If I hear the phrase ‘People are our most important asset.’ again I think I will scream. I will scream not because it is a stupid thing to say but because to senior management, it is often a platitude. As Managing Director and founder, hiring the right people was one of the most important things I did and whilst I would delegate part of the process to line management, I remained involved at the beginning and at the end of it even as the company grew. Typically, I would oversee the advertisements (a key part of our brand) and then thin out the C.V.s to an interview shortlist for line managers to further shortlist. I would then participate in the second or final interview round, when we might have come down to 2-3 candidates for a vacancy.
My philosophy in selecting for the first shortlist was always ‘Hire for attitude, train for skill.’ (Unless a very specific technical skill or qualification is required. Even then if you have multiple qualified candidates this should still be your guiding light.) If someone has a positive attitude, there are few business skills that cannot be learned pretty quickly. If they have a poor attitude, then no matter what experience and qualifications they have, they will make a poor team member. Consequently, the most important things I look for in a C.V. are signs of a good attitude. What I mean by this is a willingness and ability to learn, ambition, flexibility, resilience, stamina and good inter-personal skills. To detect these, sometimes you need to read between the lines of the C.V.
Let me give you a couple of examples of ‘reading between the lines.’ If someone has moved from another country to better their life, that is often a good indication of a positive attitude. It shows a willingness to go outside of their comfort-zone, ambition etc. If they are also highly qualified in their own country but are willing to take lesser jobs in the U.K. just to get on the ladder, then it shows a willingness to work their way up. Similarly, someone who comes from a poor background in the U.K. but has got to a second-tier university and completed a degree course, may well have had to overcome more obstacles and shown more perseverance than someone who has had all the benefits of a good upbringing who has glided into a good university and got a better degree. You might have to look elsewhere in a C.V. to find examples of positive attitude in one of the latter types of candidate.
I am not saying, ordinary middle-class Brits do not have any of these positive characteristics. What I am advocating, is that when you read C.V.s you should be looking for things that demonstrate a positive attitude more than formal qualifications or experience. Detecting these characteristics often requires more imagination than the ‘box-ticking approach that you will probably get if you delegate the task. When you look at a C.V. keep this in the front of your mind and you may well discover some ‘diamonds in the rough.’ These will often make your best and most loyal team members.
Hiring people and giving them a break was one of the most rewarding parts of running a business. To do it successfully, you need to undertake the quality control at the beginning of the hiring process so the funnel is filled with good candidates. Too many senior managers just arrive at the end of the process for the final interview by which time too many good candidates may have been lost. Prioritise the recruitment process and enjoy it; don’t delegate it as something not worthy of your time. It will help ensure that your people really are your most important asset!