Derek Sivers

Hiring Smart - by Pierre Mornell

Hiring Smart - by Pierre Mornell

ISBN: 1580085148
Date read: 2011-08-07
How strongly I recommend it: 3/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Good advice on hiring. No big surprises, but some useful tips.

my notes


Before the initial interview, pick up the phone and call the candidate.

How hard or easy is it to reach the candidate? Does the candidate return your call at the specific times that you suggest?

I review time, place, and dress for the initial interview by phone.

Five to 10 percent of interviewees will screw up this first test.

Regardless of the material already in your file, ask the candidate to send a resume with a one-page cover letter that briefly highlights his or her life and background.

Is the response slow or prompt? How long before the letter and resume arrive by mail or fax? Is the candidate literate or illiterate? Sloppy or neat?

65 percent of executive candidates lie about their academic credentials. Forty-three percent lie about their job responsibilities. Forty-two percent lie about previous compensation.

A resume must always be verified.

It is a red light if a person behaves deceptively on something as basic as a resume.

Ask the candidate to visit one of your stores, plants, campuses, offices, or Web page before the interview. Then ask for the candidate’s observations.

Most candidates wait for the beginning of the “official” interview like a runner waits for the starter’s gun to fire. These few minutes are a terrific opportunity to take a brief stroll about the office and make small talk, while lowering anxieties. “How was your drive? Any trouble finding the office? Would you like some coffee?” Look for curiosity - does the candidate ask questions? What other behavior does the candidate exhibit?

Curiosity is a valuable asset in an employee. It demonstrates a desire to gratify the mind with new discoveries, to learn about novel and extraordinary things.

Read the top candidates’ resumes in teams of three to five people. Watch for one of your team members to emerge, often unpredictably, as your in-house resume expert.

Let a wide range of people know that you’re looking.

What Dave observed at the dinner party and hotel were the potential candidates’ behaviors. Casting the widest net possible, he is always on the lookout for the best candidates available,

Microsoft assumes that the best candidates are not looking for new jobs. In fact, candidates who approach Microsoft are actually less attractive to the company.

Hiring people from big companies to little companies, top-down to bottom-up organizations, or structured to entrepreneurial settings, can be a dangerous route.

Before interviewing new candidates for old jobs, it’s an excellent time to rethink the job itself.

Keep your initial interview short.


Interviews test how well someone interviews.

Trust your gut. Chemistry is usually determined in the first few minutes of an interview.

‘Never do business with anybody you don’t like.’ If you don’t like somebody, there’s a reason. Chances are it’s because you don’t trust them, and you’re probably right.

As the official interview commences, as the starter’s gun cracks and the race begins, ask all your questions at once. That’s right. Put all your initial questions on the table up front. This strategy accomplishes three things. First, in a manner of speaking, you pass the baton. You’ve asked the questions, now the candidate must respond. Performance depends upon the candidate, not selling yourself and the organization. Second, and more importantly, this strategy directly confronts the most common problem in interviewing: not listening, and talking too much.

This technique forces you to listen.

Settle back and watch a candidate’s behavior as well as listen to his or her words.

How do you recognize incompetence? What do you do about it?

How do you recognize excellence? What do you do with it? What about yourself would you like to improve most? What makes you lose your temper? Tell me about the last time it happened.

“Are you lucky?”

Henry Ford’s favorite question, “Are you curious?”

Disingenuous questions.

“I’m just a legal and financial guy who never really understood the HR department. What exactly does a HR director do?” If the candidate could explain the job in detail, clearly and concisely, Larry went on to the next question. Watch out if the candidate spoke in jargon and buzzwords.

“How are you going to lose money for me?”

Three quarters of the way through the interview, give the candidate a task to perform. Not only does this demonstrate the candidate’s behavior - it also breaks the monotony of most interviews.

The interviewer asks the candidate how she would market the new furniture and why.

“We have about five more minutes …” is a useful statement before closure. Pay attention to “By the way …,” “Oh, one more thing …,” and “I almost forgot …,” which mean, “This is the most important thing I’m going to say.”

Our strengths, in the extreme, may predict our weaknesses. Therefore ask candidates about their strengths, and consider what might exist on the other side.

If candidates can go into detail and depth about a subject, they probably have some expertise in that area. If not, the opposite is true. On the other hand, the key is to ask questions in your areas of expertise.

Use a pad with a line drawn down the middle. On one side of the page, make appropriate notes about what the candidate tells you regarding jobs, dates, strengths, weaknesses, etc. On the other side, note what you’re thinking. Nothing is too minor to write down: questions, missing pieces, thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes.

I have all candidates sign a release form, an at-will clause, and an arbitration agreement three times during the hiring process. They sign when they fill out an application, co-sign an employment agreement, and after they read our policy and procedures manual.


Before a candidate leaves my office I make a simple request. “Please call me back on Monday.”

I say, “You’ll probably have a few thoughts on the way home, maybe some questions, so let’s talk for five minutes, even to touch base, if you’re available by phone next week.” Then we settle on a time and day.

Give finalist candidates a current project you’re evaluating and ask for an analysis.

Give finalist candidates a post-interview project that evaluates attention to detail, as well as the ability to analyze problems and suggest solutions.

Meet the candidate’s spouse or significant other.

What worries or anxieties does that person have about the candidate’s possible job?

For the candidate worried about his sick child’s health insurance, or about missing Little League practice with his son, or about his spouse’s isolation, these issues need to be addressed, fully and satisfactorily, in advance of new employment.

Always have a final interview in which you talk about potential problems.

If you’ve not discovered any, you’re missing something in the candidate’s background.

Your goal is to address whatever difficulties might arise.

Give prospective employees a fifteen-minute psychological inventory.

Offer the assurance that there are no right or wrong answers.

I’m not as interested in the MBTI results, which identify a candidate as one of sixteen personality types, as I am in how long it takes to return the inventory, and how the person discusses the results, which we always do by phone or in a follow-up visit.

In our conversation afterward, the candidate has plenty of time to agree or disagree with the test results as it fits her personality. More significantly in terms of my task, does the candidate laugh? Does she elaborate on her independence? Her rigidities? Does she give examples? Do the results open up our discussion? Or does she clam up? Does the candidate think she can make an end run by saying, in all seriousness, as many candidates do, “Oh, I used to be like that, but I’ve really changed over the years.”


Digging deeper - asking the candidate’s references for other references,

Call references at what you assume will be their lunchtime - you want to reach an assistant or voice mail.

Jones is a candidate for (the position) in our company. Your name has been given as a reference. Please call me back if the candidate was outstanding.”

If the candidate is outstanding or excellent, I guarantee that eight out of ten people will respond quickly and want to help. Take such a response as a green light.

If only two or three of the ten references selected by the candidate return your call, this message is also loud and clear. And yet: No derogatory information has been shared. No libelous statements have been made. No confidences or laws have been broken.

For all references, the higher you go up an organization, the more likely you are to get helpful information.

Tap the enormous wealth of publicly available data banks that may contain information on a candidate’s driving and financial records, real estate dealings, court appearances, and litigation history. Perfectly legal, this is all public information and is readily available.

Always ask the candidate, “What am I likely to hear - positive and negative - when I call your references?”

Candidates always deserve the courtesy of explaining the peaks and valleys of their work history.

Call and ask about:
1. Technical Competence Can the candidate perform the required tasks? Can the university president raise money? Can the secretary spell? Can the receptionist handle phones? These are easy pitches, and references should be able to hit the ball out of the park.
2. Intelligence This topic can take a few seconds to consider. “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the candidate’s intelligence?” Most references respond well to a ten-point scale for rating people.
3. People Skills Ask about the candidate’s interpersonal skills. How does she get along with bosses? What about subordinates and peers? You’ll usually get a ringing endorsement, but listen for silences, gaps, and omissions in this part of the conversation.
4. Motivation What motivates the candidate? Financial rewards? Meaningful assignments? A job well done? Pats on the back? Independence? All of the above? I have seen candidates decline offers because of relationships (“My fiance just accepted an offer in Salt Lake”), money (“My company just beat your offer”), and educational concerns (“My daughter’s special school needs aren’t available in your city”). How you structure your offer depends upon a person’s motivations and your understanding of these motivations.
5. Everything Else Finally you should say, “Is there anything that I haven’t asked?” Then listen carefully.

Here’s a second format for phone references:
•  Did you like the person?
•  What did they fail at doing?
•  Reputation in the company?
•  How did they communicate?
•  Reputation in the industry?
•  How did they react to authority?
•  Reason for leaving?
•  Level of energy, drive?
•  What did they accomplish?
•  What would you change about the person if you could?

### FINAL:

It helps enormously to have a colleague you can trust - or entrust - to tell you when you’re making a mistake.

Do people like working for your candidate? Contact the people who currently work for him - secretaries and administrative assistants, direct reports and coworkers. Do they revere the candidate? Or do they fear or resent him? All employees, past and present, can help predict future behavior.

Give the candidate a longer assignment or hire a candidate on a temporary basis

Ask three questions at once. See if the candidate remembers the questions without reminders.

Give conflicting opinions early in the interview. Then see if the candidate agrees with both opinions throughout the interview.