Your Most Important Skill

The incredible mighty dollarWhat’s the most important skill in your skill set? By “you,” I’m referring to the managers and business owners who make up the majority of the readership of this magazine. You might be making any number of guesses right now; since I’m known as a sales guy, you’re probably thinking that I mean “the ability to sell,” and it’s true that sales is ONE of the most important.

For a business owner, however (if you’re a business of more than one person), your most important skill is your ability to consistently hire and retain quality employees. Think about it. How many successful businesspeople do you know who can’t surround themselves with good employees? I’d bet that there are very few. There are very few because very few businesses can survive with one great owner and a cast of mediocre employees. That’s just life.

So, the question is – ARE you great at hiring and retaining employees? Let me give you my measurement of “great” at hiring. Being “great” at hiring means that you can, consistently and repeatedly, win on at least 75 percent of your hires. That’s a tall order for anyone. What’s a “win?” That can depend on your definition. When I was recruiting salespeople for clients (I don’t do that anymore), my definition of a “win” was that the salesperson ramped up to quota in the designated time, and stayed at or above quota for three years. In other words, we got at least three years out of a highly productive salesperson. My own hiring accuracy ratio was over 80 percent.

Does that mean that I’m some sort of a hiring genius? Not necessarily. Success at hiring isn’t about your “instincts” or your “ability to read people.” Business owners love to pride themselves on those things, but that’s not the truth. “Instinctive” hiring rarely gets more than a 50 percent win ratio. If you want to hire at or above that 75 percent ratio, you need to do the following things:

  1.  Hire with the End in Mind. That means that your hiring is pre-planned, you’ve designed your needs on paper before you start looking for a person, and you hire the person that is a high level of fit for your organization and the position, rejecting those who aren’t.
  2.  Have a winning process for hiring that is repeatable and repeated, that generates consistent results, and that is constantly refined and updated as skills improve and information becomes more accessible. A “process” is a set of steps that is followed EVERY TIME a similar hire is made; however, the process can differ between types of hires. For instance, your process might differ significantly between hiring a CFO and hiring a warehouse worker – but you would have repeatable processes for each.
  3. Remain emotionally detached. One of the biggest indicators of a failed hire is an interviewer who becomes emotionally attached and invested to a candidate early in the process. Once that happens, that interviewer is likely to ignore red flags and other signals that the candidate isn’t a fit for hire.
  4.  Hire based on the “hiring hierarchy” of Traits, then Skills, then Experience. This is backward of how most hires are made, and it’s the reason most hires fail (American business has a 67 percent fail rate in hiring). Most of the time, companies look for similar experience, test for job skills, and ignore traits. Traits are those things that we just are – they’re not coachable and teachable. For instance, I’m 5 feet 10 inches tall. The best coach in the world isn’t going to make me 7 feet tall – so I’m probably not a trait-fit for a job as a basketball center. That’s an extreme example, but hopefully the meaning comes across. A person who is trait-fit for a job as an accountant is likely not to be trait-fit for a job as a salesperson, and vice versa.
  5.  Use the best available tools for discovering and assessing candidates’ fit. There are hundreds of thousands of employee assessments out there. Most of them are junk, created on someone’s kitchen table with no scientific backing or basis. There are a handful out there that are good and meaningful. While we’ll delve deeply into assessments in a future article, you can get a quick reading on the validity of any assessment by asking the salesperson for a technical manual. Most assessments don’t have one because the science hasn’t gone into that assessment.

I would be willing to bet that you’re looking at your own hiring processes right now, and that you might be missing the boat on one or more of these steps. That’s okay; in the coming months we’re going to be spending more time and verbiage on them. For now, I think the process is a good way to start. So, outlined simply, here’s the process I used in more than 100 searches to generate a winning hire more than 80 percent of the time for my clients:

  1. Design the person on paper FIRST. This means duties, performance metrics, compensation, traits, and skills.
  2. Cast a wide net with a catchy, marketing oriented job ad – CareerBuilder and LinkedIn are my favorite venues.
  3. 5 second resume’ screening followed by a 5 minute phone screen for accepted candidates.
  4. Resume’ focused first interview designed to break down false claims, numbers, etc.
  5. Due diligence including reference and background checks.
  6. Second interview in a Behavioral Interviewing format (Behavioral Interviewing is the silver bullet of hiring).
  7. Psychometric assessment using Wiley’s Profile PXT assessment to discover and fit Traits.
  8. Offer.

For now, compare your hiring approach, processes, and results to what we’ve talked about, and see where you might have gaps that are hurting your results. If I can be of help, look me up at That should keep you busy until next issue!