed feedback on candidates so we end up in lock-step on what we need for the role. If you put in the effort to establish that alignment up-front, they can become an invaluable partner and sounding board for the remainder of the process (shout out to Sylvia and Daniel!).

Fulfilling the human need

Behind every job posting, there is an untold human story that needs to be addressed too. There are team members that will rely on this person to have the right mix of interpersonal skills to meet their needs. Culture fit is a huge deal for us, so this has a lot of weighting in our consideration when we hire. As our HR lead put it to me today, “A job is a job and skills are skills but if the fit to the company’s values aren’t there, they won’t last six months.”

This goes beyond just fitting in with the corporate culture, though. It’s about finding someone who will show up in the right way each day for the people they work with – yourself included – and it means something different to everyone. In this case, for me, I knew I wanted to be able to trust a person to get the job done to an exceptional level with a good level of independence, who could make me uncomfortable by challenging me, and be a true partner – even when it isn’t easy to be one.

The clichéd X-Factor

This one is tough to explain because it’s different all the time. There have been times that I’ve been sure that the person would not only be a fit but be a star in their role after just five minutes of the interview. At times, it’s a unique approach the person has taken in their career and their self-awareness of how it would apply to the role. Other times, it is the inquisitive nature of the candidate and how they just seem to know the right probing questions to ask. Sometimes it’s as simple as a feeling; a gut reaction.

Perhaps it’s a biproduct of knowing this person can fulfil both the professional and personal aspects of the role I mentioned above – but whatever it is, it can make all the difference.

Striving for the vision

Filling a role because there is the capacity or need to do so is just the beginning. Importantly, we need to ensure that new hires will not only help us achieve our vision of who we want to be now, but also who we want to be in the future.

This part – aligning to a vision – can be the hardest aspect to find in a person. Before we even go in to the interview process, we need to think carefully about the person we need to set ourselves on the right path and how that person is going to help us get to our destination.

In the case of our most recent senior hire, this piece was what helped us narrow down to our shortlist. All of our long-list candidates met our business and human needs, and many had that “X-Factor.” As I worked through the list of candidates, it came down to a combination of that and how we could see each person contributing differently to our vision.

Ultimately, while these decisions are rarely easy, the combination of these four areas made a very difficult decision much easier to make.

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