Stacking the Deck In Your Hiring Favor

Stacking the Deck In Your Hiring Favor
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30% of the employee’s annual salary.


Do you have that money lying around?

I didn't think so.


I’ve hired enough people in my life that I have my share of bad hires.  And I can tell you, the cost of a bad hire goes way beyond the financial.  Lost time, lost “chips,” lost ground.  And often, lost people who either were put off by the hire, or but off by the firing.


Reality Check:  Hiring is a gamble.  No approach is foolproof.  But what we can do is try to increase the odds,  Here are 7 ways to stack the deck in your hiring favor.


1.  Get all your cards on the table early.  

Everyone on a first date puts their best foot forward.  But trust is broken when you get down the road to find out they were not who they said they were.  Get clear, early. In my first full time job, I worked at a church who told me in the hiring process that the only expectation was that I “be faithful and have a healthy ministry.” 

Months after hiring I discovered that “healthy ministry” meant having a 10% numerical growth in my area, among other things.  If only they had told me that up front, we could have had a better fit, or cut ties before I was hired. 

Lack of clarity in the interview process is a killer.  Cut through to clarity.  


Pro Tip:  Take time before you think about hiring to ask, “What are we REALLY needing from this person?  What would the “A” look like for them in their first year here?


2. Get better at interviewing.   

Sometimes we are too easy in interviews, accepting the first answer at face value.  Either we are desperate to hire, so we look for the answers that confirm what we are looking for, or we are too timid to be blunt on the “first date.”  But almost anyone can string together a pretty good 30 minute interview. The key is to dig deeper.  Push past the first response.  Ask for specific examples. 

Since Teachability is the #1 thing I look for, I center questions around times they failed, decisions they blew, changes they’ve made in their leadership.  Patrick Lencioni says that sometimes they would plan an interview for lunch, and then tell the waitperson to intentionally get the candidate’s order wrong, just to see how they react.  Might be a little extreme, but it gets at the heart of getting them off their normal interview game.

Pro Tip:  We all have blind spots.  It helps to have others in the car with you during the interview to catch what you do not see.


3. References are for real.  

I have been shocked at the number of times I’ve talked to people whose employers never checked their references.  Maybe they saw the name/company and felt that was impressive enough.  Again, you have to dig deeper.  I know we live in a litigious world where people are afraid to be honest in reference calls, but we have to push through.    

Pro Tip:  Get to the references that DIDN’T make the resume.  Pay attention to who was left off.  For example, if they worked the last 4 years at a position but did not include anyone from that organization, that would be my first call.


4. Use Your Tools and Assessments.  

Why rely on our gut?  I want every advantage I can get, and there are a wealth of assessment tools out there to help you get a better picture of the candidate.   For example, I use the Birkman Assessment, an industry leader in assessing work competencies and fit, when I do “Pre-Hire Assessments” for organizations.   Assessments will not tell you if you should or should not hire this person, but they will help you see where this person will fit, thrive, or struggle on the team.

Pro Tip:  Pick an assessment tool that you currently use with your team so you have a context to see how they fit, using concepts and language you already are familiar with.


5. Visit high level hires in person   

This is not always appropriate, and not always possible.  But when you are making a major hire, you want to get on their turf.  See where they live, how they live.  Ask them to book lunch at their favorite spot.  You get a sense of someone when you see them outside your world, and in theirs. 

Years ago, we had a hire that was down to two candidates.  Our top candidate lived out of state, but had aced the references and interviews.  As a final step before bringing them out to us, we went to them–booked a flight for 4 key staff to fly out and back in one day, and spend lunch and the afternoon with the candidate.  That visit paid off–we realized this would not be a culture fit for us.  Instead the cost being 30% of their salary, we were only out airline tickets and a lunch.  

Pro Tip:  If at all possible, try to visit them at their home.   


6. ABR.  Always Be Recruiting.

The old axiom holds true: “If you want change, hire from without; if you want to keep going, hire from within.”  If you like the direction you are going in, hiring from within makes sense.  The power of this hire is you are getting someone that has a much higher chance of being a culture fit.  You’ve seen them.  They’ve seen you.  You know each other.  

Pro Tip:  Start a “dream team” list of people around your organization.  Congregants, clients, customers, contributors.  If you had an opening today, who on that list would be your first call?

(Best hire from within is that you know you are getting someone who gets the culture.  


7. Get Help.  

The bottom line is:  You are an expert in your leadership, but you may not be an expert in hiring people.  Good news:  There ARE experts out there.  Search Firms cannot guarantee a great hire, but they almost always eliminate poor ones.  Recently, a church Elder shared with me, “I wish I had been able to convince the Board to go with a search firm sooner.”  I’ve heard that so many times from so many churches who think they are saving a few dollars by doing it themselves.  But when you add in the hours you and your staff devote to a search, the mistakes made from learning as you go, and the cost of a bad hire, you see the math doesn't add up.  A search firm saves you time, money, and heartache.

Pro Tip:  Do the math on the real cost of using a search firm vs. handling it in-house.  Use this comparison to bolster your argument with your team.


Hiring is a gamble.  Make it easier for yourself by getting every advantage you can. 

Which one of these tips have tripped you up in the past?  How can you use them to make better hires next time?

I'd love to talk with you more about this. Shoot me an email and let's start stacking the deck in your hiring favor today.


Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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