The Key to Hiring the Right Candidate

Why DNA matters more than a great skill-set

For some time now (in fact, for most of my career) I have felt that the key to good hiring — or a “good hire” — is an individual’s DNA. It’s all about who the people are and their personal attributes, that at the end of the day drives their performance, all else being equal.

In fact, I have learned that the way some folks depart their employment (either “being invited to” or of their own volition) is the true measure of them and their DNA.

Many times, I’ve wondered — even joked about — the possibility of firing everybody, and then hiring back those that leave well. A REALLY true manifestation of DNA is usually manifested in the moment one must depart.

In fact, some folks that I didn’t have any concerns about prior to their departure process, then disappointed me significantly as they left employment or the building. And I had yet others that I was concerned (significantly) about, how they would leave or depart, but who were entirely graceful, efficient, and dare I say, wonderful in their departure — many times causing me to think “maybe we should try to keep (or re-hire) them.

I had a recent experience reaffirming for me, and for us, which I think may be instructive to share.

But first, a couple underlying principles that apply to both the employee and employer, as I have come to understand that appreciating both facets of these unique relationships makes each party better:

1. Loyalty

I have very few memories of my father, as he left home when I was 12. But what I do remember was, one day, me grumbling and mumbling relative to Mr. So-and-So next door who had employed me to do some yard work. I came home after what seemed to be a hard days work (probably only a couple of hours), complaining about the neighbor and how difficult he was to work for, and what he having me do.

My father looked at me across the dinner table and said: “So you’ve quit your job then, have you?” My answer: “Heck no! I’ll go back and do my job next week.” He looked at me and said: “When you take someone’s money, you are loyal to them. If you want to complain or criticize, then resign and stop taking his money.”

A great life lesson! And, don’t get me started some 30 years later in regards to a CFO (whom I had personally hired) who was secretly conspiring behind my back with a potential investor to wrestle the company from me and the other shareholders because he thought he could “do better.”

Loyalty. It’s owed by employees to employers. It’s also and equally owned over by employers to employees.

2. DNA

It really is all about DNA: What someone is, or rather in the process of becoming. It is key. Skills and technical ability can be learned, augmented, and refined. DNA is very hard to “teach.” So, look for and treasure when you find it, good DNA. Both as an employer when you’ve found it in an employee, and as an employee when you’ve found it in an employer.

3. Avoid clichés

The old “hire slow, fire fast,” or, “cut out the bottom 10% each year” type of cliché thinking rarely applies. These may be fine in the context they were used or designed, but when generally applied, as with most things, they become problematic. Rather than hire fast, or slow, or medium, I would you say hire right. Define what right is for you, include a good portion of DNA, and then hire the right person.

Set up the expectations, the reporting structures, the support mechanisms in such a way so as to increase the likelihood of success. Do that as employer. As an employee, extract that from the environment you are entering. Ask the questions which create that or make that blindingly obvious to you going in.

As to the case-in-point that brought this to a blindingly obvious position for me, let me just rehearse the following: We hired an individual for a fairly senior role. In retrospect, maybe I didn’t make the expectations and the key deliverables clear enough. I didn’t defer to my three-stage job description:

a. My key tasks are…

b. I am successful when…

c. And therefore I am measured by…

By using those metrics and structure, ambiguity is removed and everybody — employee and employer — move forward in a productive environment (I address this at length in other entries).

Well, I didn’t do the above, or should I say, didn’t do that well enough, and that created an ambiguous environment. Over time, the ambiguity grew, and, as usual, once emotion came to the forefront and was poorly managed or not well tapped-down, difficulty ensued.

It therefore became very difficult and very sticky and very emotional. My first instinct is always to train, train, train; to train with the underlying principle of helping people move towards expectations. To try to ensure that the DNA is corralled or channeled in an area that is productive while we work at the technical expertise. It didn’t work. And so we had to let this individual go. Bummer for her, bummer for us.

In these situations, I always assume a 50–50 proposition. Yes, sometimes it is 90–10 and others it’s 10–90. But it is wasteful to analyze which ratio or individual was which, and therefore, who is to blame in which area. So I always just instinctually assume 50–50. And then I analyze all of, and only, my portion of that 50–50.

What can I do better?

How can I structure and train and on-board better?

How can I Manage or Lead better?

Etc.

The individual in question got to work in a transition environment over her last week. She chose to “work from home” — which turned out to mean sitting at SoHo house by the pool, sipping Champagne.

Bummer for her — you see, she think she scored for the week on our nickel. When in fact, she had just manifested and locked in yet again (and I would add to her own detriment) a manifestation of substantially poor DNA. The lessons that were part of “her 50% contribution” clearly have not been either identified or internalized. Therefore, I have little faith a plan has developed to work on them and improve for herself.

The future likely for this individual is: same challenges, different geography or same difficulties, different employer. She left, and transitioned-out manifesting poor DNA. DNA is only by the individual and it has to be changed by the individual. The employee has to own their 50%.

We will go forward as we are, from strength-to-strength, growing and developing our brand, business, and company — wish it could have been with, and for, her — but it will not. Nor, likely, will it be for her in any other circumstance because she didn’t take the opportunity to leave gracefully, and transition smoothly as to the chosen personification of her DNA. Bummer for her. I can’t help her, but wish I could (have).

Bummer for us in the short term — and only in the short term — because we have to go and rehire someone for that role. But we have taken, very, (almost “deadly”) seriously our contribution to the 50–50 and, therefore, we will be better, much better going forward because of this singular kerfuffle.

We’re working on improving our DNA — as employers and as individuals — I wish the same for her. And for all our current, future, and from time-to-time, past employees.

So, when you “leave” — “leave WELL”…

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Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.

Check out my Quora, & LinkedIn pages for more.

Chairman and CEO, Webber Investments. Partner at Idea Booth/BGO.