How to Make a Great Hire

Hiring a good executive director is a challenging process. How can you whittle down the dozens of applicants and choose the best person for the job? How do you know that person will be successful?

I recently read Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, which outlines a straightforward process for hiring the best candidate. The book is targeted toward the business world, but the steps are perfect for a board hiring an executive director.

Smart and Street talk about typical hiring, where we make a guess at the type of person we need, do a couple of interview rounds, without much structure, and then make our best choice, based on this limited information. His plan provides structure to the whole process, ensuring a much better hire.

First, take the time to determine the type of person you need for the job. This process will take some time but will result in a much clearer picture of your ideal candidate in the end. Start by creating a mission statement written for the position. What is this person supposed to achieve? Second, list the specific outcomes for this position. This isn’t something vague such as “increase fundraising”, but instead “Double fundraising revenue to $100,000 in 5 years.” Aim for three to five objectives. Finally, list the competencies that the person you hire should have to be able to meet these outcomes. These can be traits such as organizational skills, analytical skills, flexibility, listening skills, and many more. You should also look for competencies that define your organization’s culture, such as open-mindedness, honesty, or great customer service.

The second step in the process is finding great candidates. Yes, sometimes you can find someone by placing an ad, but wouldn’t it be better to have a list of great people in advance of needing them? Smart and Street outline a process to potential hires in advance by asking your peers and organizational staff for recommendations. Sit down with these people and get to know them. Tell them about your organization and ask them for additional referrals. If you do this regularly, you’ll have a potential list of candidates to draw from for future openings.

The third step is to interview the candidates. The book lays out a comprehensive process for keeping the interviews consistent, which makes it easier to compare candidates and gather the needed information. In general, asking people about their past will be the best predictor for future results. This process consists of at least 3 interviews, the first is a phone screening interview to get to know the candidate and their strengths and weaknesses. The second is the Who interview, in which you have them describe each job they have held in detail. People love to talk about themselves and will share significant details as they talk through their employment history chronologically. To help you assess their performance, ask them to compare it to a prior year, their goals, or their peers. The third interview is optional but helpful. Focus on a particular competency you have identified as necessary for the job. Ask them for their biggest accomplishments in that area during their career and their insights into the biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area.

Finally, be sure to conduct reference interviews with multiple people. It doesn’t have to just be those the candidate suggested. You should talk to former bosses as well as subordinates. Ideally, ask the candidate to set up the interview time for you with the reference, as that will make the process go smoother.

Finally, the last step is to sell the job to the candidate. Don’t just offer it and hope. Follow up with them, address their concerns, and find ways you can work together. If they are moving from another city, remember that their family needs to be convinced as well.

This is just a short overview of Who. I recommend you read it for yourself to understand all the nuances of making a great hire. You can find Who at Lincoln City Libraries, or your local library or bookstore. In addition, the authors’ website has templates, examples, and videos that will walk you through the entire process. In this video, learn more about the book and how it came to be.

Please feel free to contact me for help with your next hiring process. An outside perspective can be valuable as you evaluate your options.

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