One heuristic we developed at Infochimps and used in several crucial hiring and firing decisions was to ask ourselves “Is this the best job for this person’s career?” Hiring and firing decisions can have a huge impact on an individual, affecting their livelihood and self-perception in significant ways. Once aware of the possible grave effects of hiring a person into the wrong role, or letting someone go, it is really easy for the decision-making process to get all gummed up with emotion and sympathy.
We had a very friendly, people-centered culture at the company. Somehow the initial reasons for letting someone go or passing on a candidate never could add up to the kind of thing you’d want to say to that person’s face. “You don’t fit in here” or “you don’t perform to our standards” can be pretty cold-blooded words to hear, and are not likely to help the individual down their path. We also had a standard we tried to uphold whereby every job candidate left our hiring process with nothing but good things to say (even if we turned them down), same with the folks we had to let go.
One way we found to turn it upside down and come at the problem in as people-centered way as possible, was to ask ourselves “Is this the best job for this person’s career?” Once framed this way, it can be much easier to reach a yes/no decision on your hire/fire dilemma.
As well, many of the issues we might have had or foreseen with this person become helpful points of feedback and ways we could try to set them up for more success down the road:
- “You don’t fit in here” becomes “We believe you’ll be happier somewhere else” – Especially in our technology industry, there are hundreds of different companies to choose from for employment, offering a huge variety of cultures that might be more in-line with what that candidate believes in. The latter reasoning makes clear that we don’t want the person to be unhappy in our organization.
- “You don’t perform to our standards” becomes “We think you’re earlier in your path than we need for this role, and don’t want to set you up for failure” – This acknowledges their talents and aptitude, and presents the issue in a forward-thinking, optimistic point of view. Instead of “these are the things you lack” it is “these are the things you have yet to learn or acquire.”
- In times of a pivot or when money is tight, “we don’t need your job anymore” or “we can’t afford you anymore” are generally neutral and non-personal explanations anyway, but these can be taken another step further and phrased as “we can no longer offer you the kind of role and challenges that would help you grow.” Again, the spirit is that the person will move on to bigger and better things as a result of this.
- When a choice is murky because there are two candidates, one with a lot of experience and another with less, asking yourself whether the position is a better next step for either candidate can help narrow the choice. Maybe the more experienced candidate will find the position more humdrum and same-old, not bringing the attitude and excitement you might hope for. Maybe they are excited and consider this a great leap for themselves – but because it’s a new industry or technology area, not because it’s a title bump.
There can be lots of ways to phrase the feedback to a candidate you pass on or someone you let go, none are perfect in every case. I have found, however, that by simply asking the question you put yourself in the frame of mind that yields much more empathetic and helpful discussions about the decision. Next time you have trouble deciding whether to hire a particular candidate or whether to let someone go, try it. Ask yourself: “Is this the best job for this person’s career?”