Some interviewers lean too heavily on technical skills, others rely solely on personality. Most are fooled by some form of unconscious bias (recency, primacy, “just like me”). In this episode, we look at our egregious mistakes as young managers and the steps we’ve taken to limit them in the years that followed. This episode should be mandatory training for any new manager tasked with hiring employees.
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The Top 10 Hiring Mistakes
(And How To Overcome Them)
This is another throwback episode, one of the first episodes that Frankie and I did about hiring mistakes that we made as new managers. I often work with management groups and this is an entire week’s lesson that which we talk about common mistakes. I usually go through with ten of them and we hammer into a lot of these this time. It never fails that 3 or 4 managers and each one is doing almost all of them, and every new manager is doing 3 or 4 of these.
It is easy to get caught up, especially if you have not been trained in interviewing. We dive into a lot of mistakes and stupid things we made, which ultimately led to bad hires, turnover and morale. Making these mistakes pretty much makes it impossible to be a successful manager. I hope you enjoy it and if you ever see someone making these mistakes as an interviewing manager for you, I would not say run. I would say maybe give them some grace because these are incredibly common.
Frankie, how is it going?
What is up? How are you?
I am awesome.
I did not offend anyone in your life. I did not say anything about you being magnificent or being an SOB or anything. It is not as colorful as I like, but it is more PC.
My mom will appreciate that. We are talking about something that we have done all too much of. It started with a conversation that you and I had about how after a long period of a good economy, as soon as the brakes are put on, there is a recession and we are in the middle of COVID, how embarrassingly simple it is to do the first round of layoffs. That starts with hiring mistakes. What we are going to talk about on this show is the hiring mistakes we have made as new managers.
The title of that is loaded with hubris because the truth is we make these hiring mistakes on a regular basis. There is not much in our outline that we went through that is strictly something we did 10, 15 years ago. We continue to make these mistakes. We just make less of them now. This recession is no different from a much bigger recession that you and I both went through in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, working in the housing industry. Anyone’s industry went through that period during those years if you think about it.
What we are not going to talk about is firing fast. As seasoned managers, we know two things. Number one, we are going to make mistakes. Number two, we are going to have to fire people. The secondary conversation about this is going to be, when do you fire? A recession is a magic elixir. It brings out like, “It is time to be honest about this. Let’s go through the ax.” Nobody ever wants to do that but that’s what you have to do.
2005 is when I came to the real estate business. That is when I joined a large home builder. Frank had already been with the company for seven years at that point. All you had known in the home building industry was grow, sell, raise prices, add people and go. I had just left General Electric. I was in a totally different market. I was in an industrial business. We sold to steel, paper and different industries. I was accustomed to shrinking staff, running a business with very lean margins, and coming from a Jack Welch culture of the bottom 10% go every year.
The culture at NVR was not like that at all. You could not afford to get rid of anyone. You kept people that were not the greatest. Talk a little bit about 2006. You have gone from being in the passing lane for seven years to now having to go rationalize your workforce. What were some things that stood out to you as a new manager having to go through that process?
Nobody was ready. I mean, the managers. We had a culture of people who did not know how to fire people. We were fortunate that we had a handful of managers who did. They were good at it and they set the tone, but everybody was trying to protect people. There was almost a reckoning of, “We can’t protect everybody. The market sucks and we are making changes.”
What they did is they fired a high-up person. It came out that they had a secret meeting in a shitty hotel off the side of a back road highway, where there was a bed over here and five chairs. The people who are making the decisions do not want one of the senior-level people to know. Once the senior level person was fired, people realized, “We need to get onboard here or they are going to lop our head off next.” Nobody was prepped and ready for it. It is like a kid that has played video games his whole life who is going to the military and can’t do a pull-up. You are in trouble.
As most companies do, you are given an arbitrary number that started at the top. If you have a team of 15, you are told that 3 need to go. The bigger your team, the larger the number that you have to figure out. As you are looking at your list and you are thinking, “I have to tell this handful of people that they are gone in this first pass,” how difficult was it to bring up names?
This is how we should start it. From 1998 to 2005, it is a rocket ship going up. They’ve got me on campus and I am eight weeks out of college. They had me recruiting and bringing people in. I was still young enough that I looked like I was still in college. I was single, hanging out at fraternity and sorority parties, and having a blast. That is how hiring was for 7/10 of a decade. It was a very long time. When that changed, it was not like I had to fire three people. They are like, “We are closing this division.” I went from hiring anybody we possibly can to if we have 75 employees, we are firing 50 of them.
It was the opposite of “Let’s start with the list of who is going.” It is “Who is staying?” The title of this is hiring mistakes. At the end of that, of the 60 to 75 people that worked in that office, we re-allocated some. We fired 50, so it is 2/3. Many years later, I look back and these people were in sales and construction, and now they are selling used cars, school teachers or stay-at-home moms. We had the wrong people in all the jobs. It was not like there was one job. We were completely plugging people in and thinking we could make people good hires because we had too much faith in ourselves, and that was not the case.
That big group of people are gone. At that moment, it is like, “How can we lose all these people?” because you hired them. Looking back on it after a few years, when you started hiring again, you looked at that group of people and you were not asking them to come back. You were hiring a totally different person. It says that during those go-go days, you are making a hell of a lot of hiring mistakes.
The way that happened, we had a 75-person division. The first was like, “We need to make pretty significant cuts.” I remember firing 22 people in one day. That is a significant number of your staff. In quick succession, maybe six weeks later and then another three weeks after that, we fired 50. The second and third time, you were somewhat callous to like, “How shitty this person’s day is going to be?” You still realize it but that becomes part of it.
In 2020, we fired 25% of our workforce in one day. On March 20th, I let go of 25% of my workforce because I was petrified about COVID. We looked at it from the standpoint of we are probably going into a deep recession. Sales save businesses. We are going to give people different comp packages. The comp package that we are going to hire is highly incentivized and low-base because it makes my overhead as a business owner in better shape. I can weather more storms.
Not one of the 25%, we go back and hire. Someone who was trying to get a job who I let go, their new hiring company called me up and they were like, “Would this person be eligible for employment?” I understood the question. You are checking the box and asking me so I said, “They are eligible for employment.” Internally, I asked myself, “Why the hell would I have fired them?” They were available for employment. I would never hire that person again because even though you have all these disciplines, history repeats itself and you find yourself in the same position.
Several years later, the numbers are not as big. You do not work for a publicly-traded company anymore, but you find yourself that you make some of the same mistakes. We are going to talk about how a strong economy and a growing company can push you to compromise on some of the good habits, the standards that you have built for yourself, the systems and the processes because we need people. The crux of almost every bad hiring decision I have made is the pressure to help the rest of the team and get more resources in to support something growing too fast.There's a recession and we're in the middle of COVID how embarrassingly simple it is to do a first round of layoffs. That really starts with hiring mistakes. Click To Tweet
You asked the question about the first round of layoffs. When you are at a publicly-traded company, you have 401(k), benefits and pay well. We got a sorority at Virginia Tech where we would hire 3 or 4 of the women who graduated every semester for five years. It was like a gravy train. They would handpick the girls that they wanted to come work with us. It was awesome because it was a robust time of hiring. This is what’s funny between working at a publicly-traded company with a good reputation and being on your own.
I remember trying to hire people when I started my business. I would think back to all the people I fired and I would be thrilled if any of them would come work for me. The bar was so low on who was willing to work for me when I first started a business. It is all relative to where you are in the cycle, both the economic cycle and business cycle, on who you can attract and who you can physically hire.
It’s the same thing for me at General Electric in the late ’90s while Jack Welch was still running it. I could attract any engineer I wanted, honor students and 4.0s. When you get to NVR, it is a different world. You are not going to Georgia Tech and getting a 3.8 GPA. We could get MBA kids. It was a different bar to get into NVR. You could not hire the same talent, but then when you look at a startup, I am the same way. I do not have all the benefits of NVR. I have to compromise. I have to find freelancers, contractors and different people. It is the same with you. When you are starting a business, you are convincing anyone to come in to help.
Being Focused On Personality
We put this together in a top ten format in no particular order. The first one that we are going to talk about, because we both had a lot of trouble with this as young managers, is being overly focused on someone’s personality. The way you say it is, “I want to hang out with this person.” It almost sounds like how a fraternity would go through their rush process of like, “We want to live with this person.” Talk about the first person you can remember where you made a pretty big mistake along this line of hiring someone that you wanted to hang out with.
There is this handsome dude. He grew up in California. He was sun-kissed and his name is Casey. He went to a private school in Connecticut. I look at this kid and I am like, “That is a pedigree I wish I had.” In the old days, we used to take people out to a recruiting dinner the night before, get them lathered up and excited about the company, and the next day we would bring them in.
Our process back then, which was similar to yours, is we would have an individual interview with a group of people, and then we would sit around a table. If there were 4 interviewers and 4 interviewees, there would be four separate people around the table. We would then get out a matrix, we would score them and make a decision as a group. I was advocating for this guy because in my head, I was like, “This dude is going to be fun.” Ultimately, I won the argument. We did hire him and he was a decent hire. He was not terrible but if I am being honest years later, I was hiring a buddy or someone I wanted to hang out with.
I thought he could do the job but I was not coming from the same perspective as I would as a business manager. It is very rare. I have got 30 somewhat people that work for me, and almost none of them, I hang out with. I hang out with maybe two. When you are a kid hiring, you want to hire friends. When you are an owner or a senior-level person, you want someone who can do the damn job. That changes drastically over time.
This one got me thinking because, in my first company, I fell for this. You go to a college, do college recruiting, and try to find people closer in age at least, especially since I was younger. We were the same 23, 24, 25 and I am on-campus interviewing and looking to hire. I am only five-year separated in age from some of these folks. It was very easy to see who was like me and who was not like me.
The older you get, when I think about some of the best people who ever worked for me, I hardly ever hung out with them outside of work. Some of them were polar opposites from me in personality, things they enjoy doing, a lot of them were very different in age, and some had kids when I was still younger. They were incredible employees and people to work with but not a lot like my personality.
The longest-tenured person that worked for me ever was about thirteen years. She and I thought very similar in business. Outside of work, we did not have a ton in common that we were doing. We worked together amazingly for thirteen years, but we did not hang out hardly ever personally outside of it. None of that matters, but it is very easy when you are sitting one-on-one in front of a desk with someone because outside of work, that is what we have been doing our whole life.
When you are a kid in school or you go to college, what do you do? You try to find people with similar personalities to you to hang out with, but how many of our closest friends would we hire? Not a lot would we hire because there are different work ethics and different skillsets. I hired my share of Caseys like you did, where I was trying to hire a spitting image of myself, and it rarely worked well.
Trying To Find People Like You
Everybody falls for this. You think you can do the job, so you try and find more people like you to do the job. We have transitioned from being focused on someone’s personality and just-like-me bias. These are two big hurdles that you have to get over. Ian and I had similar careers in similar timeframes. We were handsome kids, smart, fun and hardworking. We fit in great on college campuses. I was still figuring out what my primary job was. I was being asked to recruit people. It is very hard to do those two things.
Your default is, “I am going to find somebody like me,” but if you are hiring for that particular job, maybe that is okay. I hire now admins, salespeople and property managers. I am not built for those jobs. I am terrible at those jobs. I know how to manage those jobs. That is where recency bias, just-like-me bias or personality are not the chops for that job. Mistakes have been made multiple times by me in those positions because of it.
Just-like-me bias is number two. I am absolutely vulnerable to this to this day. For people who worked for me on panels, there will be times when I would come in excited. They would be like, “Shocking, Ian likes the kid from Michigan,” and they would all laugh. I am like, “There is a good stock in Michigan. They work hard.”
I made a mistake once when I worked in Virginia. All I saw were Virginia Tech, George Mason, JMU, and the University of Maryland. I saw other kids who graduated from colleges in Virginia and Maryland. I never saw people from Michigan, Purdue or where I grew up in the Midwest. One time, I was looking at a resume of someone they had sent me and there it is, Engineering degree, Purdue University, great GPA, and I was hyped. I wore my boilermaker tailgate helmet into the interview to get a reaction out of him. He was like, “You are from Purdue,” and I am like, “Yes.”
I came into that so excited to see another Purdue engineer that wanted a job. In hindsight, the clues were everywhere. I was interviewing for a loan processor job. A loan processor has to be able to connect with customers, friendly and patient. You can’t be a perfectionist because things go wrong all the time and processors have to give lots of bad news. I am an engineer, but I am very opposite from 90% of the engineers that I knew at Purdue Engineering. Most were introverted, quiet and could not even make eye contact with you in classes. I am not any of that. I went right into sales when I had an Engineering degree.
This guy was more like what I saw on campus. He was very introverted and shy. If I was even trying to look for the warning signs, they were everywhere. He ended up being a great kid and smart but a disaster as a loan processor. His manager had to make every tough call for him. Loan processors make bad calls every day. He wore out his manager who always had to do the bad work for him. The job in itself ate him alive. He could not handle not being perfect and the fact that there was no solution for everything.
He was a bad hire and it was all my fault. I even overrode the branch and the managers under me. I was like, “We have got to hire him. This guy is smart. He is West Lafayette.” It was a terrible move on my part, but it was the just-like-me bias. Even though he was not like me, he was like me because he went to Purdue and he had an Engineering degree. He had enough that had me excited.
I am going to take this in a different direction. Let’s say you are reading this and you are thinking about interviewing. This is what the power of modeling is. If you go into an interview, unless you lie on your resume and say, “I also went to Purdue and I got a great degree in Engineering,” but if you model the person sitting across the desk from you, you can get them to have you fall into the just-like-me bias. What you can do in a lot of interviews, especially with people that are senior-level that have big egos is you get them to talk. They walk out of the interview and they think you were great. You did not answer any questions.
I interviewed for Vice-President’s position and I knew one of the guys who interviewed me had a huge ego, and I kept telling him, “I saw you do this for years.” He is like, “You are right,” and he would get into it. He would ask me another question and I would give it back to him. I was told through feedback that that was the best interview he had ever done. He talked 80% of the interview and I got the job.
I know who you are talking about and I could see that strategy working on this individual. You can find all these things on LinkedIn. All you have to do is Google Ian Mathews if you are going to interview me, and you could find out very quickly that I am from Michigan, I root for Detroit sports teams, and I went to Purdue. If you bring these things up, you are going to get me blabbing without me even noticing that you are doing it to me. Frank’s advice is brilliant. You try to find parallels that you have with that person and things that we have in common so that when they leave the interview without even knowing it, they are thinking, “They are like me,” and you will get hired. It is that simple.
Emphasis On First Impressions
You are usually the one that drives the agenda but this is a perfect segue. The next thing on our list is putting way too much emphasis on first impressions in an interview. Let’s say you did what Ian said. You go to LinkedIn and look one of us up. An interview is usually 45 minutes to a little over an hour. In our company, you will interview a couple of different people, but you are going to sit with me for 45 minutes to an hour.
If it is a higher-level position, I might bring you in a couple of times. Let’s say in ten minutes, what we talk about is things you did in research. It is very hard to not get the tide of the interview going in your favor, and by doing some just-like-me stuff, talking about it, and complimenting my business or talking about things that you know about me, most people are lazy and they do not do that. If you show up for an interview and you have done some of that work, I am going to give you time to see what initiative you have had. It starts rolling in your favor.
When you talk about the first impression, if you are flattering the person you are interviewing for the first 5 to 10 minutes, it is very hard to have a bad impression of that person to start. As younger interviewers, we would have fallen prey to that. Now, we realize it. “Thank you for doing research. It is awesome. Let’s talk about you.” At the same time, that is a good way to start to build momentum if you are in the chair interviewing for the job.
Even a seasoned interviewer like Frank, who knows what is happening, is impressed that you did something that 99% of people are too lazy to do. If I come in there and I am interviewing for a project manager job or the lowest level jobs in Cava Companies and I say, “Florida Gator, were you there when Spurrier was there? What was that like being in The Swamp?”
Even if Frank knows what you are doing, he can’t help but start smiling and talking about The Swamp and he is a big Gators fan. If I lead next to, “You were at NVR for thirteen years. What made you leave to start your own thing?” You get Frank talking again. That is his baby. He is talking about two things that are important to him, NVR and Cava.
Even if he knows what you are doing, he will be impressed that you gave a shit to spend a little time to learn about Frank Cava and the person that you are interviewing because that sends a message that you are a person that comes to meetings prepared, you do not do things off the cuff, and you like to be organized.
Those things all send cues. They are not tricks. That is you showing you care enough to prepare enough to connect with someone. If you are willing to do that, you will be willing to do that with Frank’s customers and with the people that you work with in Frank’s office. You are giving us clues about the kind of person you are.
The right way to do it is to do it subtly. “You were at NVR. Tell me about that. What did you learn? You worked in Ford. What did you like about it? What did you learn?” If you go into my website and you start trying to be cute, technical, try to trick me or impress me because you read something, you are going to trap yourself. You are going to fall right into it, but if you are asking open-ended probes, as Ian said, if you bring up the fact that I worked at Ryan’s Homes, I went to Florida, and I have worked in Charlottesville Market, it is like a good TV show.
A good TV show does not need to tell you what they are doing. They unfold in front of you a great story. As an interviewee, if you make the person interviewing you realize, “I am smart. I can be subtle. I have done the research. I distinguish myself from the crowd,” plus you are playing to all these human biases, you are going to set yourself on a completely different trajectory during that interview from people who do not.
As an interviewee, those are the things that you can do. As an interviewer, you have to be very careful. Primacy bias is very strong. We remember most of what is the information presented to us first, so first impressions. I know for a fact that I have quit on people that made a bad first impression on me, which I shouldn’t have.
One time, I invited a new manager to sit in with me to see how I interview. By then, I had interviewed over 1,000 people, so I was pretty seasoned. This guy was interviewing for a sales trainee position where we would teach him how to sell. He was so nervous and it was obvious. No matter how many softballs I gave him early in the first 5 to 10 minutes to show a little bit of his personality, none of it came out. He came across as introverted, made no eye contact and had a limp fist handshake. The handshake was not great.
If this other manager had not been with me, I would have ended this interview after about twenty minutes politely. I would have cut the interview from 45 minutes to 20 minutes because I pretty much had given up on him. The fact that she was there and she wanted to practice interviewing, I gave it to her, “Would you like to ask some interview questions?” She did because she had gone to a class. She had a list of twelve that I had not even bothered to ask because I wanted to leave. I want it to be over. She starts asking open-ended behavioral questions.
One-by-one, he started knocking them out of the park. The answers, I was like, “That is pretty impressive.” Things like he had worked for a small shop owner and the things he had done to grow in the business. By the end of this interview, I was like, “I liked this kid.” We gave him the job and he turned out to be phenomenal. He is one of our best hires. He knocked President’s Club in year one and high volume. He’s an incredible hire and truthfully, I would not have hired him if I had not had a trainee interviewer with me going through the process and asking good questions. Even after that much experience, I am still susceptible to primacy bias or the first impression.
As an interviewer, if the person does something critically wrong or they do something that shows incredibly bad or flawed judgment, I will cut them. We are going to end the interview early. I won’t say this but in my head, I will end the interview early. As a seasoned interviewer, if I have someone who is nervous, who screws up or who goes down the wrong path, I am always self-deprecating.
I will say, “I got to be honest with you. I am so happy I am on this side of the table.” Being on that side of the table, I remember it was stressful. I would always wear layers and jackets. I would never take my jacket off because I was sweating. I would put my jacket on and seal in all the juices in the armpit, back, rear-end, all of it. I would say something like that and I am like, “Can you relate? Are you dealing with any of that? I have an entire hour blocked out here. What I would like to do is take that first seven minutes and push it to the side. I was excited to meet you. Why don’t we start over?”
Get them to get back on that track. Two things happen. If they are shitty, you are going to cut them anyway, but if they are great and that person ultimately works somewhere in your company and you gave them a second chance behind closed doors, you are going to have an incredible ally. If someone has a stilt at the beginning, help them. That is okay. That is some of the stuff we would have missed in the beginning because he did not want it to be hard, “I was worried the person would embarrass me in the panel.” That is what management is. That can be your first opportunity to show what working for you is like.
Frank and I have different styles. When you are starting off as an interviewer, you have self-doubt. You are going to have the imposter syndrome of, “Who am I to evaluate whether someone should be here. Do I know what I am doing?” My default, which was very opposite of Frank’s, was to try to be the toughest interviewer. I read about how Google and Silicon Valley interviewed. I would ask dumb ass questions like, “How would you get out of a blender if you were shrunk down? Why are tennis balls fuzzy?” I remember I used to ask them to estimate how many leaves were on the same tree that was in an interview room.There are different work ethics and different skill sets. Click To Tweet
I would say, “I want an analytical. I want to see how you estimate.” I learned nothing from any of those questions. Those are stupid ass questions. They are stupid for places like Google to ask them too. When you ask a complicated hypothetical question like, “How do you get out of a blender?” That is people at Google trying to prove how smart they are as interviewers. All that does is turn people off.
I found there was no value in being the toughest interviewer on the panel. I wanted to be known as that. If there were five people and that person started, I wanted to be like, “Ian was the toughest by far.” I wanted to see a bead of sweat coming down their forehead in the interview. I would ask challenging questions to do it. I was a prick for ten years when I started as an interviewer. I had a situation that changed that.
This was 2009 or 2010, I almost left to go take an executive role at a company in Chicago. I interviewed with the CEO of a publicly-traded company and he was an absolute ass. He went out of his way to let you know that he was in charge and had a difficult interview. He was particularly contentious about my resume and what I had accomplished. He would insult salespeople in general, even though I was hiring for a VP of Sales job for this company.
He insulted his people. He did these little tricks where he would tell you this as an intelligence test. I would get through all these interviews and I was like, “I bombed that and this guy is a dick.” He is like, “I got to tell you, this was one of the best interviews I have ever done. We would love to have you join us.” I am thinking to myself, “I would not work for you if you pay me $10 million a year. You are an absolute asshole.” I could not get out of that office fast enough and send them a no thanks letter fast enough.
It totally changed my whole mindset about interviewing. I became a totally different person. After that day, I wanted them to say, “I liked Ian the most out of that,” because I realized I would have left NVR and I was gone. I was leaving for Chicago if not for that CEO turning me off so much. It was like, “All you had to do was recruit. You could have still been a relatively tough interview and asked me the right questions, but you did zero recruiting. You wanted me to think how smart you were and how difficult it was to get in your company.”
It had the opposite effect. It made me not want to work there and it changed the way I completely thought about how to interview people. I quit trying to be a tougher interviewer and I started trying to connect with people and make them think by the end of the interview, “He is challenging, but that is the dude I would love to work for.” I never used to think that way before that interview.
There are a couple of ways I can go with this, but I am going to ask you a question. To me, that shift fits among a more macro question. What changed for you during that interview? To me, there is one fundamental thing that changed besides “Do not be a dick.” What was the other fundamental thing that changed?
It is perspective. I am not a person that is interviewed a lot in my life. I have worked for two companies. Aside from the college, I did not interview much when I worked for either of those two companies because I was focused on doing what I was doing. All of my interviews were internal. Going through a process where I was serious about going to work for another company was the first time I got the perspective in a while of what it was like to sit in front of a demanding tough interviewer.
My lens changed where my lens was almost always being in charge and being the decision-maker to being someone who had to sit on the other side and make a decision. A big perspective change and an a-ha moment for me was in an interview, it is not one person making a decision, it is two. They are both interviewing each other and I was there trying to decide, “Do I leave a good company, move back to Chicago, and change everything?” I was undecided.
I was interviewing that CEO. I was like, “Is this guy better than the CEO I work for now? Is he someone I would rather work for than the one I have already?” He did not think of it that way until it was time for him to convince me. I formed an opinion, then he tried to recruit me and it was way too late. My perspective changed that day. I started thinking that in every interview, there are two people making a decision and they are interviewing me the same.
Spotlight Is On You
The light bulb that I was trying to drive at is the interview is about them. It is not about us doing the interviewing. That was the moment where you felt that because the spotlight was shown on you, but as you get back behind the desk, you get to do your job, and you get to interview that person going forward, you realize if you are good, subtle, and you are the Sopranos or Quentin Tarantino, if the script is well-written, you are constantly getting at what you need, but you are also selling. You are showing what it is like to be under your umbrella or to be with you.
That guy was pushing you away like, “I do not want to work with this asshole.” When I graduated from college, I had thirteen job offers. I remember being like, “I would not take that job no matter what they pay me. I do not want to go anywhere near that. The work suck, the people suck, the environment suck, and they are being jerks. The other part of it was that interaction, that discourse and what you choose to ask can set the tone.
Even though I did it for the first ten years of being a manager, I have found there is zero value in being known as a tough interviewer. If you interviewed with me in 2006 and you interviewed with me in 2012, you would see a totally different approach and process. You would walk away with a very different opinion of me because if you do choose to work for me, I also do not want you to be scared of me.
The people that chose it when I was a tough interviewer were scared to death of me when they saw me. They were always thinking I was going to be that way and they would see that I was a little different as a manager. It was probably confusing. You might as well be the person you are going to be as a manager in that interview because I was not like that as a manager.
As senior-level executives or business owners, we are already intimidating enough. I come in on the phone and I always wave into people while I am doing six other things. We are big and got big stature. We are bigger dudes.
Your title is intimidating. You are the owner. You make financial decisions about these people’s lives. You have enough respect by the nature of your title, position and authority.
Let’s completely over-correct and let’s go to the other side. This is me when I first started as an interviewer. I was too easy. I would want to spoon-feed the person the answers. That is not the right approach either. If we are going to interview four people, I wanted all four of them to be job candidates, and that is not the way it works. HR does not do that. HR usually puts you with 1 or 2 good people and 1 or 2 shitty people, so you realize how good the two people are that they want you to hire, so you hire 1 or 2 of them.
From that perspective, the answer is in the middle. As we both got more skilled, I got tougher and Ian got easier. The reason is our default was wrong and we both had to adjust our approach so we could be better interviewers. We can be truthful, tough and supportive. The goal is to find good hardworking people that we can empower. That is what we ultimately wanted. The interview was about them. Not about us. Once we figured that out, we got better.
You want them to be excited when they get there. You want them to want to work for you and be running in on their first day to work for you as a manager. If you have done your job well in an interview, that is what you have done. That’s what you have created. Number six that we had on our list that we came up with is the opposite of the first thing that we talked about.
The first thing we talked about is overly focused on personality and soft skills. Number six is overly focused on technical skills. I will include GPA in this because you and I have hired a lot of different technical skills. I used to look for very high GPAs when I was hired at GE, which is ironic because I did not have a high GPA. I knew that having the brand of GE allowed me to get to the upper echelons of GPA and it never worked out.
They struggled to take direction. They wanted a very step-by-step process of what it took to be successful and the business does not work that way. There is not a quiz every day. There is not a test and something to turn in. You have to work independently. Over time, I started putting 2 and 2 together. The sweet spot for me was 2.9 to 3.4. The 3.4 to 4.0s did not do well because I did not have time to give them a quiz grade every day. They wanted to be graded on everything and it did not work well for me. I did much better in the 2.9 to 3.4 area.
It depends on what you are hiring. If you are hiring someone to repair an airplane, that requires a level of skill. There needs to be something that you know what to do. It is highly technical and very precise. GE felt to me very precise. NVR was not as precise. What we would do is we relied on NVR in our training department. We relied on the fact that we would build a bench. We do not need you to produce for a while. We could bring you in and you could work under someone as a project manager or a sales rep, and you had time to build the skill.
The 2.9 to 3.4 are hardworking people. That is like a 3rd-round or 4th-round draft pick in the NFL. You are guaranteed nothing. Every single week you could get cut, so you are going to work your ass off to keep that job, while the 3.4 to the 4.0 are used to a very different type of life. In my business, I never wanted the technical but I needed you to be somewhat trained when you got here. I do not have a deep training department, so you need to have some of the skills and the ability to learn as you go. We are going to then make you fit into our box, but a lot of it is back on you and that is hard. Here is a great example. You know Angelo who works with me. I can’t pick salespeople. I suck at it. Even in my job, I can’t pick it.
What we do now is we have five tests that the salesperson will take. I usually do not like the ones who are great. I like the ones that would stink. It is recency bias. It is my own personal opinion, but if you can look at the test, you understand that stuff, and then you can build off, “These people resemble each other,” then you can build the avatar better, which is very hard to do when you first start.
That is impressive that you can be honest about that. For someone who has hired salespeople for many years, you can still say, “I miss more than I gain. I need some people around me that are better at picking these individuals and not keep banging my head against it.” That is a weak spot for you and you are trying to get better at it. You’re trying to get your arms around it because it is costly to hire bad. You know that that is not an area you are great at, so surround yourself with some people that are a little better at it. Angelo has done a lot of it too. If he is a little better, lean on his opinion more.
He interviewed them first and then they come to me. I check on personality and integrity, and then I sell.
Overly Focusing On Technical Skills
When you are overly focused on technical skills, what you are not focused on is cultural fit. That is number seven on our list and it goes together well with technical skills. A lot of these mistakes, I will preface by saying, normally it was when my business was growing too fast and I needed to hire lots of people, not one. When you have to hire one person, you do not make a lot of these mistakes. You are overly careful. You check a thousand references. You have a large panel of people interviewing. You look at ten candidates to hire one. You are very careful. When you are hiring ten people, it is a different story.
In 2013, rates were low in the home building industry, people were poaching left and right, and we were woefully understaffed. There was a Wells Fargo office near our office in Frederick, Maryland. People were leaving there in droves. Ultimately, we have learned why people were leaving Wells Fargo in droves. Their culture was acidic and toxic. They were putting so much pressure on people and they were opening fake accounts. Wells Fargo still has trouble now. It is a morass of toxicity, but I saw it on the front end where people were running.
We hired one and similar to your sorority story, she has told us, “There is a lot more like me,” and she did well initially. They had underwriters and processors, and those are very technical jobs. We were dying for people that could take 50 customers and start working their deals right away. We did not have time to train you for nine months out of college. She got us fifteen resumes. Just because she had some early success, we hired ten of them.
They got in and brought all that toxicity with them, and I missed it too. We did not dive into culture fit and their part of the problem. All I saw was there were 15, 20-year employees of Wells Fargo that were willing to leave. I was like, “They were loyal to Wells that long. They had great jobs. They are not job hoppers. They are going to be loyal to us.”
What I learned was if you are willing to stick around a company that is negative and terrible, how talented are you? How confident are you? I learned something completely different. They were not as good as I thought they were. They brought all that gossip and negativity. Two years later, we had to get rid of all of them. We had to start all over again and it was awful. Not only were they not performers but there were also HR issues.
The number of headaches that I got out of that Frederick office by hiring overly focused on technical skills because we had gaps in our staff, I paid for it for years in performance until we could clean it all up. We went all on the other side where we were like, “We do not want anyone with mortgage experience. We are going to hire them all ourselves and bring it up.” We are willing to deal with that to get our culture right. It was a disaster.
It is like a boiler room. We do not hire brokers here. We train them. Wells Fargo was so much better when it was in California. It was the guy on the ox-drawn wagon. There used to be something like real mythic quality to it and now it is shit. On the cultural fit side, a lot of this comes back to arrogance and ego. Hiring mistakes are a lot about arrogance and ego.
In the beginning, we did not know what we were doing. “They got to be like me” is the bias because our chops were not good enough. When you start looking at downtrodden people or people who are not the right fit for you, what you got to be very careful of is you have built a culture. What is that going to come around to?
There was a guy that came up. Everybody in my network said, “This guy was great.” I talked to him. Angelo talked to him. We are getting excited. We tested him and everything is good. It started coming around to he was negative. He was working in a position where he was making under $2,000 a month on average. I was like, “You are willing to do that. What is wrong with your psyche?” These are things you miss on the first pass. When I told him I was not going to hire him, this was his quote, “I want to rip off your face and shit down your neck.” He literally said that to me.
He was pressing me for, “Why aren’t you going to hire me?” I told him, “That is why. We sensed that this was back here and thank God we saw it before you got here.” Angelo has interviewed 4,000 or 5,000 people and he sniffed it. He brought it to me and I was like, “There is something there,” and we agitated it. That is the stuff that you have got to be so careful about. You and I have fired lots of people. It is always better to be conservative on the front end with someone toxic. There are things that we take a risk on and toxicity is not it. It will do so much more damage
You said he was working for an extended period of time for less than $2,000 and complaining about it the whole time. A lot of times, managers will say, “That is loyalty. They are not job hoppers. They are going to stick with us too.” You got to ask yourself, “What is up with that person’s self-confidence if they can work in a terrible toxic environment for less than the market for years? Did they just enjoy being a part of drama and negativity?”
A truly talented person that knows their worth won’t stick around for that, so who are you hiring? I never found value in hiring someone that was overly loyal to a toxic and terrible company that did not pay them. That is not someone I want. They have no confidence. They like the drama. That is not going to help you.By learning and asking these different questions, you're going to get the best out of people. You're giving them every opportunity to thrive in the interview, which is what we want. Click To Tweet
If you are willing to stick around for that, why? Your confidence is broken. I know how to sell myself to launch into something else. That is what it is. The subtlety in this is important. It is the why. Do not mislabel it as loyalty or as perseverance. It is stupidity. It is a lack of self-confidence. Those are not the people you want.
I am going to move on to number eight here. You leave most interview classes with a list of questions or a guide they give you. They teach you how to look for certain attributes. There are 15 to 20 of them you could look for. Resilience, time management, organization or top achiever, you look for all those things. One thing I did that diluted my interviews early on and I have moved away from it over time is I would build my list of questions. I was looking for fifteen different characteristics in every interview.
I would ask one question about time management and check off the box. One question about drive, check the box. One question about self-learning, and I would go through fifteen of these and ask one question. Over time, I have realized that they are not fifteen things that I highly value and no person is great at fifteen different things.
What I look for are the 4 or 5 things that you got to have. Resilience and great teammate are the big ones for me in everything I have ever done, and also problem-solving. What I do now is instead of asking one question, after you give me an example, I will say, “That is great. Tell me another. Tell me about a time when you did not do so good in this area.”
I’ll ask 4 or 5 in the same thing, but I picked the traits and behaviors that are most important to me and that fit with that position. I do not try to go an inch deep and a mile wide. I go a mile deep and an inch wide on the things that matter to me. That is something I have changed a lot and I am more effective as an interviewer now. I get into what I want more.
It is so funny because you have this pressure when you do not know what you are doing. Let me ask you this question. In a great interview, how many questions do you ask? In a great interview, I might ask 4 to 6 questions, but I might keep probing and asking. I might say, “That is cool. Tell me a little bit about this. Tell me more about that,” but it is four major questions.
It is 7 to 10 for me, tops. That includes rapport building, but each one has a series of 6 or 7 probes.
I was even rapport building and “What questions do you have for me?” It is somewhere between 7 and 10 questions. If you are in an interview and someone asks you 35 questions, do not expect to get the job.
They are inexperienced and they are no-takers. That is what they are doing there.
Let’s answer this from both sides. As an interviewer, if you are asking a question and you get a great response on problem-solving, tenacity and follow-through, why don’t you ask about planning and organizing there too? It sounds like that was a hell of an accomplishment. How did you set up for that? The person is already in it, just dig a little bit more. Do not close it up and say, “Do you use a daytimer?” That was the old question.
Those are the little things that you can get nuanced and pull out while you are in the process of that. You do not have to be across the board on stuff. If you have got integrity, follow-through or someone who seems to be relatively intelligent but knows how to adjust, that is what it takes to get a job. As an interviewer, if you are getting those things out of somebody, that is what it is all about. Can you pull that out in the interview?
A good way of saying it is less questions, more probing. I have evolved to that overtime where I have my questions. What’s different about that also is as a rookie interviewer, I do not know I was listening. I was trying to write notes because I was trying to get through all my questions. Now, I take some notes but I do not have a list of questions. I might write a few words down of things that I would like to know, but if I ask a question, I will listen and I am in tune with it.
It’s like a good salesperson does not ask questions to just ask them. You are listening and new questions are forming in your mind because you are trying to find the predicate to the subject. You are trying to describe more what they are trying to explain. You are getting more color. I listened better to the story you were telling and I try to understand your role in whatever situation you were explaining, and how you were able to get success. I am a little more effective by listening better.
To me, a new job, a new responsibility or a promotion is your ability to take what you have learned, compartmentalize it, and then adapt it to your new environment. If you go from being a project manager to a production manager, you are managing people who are in that role. It is formulaic. You and I had been promoted a bunch of different times. We use a lot of the same stuff over and over, and the process is very repeatable.
As an example, I love to ask, “Do you have another situation that is a resemblance to that?” The reason I want to ask that question is I want to see if they figured out that there is a pattern and there is repetitive stuff. They have already learned the lesson. Are they starting from scratch? To me, that does not show a lot of chops. They use that same foundation they have used once before and they are building off of it, “This is something that is good,” because they are going to come here and there are going to be differences, but do they know how to be adaptable? Do they know how to take those things in and interpret them next? That is a big deal.
You pair questions. I might ask you to tell me about a failure in a certain area. I am trying to see if you are confident enough to admit to failures and if you are going to give me a juicy one. If you are going to get me a juicy one, that tells me a lot about your confidence. If you give me a little softball and try to not admit to something going wrong, it tells me that your ego is bigger than your humility.
After that failure, I’ll say, “Thank you for sharing that. That is a crazy story. Tell me a different situation but one that ended with a little happier ending,” or maybe I will ask you to tell me about a great success you had. After you tell me that, I’ll be like, “Tell me about another situation where you were presented with it that did not end so great.”
I am always trying to see, “Give me the yin and yang. Give me the positive and the negative. Do you learn from mistakes? How have you changed as a result of your failure?” A lot of that teaches me about your growth mindset. I would never ask, “Tell me about your growth mindset. Tell me about a time when your growth mindset came through.” I am asking about other behaviors that have failure involved in it, and then I am trying to dig in, “What did you learn? Tell me about another situation that came up that you learned from that, where you were a different person.” If they struggle with that, then there is a good chance that they struggle with a growth mindset in general.
To me, that is the difference between a crappy movie script and a Tarantino. You are getting at the same thing but you have some dexterity in how you are asking. You have some skill and tact of how you are getting there and you’re trying to get it out of them. The other thing too is by learning the yin and the yang, and asking these different questions, you are going to get the best out of people. You are giving them every opportunity to thrive in the interview, which is what we want. If you do not have the chops, you are not going to get the job, but we have done our part to get it out.
The last one you present because I could not resonate with this one. I do think that this one comes in line with business conditions, lowering your standards to an extent where interviewers are different when they hire one person versus they need to hire twenty in general. It does not matter what market you are in. One that you brought up was choosing a candidate with your heart and ignoring some warning signs. I am heartless because I could not come up with one example of effort doing this. I was probably on the other side of this. Share how you did some of this when you were a new leader.
I almost felt like it was my responsibility as an interviewer to make that person work. I did not understand how companies worked. At NVR, we had an HR person who would build a panel of 3 to 4 people. What they would usually do is they would put 3 or 4 people in front of you and they thought maybe 1 or 2 could do the job. The other two people were there, they were not immediately sign-offs but they were not good enough. They would highlight how much better the other person was. I did not know that at that time.
I would always think that all four of these people we should be hiring. I would be trying to give them the answer or trying to steer them in the right direction. The worst of it is I was not being honest with myself that this person can’t do the job. I would be sitting in a room with Paul. I’ll be like, “No, I can get this guy to perform if we hired him.” He had been around for twenty years and he did not want that guy on the staff because he knew it was not going to work. For me, I was thinking, “I’ll work harder. I’ll get the most out of them.” What I have gotten to is a more heartless place of, “If you do not have the skillset, I am sorry, this is not the right opportunity for you.” It took me a while to get there.
That goes in line also with a new manager who inherits a team. If there are fifteen people, there are always two people on the team that do not have the skillset. That natural competitiveness of the manager comes out of, “I can make this person work. I can develop, train and teach them.” Twelve months later, they are the same person and nothing has changed. You put a ton of effort and time into it. You ignored the other thirteen people on the team, and you are in the same place. You have to get rid of them and replace them.
You had seven years of an upmarket. You were not getting rid of anyone because you needed everyone. Even the bad ones were getting results because the market was saving you. You did not learn that lesson quickly, whereas I could have learned that lesson fast because I had to do some layoffs early and I had to fire people quickly. Maybe I did not have that challenge because I was in a different market than you that was slow and declining, and you were in a crazy rocket ship up where you kept even the bad employees around because they could get satisfactory results.
I use this analogy a lot in the show when I talk about developing different pitches. You know a lot more about baseball than I do, but I had a fastball seven years in. I knew how to hire but I did not know how to fire, which is a second pitch. I did not know how to cultivate it. I did not know how to put someone on performance management and get the best out of them.
Those are the things I had to learn later because the market bailed a lot of these things out. I could get away with only having one pitch. A rich and full career is going to be many oscillations, changes and different aspects of your job. You are going to have to do all of these things if you are going to be great. If you want to be good, you can get away with 1 or 2. To be great, you got to have all of it.
I am going to wrap this up by saying that I desperately hope that the Ford family tune in to this show because they have hired 27 head coaches since our last championship in the ’50s. They are shitty at hiring general managers and coaches. Detroit Lions, this is for you. I am going to hashtag you a little to see if we can get you to learn from us and the Lions won’t be so crappy. Maybe the Dolphins could learn from it. Good hire on Shula. Not much since.
You bought sports, I am reading the book, The Dynasty and I have texted you about this. It is awesome. I am a Dolphin fan and I hate the Patriots. It is incredible all the little things they do that fit so well within this outline like why did they hire Belichick. Nobody liked him but Robert Kraft saw someone who had the skill and who was willing to be a contrarian. All of the things that we talked about are like athletes. If they are stale, they get rid of them before, not after their prime. All these little things are so tangential to what we talked about.
If I ever get the chance, I will hire you and that would not be a mistake.
Thanks again. Nothing would make you happier than to be my boss. You get to bark at me and then boss me around like, “I am in charge around here, not Frank.”
The reason I am doing this show is I get to tell you what to do sometimes and you follow orders on this.
Ian and I did a deal. He told everybody, “So that everyone is clear, I am not Frank’s boss.”
I am not Frank’s boss. It is very important to me. I do not need to be paid for that. I want everyone to know that that is the situation. Have a great day. I hope you hire well.
You, too. Good talking to you.