You're Hired

By Hannah Wallace February 28, 2006

As many of us know, the term "human resources" didn't always refer to the department. The department used to be called personnel, and human resources translated to a company's people assets: the intangible resources, the ones that make all other assets pale in value. After all, it's people who create, acquire, market and administer the tangible assets, which are usually more easily replaceable. But there's nothing easy about replacing a good employee.

If we really set the management bar as high as possible-almost unreasonably high-we might determine that turnover, whether caused by termination or resignation, can be considered a flaw in hiring: something during the interview process we didn't observe, a line of questioning we didn't pursue or just something we didn't pick up on. Think about it. If we rightfully exclude reasons involving death, retirement, relocation based upon sudden personal factors, and unexpected, unbelievable opportunities or winning the lottery (retirement again)-a person who leaves a company, whether by choice or not, may have been wrong for the job in the first place.

I think our most important business decisions involve whom we bring into our companies. If we do that right, everything else can be made easier. Turnover, which occurs everywhere in varying degrees, can be disruptive and time consuming. Since it's hard to replace good people, and since firing is a hurtful and gut-wrenching experience, then collectively we ought to be better at hiring.

There should be nothing easy about the process. Good interviews need to be conducted with maximum astuteness and focus-no interruptions or mind wandering-and should occur enough times to provide ample opportunity to get to know the interviewee in depth (and vice versa), to determine consistency and to see if initial applicant infatuation, which sometimes occurs, becomes a lasting thing.

Years ago at CBS there was a sales executive named Charlie Warner, whom some of us referred to as "the great hirer." Charlie was responsible for bringing to CBS some of the most talented media people I've ever worked with. His standards were incredibly high, and his interview style was nothing short of relentless. If Charlie was truly interested in the applicant, he'd forcefully ask probing questions, one after another. Every statement uttered by the interviewee was examined for intelligence and conviction. Because the jobs he was looking to fill were sales and sales management positions in the ultra-competitive world of radio, he needed to see how candidates thought on their feet and handled themselves under the pressure of tough questioning bordering on rejection. Since a good salesperson should be nothing less than stellar in an interview situation-selling oneself-Charlie's goal was to discover what was beneath an often articulate, glib and confident surface.

There was almost no turnover in his operation. By the time you got the job you had become an open book to Charlie and you wanted that job far more than when you first walked into his office. You also knew, for all the right reasons, you had made a career commitment to CBS. This was mutual decision making at its highest level, producing long-lasting positive results.

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