I have a more researched and detailed blog post coming but I was looking through my Drafts folder and I spotted this one and I felt the need to write and share a more “feelings” forward post about my first hire. This draft of a blog post has been sitting in my Drafts folder for almost 2 years now. I wish that past me had written down some notes along with the title so I could have captured more about the feeling of hiring my first employee more acutely. Since I quickly put this post in the “To Do”, I think I’ve hired almost 10 people. I hired and onboarded 4 people remotely in the past year alone. The process never becomes routine but I don’t have the same anxiety around it as I did when I was newer as a manager.
It’s interesting because now, two years later, I don’t remember exactly who was the first person I hired on to my team. The team I lead is cohesive and high-functioning and it seems like they’ve all been here from the beginning. I do recall the apprehension, the nervousness of the process though. It felt like there was so much riding on the decision. The team was understaffed at the team and they were working hard to overcome the staffing shortage. As a leader, I wanted to bring in someone who would be trained quickly and start taking over work from my exhausted team. I felt as though there was so much riding on this decision.
First there was the job announcement to decide on. Of course we had a job description for the position I was hiring for, but as so much else when teams are busy, it hadn’t been updated in a while. The job description/announcement is a bit tricky for my team. The work that we do is very specialized (not an unique situation I know) and so we rarely find individuals that have the complete skill set coming in the door. When you’re hiring to alleviate workload pressure on a team and you want someone to be able to contribute quickly, designing the job announcement is crucial for pulling in the right candidates. Too general and you’re wading through lots of applicants that wouldn’t work out, too specific and you might not get anyone (we’ve had that one happen too). Luckily, I have a good HR team to work with and we eventually found the right balance.
Now it was application reviews and phone screens. I have only recently (last year) found the great usefulness of having a set of questions that I ask every candidate so I can evaluate them across the same parameters and so I don’t have to carry the conversation too much during the phone screen process. At the time of my first hire, I erred more on the side of caution and I think I may have done phone screens with everyone who looked even remotely qualified. I think the only applications I rejected were people who were very obviously applying for something else (or hadn’t changed their resumes to reflect their interest in the job I was hiring for). It.was.exhausting! Now I like to talk. I’m naturally curious about everyone and their stories. But all those phone screens left me so tired. It was fascinating being on the other end of the hiring power dynamic and seeing how nervous candidates were, how prepared or not prepared they were and I tried to be as empathetic and understanding as possible. No traumatic interviews was my goal. I’ll be honest that it did get to the point where I could barely remember who was who. This is a little interviewing tip embedded in my reflections, be memorable and not in a bad way.
I’ve always believed in the benefit of panel interviews with the team. I know that there are many different thoughts about whether this is good or not but I like them. The team knows best what skills are necessary to do their jobs and candidates are often more open and candid in a team interview as opposed to interviewing with the hiring manager. For this first hire, I was concerned that the team and I would diverge too much on what candidates we preferred (this has happened subsequently). While I knew that I ultimately had the decision, I didn’t want to bring in someone that the team didn’t respect. I tried to remedy this by taking careful notes in my conversations with the candidates and asking the team careful questions about what they thought of the candidates. For this first hire, fortunately we aligned.
While not all the details of that first hire stand out to me now, one detail definitely does, making the offer and waiting for the response. It was kind of like online dating, when you send someone a note to start a conversation and you wait in anticipation for the response. It is a little thrilling when a candidate you want to hire accepts and you can see the prospect of their contributions to the team.
And as I have matured as a leader and hired more people, I realize that the stakes are not nearly as high as I initially thought. Don’t get me wrong, hiring is a very important responsibility, one that I take very seriously. But I’m not as anxiety-riddled about it now. Partially this is due to systems I’ve put in place to make the process more transparent and standardized in my hiring practice (standard questions, revised job descriptions, etc) and part of it is realizing that I’m not always going to get it right, or as one hire two years ago showed, sometimes both parties get it wrong. I hired someone who I thought had a perfect skill-set and experience and who was equally excited about working with us and a few months in, we both realized it wasn’t a good fit.
I may still get a little nervous about hiring but it feels to know that I’ve grown in this important aspect of leadership and to be so very proud of the team that I’ve assembled over the past three years.