When Hiring Employees, Avoid This Mistake.

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Albert Einstein.

Albert Einstein.

In the last year, I have had this conversation with at least 612 people. You may question my ability to remember every person I have talked to in the last 12 months, but that would be a mistake.

I have just a hint of Raymond Babbitt in me (Google it… and if you haven’t seen the movie, rent it). This compulsiveness may explain my need to iron my shirts after I get them back from the drycleaners, but that is a whole different blog.

This same conversation seems to come up over and over. For reasons that I don’t understand, people are dumbfounded by this issue.

It’s like a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, covered in a conundrum.

This question always comes from principals or superintendents (or from the best job in education… “the assistant superintendent”… after all, who hates this person… or even knows who they are?). While I work in K-12 education, I think my ideas on this topic will apply to all businesses.

The million dollar (and beat to death) question is… What type of employee should I hire?

This question comes in all different forms.

Should I hire someone based solely on education? (like requiring at least a Master’s Degree?)

Should I hire local people or candidates from outside of the area?

Should I be searching for applicants fresh out of college, or look for more experienced individuals?

Should I be looking for a certain type of personality trait (see how I deftly avoid a controversy by not touching on the subject of hiring males vs. females?)?

And even, should I weed out candidates if they weren’t straight A students in high school and college?

While these questions are helpful in narrowing down a search, an interviewer’s sixth sense may be more important.

Like lots of skills, this can be learned. But the great leaders (bosses) are born with it (feel free to make your own joke here about great bosses being non-existent).

So many employee problems could be reduced if the people in charge just made better hiring decisions.

Someone who is adept at the interviewing process can instantly recognize the qualities necessary in becoming great employees.

The biggest mistake employers make is not treating the hiring process with the respect it deserves. They just don’t put the time and effort in to finding great employees.

They fall into the “Just Get This Position Filled” trap…or the even sadder offshoot of “Just Get This Position Filled Today Because My Vacation Starts Tomorrow.”

Hiring takes time. Hiring great long-term employees takes even more time. But the good news is the time you spend now will save you an enormous amount of headaches in the future.

I believe you should always hire based on what is best for the people already in-house.

In the case of a school, that includes the students, but it also involves the other staff members.

If you can find a new employee that is a team player and a hard worker, your life will not only be better in the short term but much easier in the long term.

Another thing to look for when hiring people is finding candidates who are not exactly like you (1 you per school is plenty). Since students come in all shapes, sizes, and types, so should their teachers.

This may mean hiring people that you “don’t get”. But I guarantee you there will be students who get them.

If you constantly hire people like yourself, you are watering down the gene pool of your school.

These are good guidelines to get you started, but there is one thing you should always keep in mind when hiring new staff.

It is the Golden Rule of Interviewing. Pay attention because a lot of people mess-up this simple concept.

Like most things in education, it just isn’t that difficult. But this is the one mistake you must avoid.

Hire and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Too often, the people in charge want (and need) to be the smartest person in school.

I myself, prefer to be the dumbest.


Because a school district where I am the most intelligent employee is average at best. A district where I am the least intelligent employee has a real chance to be great.

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16 Responses to “When Hiring Employees, Avoid This Mistake.”

  1. Jenny
    on Feb 14th, 2009
    @ 2:31 pm

    Good job. Hope my boss reads this.

  2. Jackie Ballarini
    on Feb 15th, 2009
    @ 12:05 am

    I think we also need to look at what we do with the employee after we hire them (well, after you admin types do). How do we mentor them? Help them in the transition (whether they be “new” to education or not).

    Handing someone their class lists and textbooks, then saying “Good luck!” isn’t going to lead to greatness.

  3. Charlie A. Roy
    on Feb 15th, 2009
    @ 7:27 am

    I hope to God I’m not the smartest person in my school…… if I am we are all doomed. I like your thoughts on the importance of hiring the right people. The ability to hire and fire gives the principal the power to truly shape the culture of the building. I read a good book on hiring over Christmas break called “Who: the A method of hiring” I summarized it on slideshare. link here: http://www.slideshare.net/caroy/summary-of-who-presentation if interested.

  4. Dave Wells
    on Feb 15th, 2009
    @ 2:44 pm

    I agree with Jenny about keeping good employees. We hired a young woman to be our music teacher who is so good, she sold us on a phone interview while she was in a parking lot. We have a mentor, I check in with her, but still I worry. We only have her part time and she may go for that full time job soon. I hear a lot about how younger employees need more and different feedback- thoughts?

  5. Jenny Nash
    on Feb 15th, 2009
    @ 6:42 pm

    I liked this post. Something I would add to it — hiring people with initiative and aspirations. I can’t stand working with “satisfied” people — people who are satisfied with status quo, satisfied to do only what is required, satisfied to stay where they are. Yes, I understand, we can’t all be “chiefs”, but can’t we strive for me — regardless of where we are? And, shouldn’t we WANT more without someone TELLING US we need more? I’m beginning to think these are major pieces that separates the men from the boys (so to speak).

  6. Brendan
    on Feb 16th, 2009
    @ 8:10 am

    My first year alone in the classroom was the worst of my life. So much so that I think all first year teachers should have a mentor who meets with them everyday. I think they should also have the opportunity to observe master teachers throughout the year as well as be observed when it isn’t a job evaluation.

  7. Angie
    on Feb 16th, 2009
    @ 8:51 am

    I totally concur with the “sixth sense” of hiring. It goes with Jim Collins idea in the book Good to Great of getting the right people on the bus. If you are headed in a direction, you want people who are willing and able to go in the same direction. If they’re not, then just need to get on a different bus. And, just like a sports team, you need varied talents to be successful. The principal/coach needs to place the right people in the right areas to make it work. You aren’t just hiring for yourself or the students, you’re also hiring for the team. If they won’t work with the team, then they just belong on a different team- it doesn’t mean they’re bad people.

  8. Ed Shepherd
    on Feb 16th, 2009
    @ 8:59 pm

    I tend to agree with you. I never want to be the smartest person in the room, makes it hard to learn very much. Jack Welch states that he hired most of the people at GE based on their passion and then helped them develop the skills they needed to be great leaders. His point was skills can be learned over time, but optimism cannot. He went on to say that if he hired people that were just like him, it would be impossible to move his company forward. Diversity is not always easy to manage, but makes any business, school, or otherwise a more well rounded community that is more likely to continue moving in the direction of progress.

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  15. Carole Hodges
    on Sep 3rd, 2009
    @ 1:41 pm

    Unfortunately too many people feel that trial and error is the only way to hire. You provide a thoughtful exploration of many considerations. Have you ever considered creating a Job Profile based upon successful candidates who have done the job before? It can be helpful in developing a concensus around what you need. When used with a personality profile, it is a communication and management tool. It is a very low cost way of the right hires who will LOVE the job as much as you love them.

  16. sheila whitling
    on Sep 10th, 2009
    @ 10:22 pm

    How do I buy the book When Hiring Employees, Avoid This Mistake?

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