Top 10 Hiring Mistakes, #3: Hiring the Resume, not the Person

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Hiring someone because they have an impressive resume is like buying a car because you love the brochure. If you fail to look under the hood, buyer beware. Your new hire may end up like the Fisker Karma: the coveted hybrid sports car looked like a million bucks, but was so ridden with glitches that the manufacturer had to halt production and start looking for bankruptcy protection.

You need to avoid lemons when you’re hiring too. That means treating the resume like an advertisement – good for basic information but not the whole story.

A candidate’s education, skillset and experience will be the first things to catch your eye. And, of course, it does matter who the person has worked for, which technologies she knows, and how many people she’s managed.

But what you’re really looking for in a great hire are the qualities you can’t list on a resume – I call these brains and heart. They’re at the root of a person’s ability to confront unexpected challenges, to demonstrate wisdom and judgment, and to develop into an invaluable part of your team.

Brains are more than a person’s raw mental horsepower. This kind of intelligence means having a flexible mindset that combines book smarts and street smarts. The blend enables a person to navigate unfamiliar situations, and to make sense of many conflicting signals. (See Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset for a description of a “growth mindset”). Can this person tell a good risk from a bad one? Can he absorb knowledge fast, and apply it in real time? Does he have the social intelligence to work well with people around him?

Heart is my shorthand for the entire constellation of a candidate’s values. It’s the system of ethics and beliefs from which all her choices and actions arise. Does she dive into whatever she’s working on? Can she deal with tough setbacks? Take responsibility and share credit? Can she make things happen at critical moments, even if she’s tired?

When you find a top-quality hire, you’ll see that the answer to these questions is inevitably yes.

Still, when deadlines loom, there’s a temptation to snap up a skilled person who can help get your current product out the door. Just be wary about striking a Faustian bargain: you may be trading that short-term fix for a long-term disappointment.

Conducting a thorough and insight-capturing interview is one of the best ways to get a deeper sense of a person’s character and mindset. I’ll write about some interview do’s and don’ts in the next Hiring Mistakes post: Interviewing on Autopilot.