Hire fast or hire better? An HR expert sounds off.

If you’re like me, you have no tolerance for an employee who doesn’t live up to their own promises.

And a resume or interview is just that — a promise.

But let’s be kind to ourselves as hiring managers. Open roles create anxiety. Wanting to remove that anxiety is not an HR sin. The problem is that all too often, we let ourselves be seduced by a job applicant’s attractive song and dance. They look great on paper, and their interview has us falling in love.

But then — watch out. As soon as the ink is dry on their letter of acceptance, the cracks begin to show.

The solution may be to pump the brakes, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

We spoke with James Ellis, founder of Employer Brand Labs about the siren song of hiring too fast. What he says may change your approach to hiring — and your company’s level of success.

Q: What’s the biggest drawback of hiring too fast?

how to keep from hiring your worst nightmare

A: Did you hire the first contractor you talked to about your kitchen remodel? Of course not. Despite the fact that all kitchen remodel contractors have 90% the same skills (understanding plumbing, electrical, construction, finish carpentry, project management, budgeting), you're not really hiring for skills, are you? Despite the HR world trying to tell us that skills can be categorized and cataloged, tested and verified, skills don't create the whole value.

Hiring is no different. Yes, the person in front of you may have adequate skills to get the job done, but will they still be at all useful when things evolve and different skills are needed? Will they just do the job as written, or will they add value beyond those tasks? Will they energize your team or drain it? Can you trust them to do the right thing when you aren't standing over their shoulder? These traits and attributes aren't easy to judge or evaluate in a 30-minute conversation.

But the same is true from their side. Do you really want to hire someone who’ll take a job without getting a chance to ask questions? Do you want to give access to your company to the first person who just says, "Yes?” Quality talent isn't sitting on some shelf waiting for you to pick them up. They know their value, and they want to know that you know it, too.

Q: What’s the cost of leaving a role unfilled?

A: This is far more quantifiable. With no one in the seat, jobs aren't being done. Sure, the rest of your team can cover a lot of the gaps, but for how long? The real cost of an unfilled seat is the burnout (and likely departures) it creates among normally satisfied — and effective — employees.

Q: What’s the upside of hiring slower and better?

how to keep from hiring your worst nightmare

A: I'm going to reject the premise here. Slower is not the same as better. And better doesn't mean slower. For my money, 80% of the "slowness" in hiring is unnecessary friction between the TA/HR/Legal teams and the Hiring Manager. These teams, despite following the same team structure, are often deeply misaligned on goals and objectives.

HR treats hiring as a legal/process problem instead of a sales/people problem. Hiring managers play games by pitting HR and TA against each other, because few processes are credible. And when they are, they aren't well-communicated or well-taught to the people who need to understand them. If no one's done the research in advance, the proper salary won't be applied and you'll see lots of rejected offers.

Companies that take hiring seriously as a value-add to the company start by defining processes and sticking to them. They spend time training hiring managers and interviewers on those processes. They teach hiring managers that anything more than 3 interviews is a red flag — the company has not defined what mattered most in a new hire and who should be tasked with interviewing for the role. When these things are in place, the process speeds up, not in place of hiring quality, but in support of it.

Q: What can we do to make sure a bad hire doesn’t slip through?

A: Define what you want at the top of the process. Do you want a shark or a sheep? Do you want a rogue or a collaborator? Do you want someone who gets it done by any means necessary or someone who sees being kind as generating more value for the team? Do you want someone who strives for individual goals or someone willing to ignore their own goals in support of the team’s? What's more important, being the absolute best at what they do, or is it enough to be very, very good? What cost are you willing to pay for quality?

Next, define what matters in the job itself. This means rejecting the laundry lists of "nice to have" skills and focusing on what is truly mission critical. When you know you must have three specific skills, you interview for them. When you have ten nice-to-haves, you miss on the important qualities.

And remember, this job will evolve and change. Today, even the line cook at McDonalds is learning to work side-by-side with robots. So what does the future of this job look like? What skills and traits will make your next new hire successful then?

Q: What’s your best technique to assess a candidate during the interview process?

how to keep from hiring your worst nightmare

A: Know what matters in your next hire. In many roles I've hired for in the past, I knew that aside from being able to write tightly and clearly, everything else in the job would have to be learned. So — my job was to assess flexibility and desire to learn. To do that, I broke the interview protocol. If I knew they could write, I would invite them to meet me at a coffee shop to chat. I told them it wasn't a formal interview, so they shouldn't dress up, but I wanted them to meet me and to see a little more of who they really were. (Standard interviews are like kabuki theater with both sides posturing in ritualized ways). I knew what I was looking for and built a process to suit that, rejecting the "standard" way of recruiting. In this interview when describing the job, I very specifically talked about what parts of the job were hard or unpleasant. I needed them to start day one with eyes wide open, which meant removing the sales hat or the rose-colored glasses. The more they saw the job clearly, the better they could make an informed choice about the role, leading to better hires.

The lesson here is to stop asking developers to do whiteboard coding projects (unless you need coders to whiteboard their code first, for some weird reason). Just because that's the way "everyone else" does it, doesn't mean it will serve you. When you know what you want, when you create clarity, the right people show up.