Pat Dye, a legendary football coach at Auburn University, picked up the phone and called one of Auburn’s most famous Alumni, Bo Jackson. He wanted Bo to help him with some recruiting out west.
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“What kind of guy are you looking for, coach?” Bo asked
“Well Bo, you know the type of guy who is a good athlete but when you knock him down, he just stays down?” Coach Dye asked
“Yeah, but you don’t want that type of guy do you coach?” Bo replied
“No, Bo we don’t want that type of guy, but you know the player that is a solid athlete and when you knock him down he gets back up but if you knock him down again he stays down?” Coach Dye asked
“Yep” Bo replied. “But you don’t want that type of guy either do you coach?”
“No, but Bo, you know the guy that has heart, maybe not as much talent, but it doesn’t matter how many times he gets knocked down he just keeps getting back up?” Coach Dye explained
“Yeah I know a few players like that coach. That is the type of guy you are looking for right?” Bo asked
“Well” said Coach Dye, “that would be okay, but not really. Bo, I am looking for the guy who is knocking everyone down!”

So what does this story teach us about hiring the right people? It teaches us that no matter how good the manager is- or in this case the coach- he or she will not be successful without hiring the right key players. It also teaches about perspective, if you go into a situation thinking you have all the right answers, you might miss something better, because you are too caught up in your own vision of what your next employee should look like.

We have all heard the clichés; “make sure they have a firm handshake and look you in the eyes.” “Make sure they are dressed professionally and sit up straight in the chair.” “Check references and look for experience.” “Follow your instincts.” All of these are important and play some part in the process, however, the truth of the matter is that we either hire whatever warm body applies because we are desperate to fill a position or just subconsciously hire whomever we had the best “feeling” about after interviewing everyone, which is a mistake because an interview is not much time to get to know anyone. No matter how badly we need to fill our entry level positions it is a mistake to hire someone just because they applied. Don’t fall into this trap, be conscience of it and make sure you take the time to hire the right person, it will pay off in the long run.

The other problem is that many managers, sometimes without knowing it, spend more time talking about themselves than finding out about the person being interviewed. They take the fact that they have a captive audience and run with it. Then when the interview is over they know nothing about the person being interviewed but hire him or her anyway because now they have a “good feeling about that person.” Of course you have a good feeling about that person; he or she just let you talk about yourself for an hour.

I think Ian Levison put it best in his book “A working stiff’s manifesto: A Memoir of thirty jobs I quit, nine that fired me, and three I can’t remember”:

“There is a definite trick to applying for jobs for which you are not qualified. Knowing something is key, even if it is just one little fact you can throw out. You can usually get these facts by listening to boring people. I once spent five hours on a train down to Florida listening to the guy in the seat next to me ramble on about the woes of house painting, and two days later I was painting houses in Miami after wowing the interviewer with a verbatim rendition of the speech I had just heard… Another fact about interviewers is that most interviewers just want to hear themselves talk. In the average job interview I am usually lucky to get a word in edgewise. Interviewers have a captive audience who want something from them so they can babble away uninterrupted about their restaurant, their business, their life, their opinion of the President, or any subject on their mind. Who is going to disagree with them? It is the perfect dictator’s forum. “No sir, I think the President is doing a fine job,” and my application is ripped to shreds the minute I am gone.”

In his book Levison boasts “In the last ten years I have had 42 jobs in six states, I’ve quit thirty of them, been fired from nine, and as for the other three, the line is a little blurry. Sometimes it is hard to tell exactly what happened, you just know it wouldn’t be right for you to show up anymore.” It is a good book and worth reading, he is right about how most interviews take place in America.  

Don’t fall into this trap, go into interviews with an open mind and try to do as little talking as possible, draw the interviewee out and learn as much as you can about them. Quiz yourself when the person leaves, what did you learn about the person? His or her experience? Character? Prepare a list of questions ahead of time, it is okay to go off on tangents but always bring it back to the original list of questions so you have something to compare each applicant too. When you have the field narrowed down bring them in again and have them meet with the group they will be working with on a daily basis. Let them ask the candidate questions and get their feedback after the interview, remember they are the ones that will be working with the new hire on a daily basis.

“Seek first to understand; then to be understood.”
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– Steven Covey