Any VP of marketing knows you can't advance in your career with lackluster employees backing you -- yet we've all experienced the disappointment of bringing on a seemingly top-notch candidate who turns out to be a dud.
Fredrick Marckini, CEO of SEM firm iProspect, had more than his share of this type of frustration.
"We decided we had to make a change in '98, when we hired 10 people and only two of them stuck," he says.
He implemented a new interview process, and now 19 out of 20 new employees stick -- and the ones that leave, Marckini says, are more of the "my-wife-got-a-job-in-California" variety than employees who aren't equal to the work.
While Marckini's plane was stranded on a runway at Logan, we snagged a few minutes with him to ask how he solved the tricky personnel riddle. He revealed 5 key steps to hiring the perfect employee:
-> Step #1. List and prioritize key characteristics
The number one mistake most marketing leaders make when hiring new staff is to hire people just like themselves - with similar personalities and strengths. It feels comfortable.
But, for a successful team, you need complementary skills, not a matched set of clones.
So, before placing an ad, first spec out the type of person you're looking for - from every aspect possible (not just "requires 7-10 years experience in....")
Marckini suggests you review an excellent employee in a job similar to the one you're hiring for. Look at the characteristics that make that person excel. "Some jobs require people who are real problem solvers," he explains. "Others need someone with the ability to handle tedious tasks."
Create an extensive list of characteristics (such as creativity, organization, a focus on results, attention to detail, and integrity) and prioritize them from most important to least important. Then ask others in the organization that have interaction with that role to check out your assumptions.
"If someone isn't detail-oriented and organized, they'll miss deadlines," Marckini says. "You don't want the genius savant who doesn't wear a watch."
And integrity, says Marckini, is a baseline requirement for any position, but especially in marketing. "You're communicating with the public, so if you get someone who's willing to stretch the truth, they're lying about the product."
-> Step #2. When interviewing, ask for examples geared to illustrate those key characteristics
Predictable interview questions guarantee predictable answers. In fact, Marckini says there are no useful interview questions. Instead of asking questions, get examples.
For instance, if you're checking on someone's organizational skills, don't ask, "Are you organized?"
Rather, say, "Tell me about a time you missed a deadline." Ask for specifics: why did you miss it, how did you fix it, what was the outcome?
A good way to find information on someone's attention to detail may be, "Talk about a time when your attention to detail impacted a marketing campaign in a measurable way."
"It always starts with, 'Tell me about a time…' or 'Talk to me about what happened when....'"
-> Step #3. Look only at behavior, not the "sales pitch"
Ignore the platitudes, the self-advertising statements, and listen only to the behavior the candidate describes in response to your questions.
Remember that past behavior equals future behavior, Marckini says. He cites his favorite example from a candidate at a real-life interview:
A prospective employee described a project he was working on at a previous job. The project was very important to the company, the candidate said, but management killed it.
The candidate revealed that he continued working on the project even after he had been told not to. He further revealed that he lied to management about the fact that he was still working on the project.
Apparently, he then surprised management by presenting the project, and was in turn surprised it wasn't accepted by management. "He was trying to say what a hard worker he was," Marckini explains, "but what he was really saying was that he lied to his boss."
-> Step #4. Have at least three people interview each candidate separately
Different interviewers ask similar questions in different ways; plus candidates will respond differently to each interviewer, giving you a wider variety of answers to evaluate.
Don't limit yourself to bringing in people only from teams that will have direct contact with marketing. "Sometimes you have people in admin who are just really fastidious people," Marckini says. So if you're looking for that trait in a candidate, bring in the admin folks.
Once Marckini has narrowed the field of candidates, he has a cross-functional team of as many as seven employees interview the finalists.
Before the process starts, have a group meeting with team members to explain which traits you're looking for, and to assign each interviewer additional specific questions and drill-down points of their own.
Nothing works worse (and looks lamer to the candidate) than a bunch of people who've obviously not communicated, ask nothing but the same bland questions, and barely skimmed the resume in front of them.
-> Step #5. Compare notes
Get together in a room with the other interviewers to discuss each candidate. Compare answers to every question. "If the story changes from interview to interview you have someone who might have an integrity issue," Marckini says.
"Frankly, it's better to make no hire than a bad hire," he says. "They're very expensive in terms of cash outlay and in terms of culturally damaging the organization."
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