The 3 dilemmas of hiring

September, 2021

Strategy meeting

Fire up your favourite business portal, and you’re likely to come across a handful of headlines shouting IN ALL CAPS about the lack of specialists in one field or another. And if you work in a sector that needs educated and experienced professionals (name one that doesn’t), you know that it’s definitely a sellers’ market. But it still should be navigable for us, seasoned entrepreneurs, right? Not so fast.

I’ve been involved (sometimes too much) in hiring people since I launched my first business in 2008, and I really hoped that, when it came to hiring in 2021, I would have already discovered some secret formula. But the more I think about hiring, the more questions I have. Questions might not even be the right word here, as a question usually has a right answer. These are more dilemmas. Dilemmas, which I imagine are shared by many, even though they’re not discussed openly. So, today, I wanted to use this space to share some of the dilemmas that puzzle me.

Dilemma #1. What flaws do you choose?

As you perfectly know, nobody is perfect, so chasing an employee that has it all might only lead to a longer and even more complicated hiring process. Now, certain qualifications, diplomas and CV entries can prove the candidate’s preparedness for the role, but what should you do beyond the eligibility checklist?

Imagine having two candidates for a job that requires both relevant expertise and client communication. Both candidates are equally qualified for the job, but their characters differ like night and day.

The first candidate, let’s call her Sarah, knows multiple languages, has the work experience you need, and never jumped from one employer to another. Basically, a stable professional with a convincing track record. Her flaw? Shyness and reluctance to take the initiative.

The second candidate, let’s call her Jill, is as experienced as Sarah is, maybe even more. She has no problem talking with clients, comes up with new ideas on the go, and is an absolute go-getter. But already in her first interview, she’s trying to impose her own rules. She’d like to work from home most of the time, among other things, because that’s the new fad. She also never stayed at one job for an extended period of time (even though she crushed it everywhere).

When all else stands equal, you have to know how to pick the flaws you can tolerate, because you can’t expect to change a person’s character. Taking the areas your candidate is weaker in into consideration is especially important if you want to help them grow and stay in the company.

Dilemma #2. Stay hands-on or trust professionals?

Another dilemma many entrepreneurs face is the question of personal involvement. As I’ve said many times before and will keep on repeating, your company’s success depends on the people you hire. They are your most important asset, and everything else (product quality, sales, competitiveness) stems from the individuals you have on your team. But as your business grows, every minute of your day becomes more and more valuable. Is the recruitment and hiring process really the best use of your time?

We’ve all heard stories of Elon Musk personally interviewing people for Tesla’s plant in Berlin. That’s definitely a nice PR move, and I imagine all the candidates get a certain morale boost when they enter the room. But such a practice is, of course, unsustainable, and it’s hard to imagine an extremely busy exec being really heads-on in hiring. Yet, this is definitely the case in smaller enterprises, where CEOs somehow manage to carve out the time for this laborious process.

At the same time, it’s hard to argue against the popularity of recruitment companies and headhunters. After all, they are professionals and understand human psychology much better than your average business owner. But their services are only valuable, at least in my experience, when you have refined your job description to a tee.

If your expectations are less defined, can an HR company find the right fit? Or would you be spending top dollar on a hunt for someone whom you described simply as “a second me”?

Dilemma #3. Is it better to be strict or allow free play?

HR-related dilemmas don’t stop once you sign a contract. After the headcount of any unit, be it a company or a division, goes into double-digits, it’s hard to run checks on everyone every single day. That’s when you devise your rules and policies. Interestingly enough, two completely radical approaches can yield similar results for your bottom line, while creating entirely different company cultures and attracting polar opposites.

I know of two successful companies in the electronics industry that serve as a suitable illustration. In company X, salespeople face all the cliches of sales – long hours, hard-to-reach KPIs, timed breaks. Rumour has it that you have to pay a hefty fine if you’re even a minute late. There is a trade-off, though. The bonuses top salespeople receive are hard-to-beat.

In their rival company Y, the atmosphere is way more laidback. No one is counting anyone’s hours, managers cut their staff more slack, and no one is overworked.

Truth to be told, company X has a larger market share, but this shouldn’t be derived from having cutthroat salespeople. If you disregard other factors, both companies are profitable, and both are growing. You could choose either path and be successful, but the people you’d be hiring would be cut from a different cloth.

No matter what motivation strategy you choose, you have to treat your team highly and let them know they are valued. And you can do that in many different ways. For some the ability to have more freedom will be more valuable than the potential to earn a massive bonus. For others, it’s the other way around.

Some final thoughts

There is one final bit I’d like to share that lies at the heart of growing a team. Bringing new people into the company is like bringing someone into your family. If you don’t learn how to trust others, you will get more tense with every new person. You also have to accept the fact that even the people you thought flawless during the hiring process will make mistakes. Should you blame them for slipping somewhere you’d never err? Should you blame yourself for hiring someone who’s not perfect? Or should you accept human fallibility in yourself and others? I prefer the latter, even if it’s not the easiest thing to do.

The above mentioned lists just some of the dilemmas I face, and I think many of us do as well. And what hiring dilemmas do you come across in your line of work?