We’ve had allot of recruitment activity in our portfolio recently and it’s made me really think about what’s important when hiring people. There are just so many variables – and I don’t just mean whether they have the skills and experience to do the job but also the less obvious things. Is there a good cultural fit? Do they have a settled home life? Are they still hungry and motivated? Can we offer what it will take to keep them motivated? Will the new role have a negative impact on other people in the company?

Putting the right people in the right places is perhaps the most important thing that you can do as a manager. But no matter how hard you try, hiring people is a high-risk activity. All you can try to do is reduce that risk but it will always be there.

I think there is a fairly standard process that most of us follow so I’m not going to spend time on that. What is more interesting to think about is how you can go beyond the standard process to give yourself an edge and increase the probability of finding the right person. Over the years of hiring and making my fair share of mistakes, there are three things that I’ve come to rely on as follows.

1.Always be recruiting

Never mind ‘always be closing’ – it’s just as important to always be recruiting! All too often a manager turns their attention to recruiting only when there is a position to fill whereas it needs to be an on-going priority. What I mean by this is to invest the time to develop your network of exceptional people by ‘selling’ your business at every opportunity as a great place to work. You never know when you might have a need for this person in the future and, even if you don’t, good people generally stick together and you are developing your network with every conversation you have.

2.The inside view

A candidate will always give you a number of references. My view is that these are pretty much useless. All the references will be handpicked and prepped to say the right things. In many cases they are simply friends of the person! I think you need to find people that you know and trust, or who are at the very least independent, that have direct experience of working with the candidate. You might think that this is not possible in every situation but you’ll be surprised, especially with the social network tools available today, what a little investigation work can produce. At the very least you can find ‘someone who knows someone’ with that direct experience– this is not as good but still really valuable to do. I believe it’s worth investing the time to do this and, the more ‘inside views’ you can gather from people you know, the more developed the picture will be against which you need to make your all important decision. I know the temptation is to think you’re just too busy for this, or you’re never going to find the right person to give you this view, but remember it’s ultimately much more time-consuming to make the wrong decision.


Having candidates do some kind of assignment can an invaluable part of the process. Think about a project, challenge or opportunity you’re facing in the business that is relevant to the role and ask the person to come in and talk about how they would go about managing it. I would describe the assignment (eg our brand awareness is much greater in Europe than the US and we need to close the gap), provide a timeframe for the presentation and then leave it fairly open in terms of how they approach it. I always find it’s more interesting to leave it up to the person whether they do much preparation or use any props. I also think it works well to invite some other people from the business into the meeting – this gives you different perspectives and also builds buy-in assuming the person gets the job. This exercise gives you a great insight into how the candidate would go about approaching a project or solving a problem and also how they communicate in a fairly pressurized situation. I don’t think you can expect them to come up with all the right answers (although they might and you get some free consulting!) but it’s more about how their mind works and performs under pressure.