Hire for Fit, Train for Skill

Hire for fit, train for skill. Have you heard this before? I have. I thought to myself, this has to be a mistake. After all, how is the right skill set NOT a good fit for my bookkeeping company? Besides, I simply didn’t have the time to train people. It made much more sense to hire people who could already do the job. So, what did I do? I hired for skill.

Big mistake.

Here’s how it played out: 

I hired two “experienced” people. They had all the right credentials. They’d held good positions before. They had degrees in accounting. They had years of experience. They knew QuickBooks®.

BUT ….

They didn’t know QuickBooks Online (QBO). Now, that in itself wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t been for the fact that they simply weren’t willing to learn. This was a problem because our business model’s unique selling point was a specialization in QBO.

I ended up redoing most of their work, and within two months, I had to let both of them go. All of the extra time I put in to correct their mistakes was also time taken away from networking and client sourcing. Combined with the salaries I paid, those two months cost me over $15,000. In addition, my new hires had to spend time fixing many of their files. It was a nightmare.

I learned pretty quickly that I should have spent more time on hiring and wasted less time on firing. But, what should that extra time on hiring look like? And, what was I looking for?

The best resource I found for this was actually a book called “Topgrading” by Bradford D. Smart. It’s a tremendous book that really zeroes in on how you can identify employees that have the potential to become your key players, and it significantly changed how we hire.

Here are the top three takeaways that I’ve since applied in my own hiring:

#1: Define which players your team needs. Your definition of the ideal employees, or key players, will be different from that of another company. You need to define exactly who you’re looking for, and to do this, you have to thoroughly examine yourself, your company and your existing team for strengths, weaknesses and shortcomings. Once you know which players you need in order to round out your team, it becomes a lot easier to find them.

#2: Use the “Threat of a Reference Call.” In an interview, you should always ask the candidate to arrange a reference call with a previous employer. The theory behind this is that only “A” players will be willing to call and ask their old boss for a reference. They’re not afraid to ask because they were an A player on their last team, too. I find this to be a pretty good weeding tool. If a candidate declines to arrange a reference call, then they don’t move on to the next stage of the process.

#3: Involve someone else in the hiring process. You shouldn’t be the only person interviewing and evaluating potential candidates. Why? Simple. I’m biased, you’re biased … everyone is biased. By involving more than one person, you can balance each other’s biases, get a much more rounded and objective opinion on your candidates, and ultimately come to a better decision about who to hire (and why).

Applying these basic principles shifted the focus of my hiring process. I started looking for fit first, skills second. Of course, I was still looking for someone that had the necessary foundational knowledge to do the job I needed them to do. But, at the end of the day, my best hires have been the detail-oriented, innovative never-say-never problem solvers. Why? Because they fit with Legacy Advantage’s entrepreneurial culture, and that’s not a skill that is easily taught.