Being a Good Judge of People Isn’t Always Enough

Posted on June 19, 2013.

I had to smile when I read the recent article in Harvard Business Review by Anthony Tjan, CEO of venture firm, Cue Ball. It totally validated what I’ve been saying for years. You can use all the testing and behavior based interviews you want, but being a good judge of people goes a long way to making the right hiring decisions. 

I really liked Mr. Tjan’s list, except for  # 5 and #8, which I’m not totally sold on. Not sure your spouse would make or break you, and working parents don’t always have the time to be voracious readers. But be that as it may, I think he really does a good job of articulating what many of us would call “gut feeling”.  Before I made a hiring decision, I used the “watch test”. If I’m looking at my watch within minutes of meeting someone, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to spend 8-10 hours a day working with them. Whenever I failed to honor the watch, I regretted my decision.

The thing is, being a good judge of people is a great tool for business deals and friendships. But when it comes to hiring, it really does need to be one of several tools you use.  Otherwise, you may fall victim to the halo effect, where you like people because they’re like you or maybe more attractive and you ignore important criteria like intelligence and experience.  Plus you may end up with a lack of diversity.  So in addition to the great suggestions, Mr. Tjan makes, if you’re going to hire someone, you might want to include the following:

·      Reference checks.  This is not a nice to have, this step is a must have. No matter how much you like the person, check their references. References are critical for both internal and external hires. If they’re internal, try to speak with some of their peers, not just their former boss. 

·      Validate their experience.  If your potential hire is a recent college graduate, then make sure you get their transcripts, and if possible, speak with one of their professors.  If they’re experience, give them a problem or situation to solve.  Need a software developer? Ask them to create code for a small project.  Hiring a salesperson?  Create a real life client problem and ask them to go through the steps they would take to solve it. 

·      Have potential peers meet with the candidate.  Believe it or not, even the most discerning of bosses can be snowed. Haven’t we all? That’s why I would have someone on my team take the candidate to lunch or coffee. Your candidate get s a “real world” sense of the job and you can find out what they’re like when their guard is down.

Incorporating all these tools together should help you make a solid hiring decision.  Relying on any one of them too much may end in disaster.