Identifying the Right Candidates to Hire

“We look for three things when we hire people. Intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”

– Warren Buffet

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A mis-hire brings your company a poison.

It demoralize other employees, make it hard to focus (because they talk non-critical things all the time), lose customers to competitors, etc.

And more than anything, it wastes tons of everyone’s time.

The time is the most important asset for you (and everyone) since it’s something you can’t buy back. Now you know why you can’t afford even a single mishiring.

Try. Avoid. Mishiring. No matter what. It literally kills your company. A research says 50% of hiring ends up being a mishire but it’s preventable.

The followings are hard lessons earned by many companies. We can learn from them and avoid the same mistakes.

Step 1 Review “Culture Fit”

Why it’s harmful

Many companies think company culture is important and it really is.

However, using “culture fit” as a reason to make a decision on hire/reject would result biased hiring.

Have you used the term “culture fit” for candidate reviews?

Or what about “gut feeling”? (hint: it’s same)

If you often see these terms from candidate reviews, then you should reconsider your hiring process.

Multiple studies have already proved that humans are naturally biased.

And when subjective reasoning comes into a hiring process, that’s an indication that unconscious bias is at play.

What to Avoid

Ask hiring managers and interview panels to offer a more specific reason for rejection (or acceptance.)

You don’t have to directly ask them. Download comments from ATS (Applicant Tracking System) or alike. Then filter by keywords such as “culture fit”, “feel”, or something similar.

They might have a different intention or too busy to fill out feedback concisely.

Get them rewrite the review. (If time allows let them take a biased test. )

Make sure all interviewers assessing a specific aspect of your culture.

For example, if one of your core value is “action-driven”, ask candidates their experiences in driving initiatives in detail, rather than just asking “are you active or passive”?

This way you can capture nuanced opinions in a clearer way.

What to Implement

There are many of articles about this topic, but a well-known on is stories about Zappos.

Many hiring managers “say” and “believe” they make hiring decisions based on culture, but they actually don’t do.

Reading this book when you have a chance. If not, watch this 47sec video.

The former Zappos COO Alfred Lin joined as board of Airbnb few years back — as many you of you know Airbnb is also a company irrationally emphasizing on the importance of culture. The video is pretty long but recommended.

Building your own unique culture takes time. And you need strong belief in it while no one else (or just few) is believing. And it’s even harder to make HR decisions based on it. However, at the end of the day, whenever I see people staying or leaving for a company, the reasons are most likely related to a company culture both directly and indirectly.

Step 2 Review “Integrity”

Get things done (GTD) plays important roles when you actually work together, but at the same time it’s the hardest thing you can tell without actually hiring.

The GTD is not something like shouting out your company’s culture or coming to your office earlier than anyone (it’s important to be punctual though!). It boils down to whether the person can really get things done. I’m deeply inspired by Elad Gil on this topic. Read this blog — it’s worth it.

He pointed out these are signs that candidates are NOT GTD (in his word, Get S**t Done).

  • Lack of urgency. Used to a large company environment where its OK if things take a few weeks longer.
  • Easily distracted. Heavy procrastinator.
  • Lazy / doesn’t work hard. Some very smart people are basically lazy. Don’t tolerate this.
  • Starts but never finishes things.
  • Lack of follow through — makes commitments but does not follow up.
  • Argumentative. Arguing incessantly about how to do something rather then just doing it.
  • Slow. Taking a long time to code (or do) something simple.
  • Perfectionist. Tendency to overdesign something and to spend 4 weeks building the perfect implementation versus 1 week building the thing that “just works” for 95% of the time.

The points above are mainly for startup companies, but in the today’s rapidly changing work environment, I’m sure this applies to almost any company around the world.

Step 3 Review “Intelligence”

You can rephrase the raw intelligence as a candidate’s potential. It’s common for many companies to skim resumes and screen candidates for your job. But don’t fall in this. In stead, focus on hiring someone who can learn very quickly. They will put more stuff on the table. You don’t need to take my words on this, but take the ones of the Facebook CEO.

The thing is, there are many cases that it’s more effective training new hires than relying on their past experiences. This is because (1) experienced people have own styles and that might not fit into your style (2) therefore they have less attitude/motivation to learn and adapt. It becomes tricky when you hire senior position, but that’s probably another topic we should explore in a different post.


Realized we didn’t mention “experience” or “education” here? As mentioned in the Raw Intelligence part, these could obscure your judge and make you biased (“wow she worked for Google! can’t be bad!”) Also these big companies have internal structures, so depends on company size, industry, style, etc. they might not fit into your company. Be careful about experience and education.

NOTE: These 3 elements are not equally important : the culture is the most important, then GTD, and then raw intelligence.

Hiring is more of an art than a science, so feeling is important. But be careful about how candidates fit in your culture, get things done, and learn & grow over time. If you clear all of these, chances are, you will hire great people and your company will end up being successful at whatever you do.

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