Hiring a portfolio of skills, experience, and motivation

Job Seeker

Despite having nearly 10 million people out of work, the US somehow also has several million jobs that go unfilled every year.  You might think that some of those unemployed people could fill the open positions.  Unfortunately, many of those positions will remain unfilled because they need specific skills that the unemployed don’t have, are located in unattractive cities, or because employers are paying too little.

Reflecting on my experience as an employer, I also believe that when you hire someone, you are getting a portfolio of skills, temperament, and background.  You may put out a posting for the perfect candidate that has A through M qualities and experiences.  Good luck finding the right person.

For instance, I started with two good salespeople: Adwoa and Abena (Monday and Tuesday, respectively).  I hired Adowa because she went to a good school, she took the interview seriously and did well, and she seemed friendly; Abena, on the other hand, won me over because she was disarmingly friendly and good at building a connection with people quickly.  She also knew how to talk and treated the interview seriously.  Abena didn’t go to as good of a school as Adwoa but I believe for sales where you went to school is not that important.

In the first month, they both did very well.  Both were hard working and were appealing to the customer in their own ways.  Adwoa was pretty so she got several male customers who also pined for her affections.  Abena behaved more like your “mate” and tried to encourage you to sign up by being your friend.

After a month, Adwoa told me she had to take care of her father so she had to quit.  Stunned, I worried about how to replace her.  Fortunately, she had recommended her cousin, Kweku, who turned out to be very hard-working.

Over time, I learned that though Abena may be outwardly friendly to our customers, she did not play well with others in the company.  I had to mediate arguments that erupted between her and three different staff members.  Do you keep the difficult but productive employee?

Beyond Adwoa and Abena, I also managed several other people.  I found interviewing to be helpful but Ghana’s 3-month probation period to be a better way of weeding out the under-performers.  Many people are energetic during the interview but that enthusiasm doesn’t translate into high performance day in and day out.  Some people went to good schools but I’ve since learned that Ghana’s universities seem more perfunctory than practical.  You really need to structure the interview(s) to elicit the candidate’s experience, gauge their initiative, and understand whether they have logical and critical thinking.

I’m probably guilty of lowering the bar because I wanted to hire several people quickly.  I’ve since learned that it’s better to find someone who has the motivation and intellect but you may need to mold than to hire someone who appears to have the experience and/or schooling but doesn’t have the motivation.  You can’t teach motivation.

Towards the end, I realized that many of my employees were trying to game me rather than working hard.  In other words, they would tell me stories for why they couldn’t perform so they would lower my expectations.  For some, I just sacked them; for others, I recognized that the economy was becoming more unfavorable so I gave some of them more time.

In conclusion, hiring is difficult because you are bringing a person — not a piece of equipment — into your organization.  With a computer, you can shop for the one with the necessary memory, processor speed, monitor size, and sound card with a clear idea of the price.  Many models have reviews from experts and users.  On the other hand, a person has a natural tendency to hide their deficiencies and illuminate their strengths.  Each person is unique; each person brings with them a portfolio of skills, experiences, background, and motivation that are not easy to measure.

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