If you’ve ever had to hire people, you know what a tough job that is. You know that you are making a decision that will have a profound impact on a number of people—not only on yourself and whoever you choose, but also on everyone in your company or organization that will have to collaborate with that individual. It can be a daunting experience. And while it’s a great feeling when you find someone who turns out to be a good fit and a real asset to your organization, it feels just awful to realize that you’ve hired someone who is a big disappointment. And a bad fit can be bad for business, because someone who doesn’t mesh with your corporate culture can keep your company from moving forward.
Experienced entrepreneurs know this. Business people who’ve been around the block a couple of times know that success is contingent not only on a steady flow of capital or high profits, but also on the people they have working at their side. The New York Times recently chronicled entrepreneurs who are lured back to buying their old companies. Most decided to dive back into familiar waters out of boredom, or because they wanted to get back in the game and they thought the reacquisition of their old firm made good business sense.
But whatever their motivation, all of the executives chronicled pointed out the same thing: in large part they were able to successfully re-launch their old companies because they were able to reassemble the same management team they’d had before. As one business analyst explained, next to having enough financing for their new/old ventures, keeping the experienced management team in place increased the odds that the buyback would thrive. Hiring matters. An idea and money will only take you so far without the right people to transform the illusion into a reality. Knowing that a team works well together and has done so successfully in the past is, as they say, priceless.
Hiring well is as much of an art as it is a science. It requires due diligence that isn’t afraid to ask tough questions or uncover information that might be uncomfortable to discuss. And this means probing deeper than whether or not someone has lied on their resume.
It also means calling up ex-coworkers or former bosses and finding out just what someone is like to work with. This is more than just the proverbial, Do they play well with others? As experienced entrepreneurs know, a co-worker with an attitude problem can be a drain on a firm, and can keep a team from making strides together. So you have to ask if your potential hire is a good collaborator. How do they handle adversity—is their instinct to overcome challenges or to buckle under them? Are they optimists or pessimists? Are they whiners? Are they part of the problem or part of the solution?
Sure, you may get glimpses of this attitude check from an interview, or from a good letter of reference. But the real nitty gritty information, what will make a difference at a company day-in day-out, is the sort of information that only an experienced interviewer can acquire from the people who know best.