Did You Hire the Best or the Best Available?
My 5-year-old asks better questions than this VP.
In fact, the VP didn’t question our co-founders ONCE during our meeting…and they spit out a TON of BS.
The VP just nodded the whole time.
I wasn’t even part of Scribe yet. I was just sitting in on the executive meeting.
And even I could tell they had hired the wrong VP. He wasn’t a bad person, or even a bad VP—he just wasn’t right for the company.
It was the little behaviors and habits that told me so. Most people overlook details. Not me. I believe the details tell you more about a person than the so-called big things.
He wrote the agenda on the whiteboard crooked.
He didn’t ask questions.
Our co-founders are good at what they do (sometimes), but they spit out a TON of BS in that meeting. And he didn’t push back on them one bit.
He just nodded and said, “I understand.”
He was the VP of a new startup that needed a leader! Even if he did understand, his duty was to challenge the co-founders’ assumptions.
He didn’t do that once.
I was in no place to provide direction or tell them what to do. I was just a friend, advisor, and client (yes, I was just one of Scribe’s Authors at the time) trying to help.
I just asked questions.
After the meeting—which was a disorganized knowledge share—I asked one of the co-founders a simple question.
“Your new VP—did you hire the best person for the job, or the best person available?”
His face got so red I believed he might shoot smoke out of his ears.
“What the hell does that mean?!”
I stayed calm. “Well, because it seems like you hired the best person available.”
“Are you kidding me? He has amazing experience. One of our advisors referred him, dude. You think they sent us someone who—”
“Hey, okay. It was just a question.”
I waited weeks before I finally got an answer to my question…
The Painful Wait
All companies are desperate for talented people. That’s the exact situation Scribe was in at the time. They needed leadership, and they needed it yesterday.
On paper, that’s a great problem to have. It meant we were profitable and growing. In reality, when a startup—or any company—gets too lenient with who they bring on board, they create more issues than they solve.
They hire the Best Available instead of the Best for the position.
VC-backed companies are the worst offenders. They set hard goals, like hiring 100 people in 90 days, then pat themselves on the back when they reach that goal.
Then they end up with a bunch of Best Availables, only to find out months later that half of those people are bad fits for their roles or bad fits in the company culture.
You thought you solved your problem, but instead you created a bigger one. Great. Now what?
You just spent a bunch of money hiring people, feeling good about yourselves, and now you have to spend even more money either exiting those people or coaching them up.
Scribe isn’t VC-backed—we’re a bootstrapped startup—and even we’ve been guilty of hiring the Best Available a few times.
It’s tempting to give in and make a knee-jerk hire.
Sometimes you need people in roles. You have to take on more work to compensate for the role you haven’t filled.
You may even get people through the interviewing process and think, “I know this person could fill the role—but my gut is telling me we’re settling for the Best Available.”
You might have to wait months to find the best. That’s painful.
But it’s not nearly as painful (and as expensive) as hiring the wrong person because they were the best you could find at the time.
So how can you tell if you’ve hired the Best or the Best Available?
Follow Your Instinct, or Pay the Price
Did you ever sneak out of the house when you were a kid?
You stood with one leg out the window and one leg in your bedroom and a thought would hit you: “I’m making a mistake.”
How many times did that thought strike you before you snuck out? If you’re like me, the answer is simple:
Every. Single. Time.
Then, when you go against your instinct, something bad happens.
Hiring is exactly the same. If your instinct tells you you’re settling for a hire, rather than waiting for the Best Available, then you need to walk away.
If you even have to ask yourself “Is this person the Best or the Best Available?” then you’ve answered your own question.
It’s the same phenomenon you experience every day:
Should I yell at my kids?
Should I get a burger in the drive-thru?
Just by asking, your uncertainty is leading you to a choice: Say no…to the yelling, to the burger, and to the hire.
Even beyond trusting your gut instinct, there are a few indicators you can look for to ensure you hired the Best.
Do they ask questions?
If a candidate makes it to the final interview—or even to onboarding—they should have at least some face-to-face time with you. If they get in the room with you, the leader of the company, and they don’t ask you questions, that’s a blinking neon sign that this person is a Best Available, not the Best.
It makes you wonder about their commitment:
Are they not curious about anything?
Don’t they want to know more about our process, or even about me as a leader?
If you got into a room with your company’s leaders before you, wouldn’t you just unload questions on them? I know I would (and did, with our VP and co-founders).
If the candidate doesn’t have questions? Yeah, you might be settling.
Also, if they don’t know (or care to know) anything about your company, odds are they’re doing the same thing you are:
Settling for the Best Available.
On the other hand, the Best candidates will already be knowledgeable about your company, and they’ll be eager to fill in the gaps with questions for you.
When all else fails, follow your instinct. It will guide you to the right decision almost every time.
The Cost of the Best Available
I sat in on that executive meeting with our VP and co-founders on March 1st.
By March 30th, the VP had resigned, realizing he wasn’t the person for the role.
I went back to Tucker a few days after.
“Hey, I wanted to ask you that same question again: With the VP, did you hire the best person or the best person available?” I smiled.
He refused to make eye contact with me. He just shook his head and muttered a few sentences so vulgar I can’t detail them here.
I couldn’t help but laugh. That was all the answer I needed.
Hiring the Best Available is expensive. Our VP hire easily cost us six figures in salary and missed opportunities, despite him being here for just a few months.
But believe it or not, that wasn’t the biggest loss.
What hurt most was the effect it had on our culture. The churn of hiring and exiting people, especially leaders, is stressful for everyone.
Don’t settle. The pain of waiting for the Best is nowhere close to the pain of hiring the Best Available.
Just ask our co-founders…
Are you hiring the Best or the Best Available?
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