The Big Secret Your HR Manager Isn’t Telling You

Gene Marks

I know a recent college graduate who applied to work at a big, international consulting firm. BigCo only hires the cream of the crop (or, at least, that’s what they say). The process is brutal. He was required to submit two essays – one on what he could contribute to the company and another about world peace (not kidding). He had an on-campus and then two onsite interviews, each time with different people. He was asked to participate in a group activity with other candidates to “gauge his collaboration skills.” He took an aptitude test.

He was hired! A year later, he quit.


“Hated it,” he told me.

How could this be? The candidate was put through the most rigorous due diligence by the HR department of a big consulting firm. Yet he quit after only one year. There’s a lesson here. If you’re looking to hire a new employee for your business, then know this: You know as much as anyone else – including a Human Resources Manager at a big company.

HR experts, consultants and professionals spend a lot of time learning about the best practices for hiring. It’s important stuff. If you run a small business like mine – I only have 10 people – then making just one wrong hire can have a dramatic, negative impact on your business.

Hiring a new employee is super-tough. HR pros at the biggest companies try to create a mechanized system out of the process. They place a high priority on reading resumes and cover letters to pick out the exceptional candidates from just the average ones. They like to create thought-provoking questions, team-building games and role-playing scenarios to test out a candidate’s people and communication skills. They schedule office visits, rounds of interviews and walk-throughs. They run background checks and require testing. They devise complicated checklists and evaluation forms which sum up scores and calculate a candidate’s worthiness for the job.

It’s all very helpful. But does it contribute to a successful hire? Unfortunately, not all the time.

OK, I admit, I don’t have the data to back up this claim. But I know it’s true, just by looking at my client base. Why? Because every business owner knows that you can formalize all you want, but in the end, the decision to hire someone is a gut call.

Do you trust this person?

Can you look in their eyes and see honesty, hard work, discipline?

Can the person be taught? Will everyone get along?

You don’t know these answers and neither does the most experienced HR Manager. Take solace in that. Your choice in a new employee is no different than all the other choices you’re making in a typical day: the choice to give a customer a few more days of credit, to buy from a new vendor, to allow someone time off, to purchase that new piece of machinery, to hire a new cleaning service. You’re getting the data, checking references, comparing to others…and in the end you’re just making a gut call.

Remember that for your next hire. Standardize the process as much as you want. Ask the hard questions. Get other managers’ input. Ask your HR consultant to write it all up and make recommendations. It’ll help. But it won’t be the determining factor. The determining factor, that final ten percent, will be luck. HR Managers hate to admit this. But experienced business owners know it’s true.

Join writer and small business owner Gene Marks each Wednesday for the Small Biz Ahead podcast. You can submit a question for Gene to answer on the podcast.

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