Small Business and Startup Tips: Hire and be Human

Last week ago I discussed a great yiddish word in one of my posts and today I want to share another. This is a word many of you may already be familiar with, and that may even inspire some of you in how you live your life. The word is mensch and it describes a good person. In German the word means simply “human being,” but in Yiddish it has a subtler shade. A mensch is a person of integrity, a noble individual, or simply, a “good” person. A mensch displays compassion, understanding, and generosity. A mensch truly treats others as they would them self want to be treated.

I had lunch last week with a friend who used to work as a manager at crowdSPRING and we got to talking about his recently ended(!) job search. He shared with me some unpleasant stories about the process – the dreadful vetting and testing he endured and several ghastly interviews he had been subjected to. As he was relating these to me, I started thinking about our own hiring and interviewing process at crowdSPRING and what we might be doing well and where we could improve. At the end of the conversation he thanked me. “What for?” I asked him. “Because you made me personally call every person we rejected.” He went on to tell me how difficult those calls were to make, but how he had come to appreciate this practice – especially when he found himself on the receiving end of several perfunctory “We went with another candidate” emails after he had been put through rounds of testing and interviews.

A quick Google search for “hiring assessment” returns almost 38 million hits and “hiring best practices” returns almost 12 million. Many companies today are using online testing tools to help hem find qualified candidates and many others have developed their own contrivances. Testing is indeed one way to determine if a job applicant has the proper skills necessary for a position, but the use of these assessments often is taken to the extreme, with some candidates forced through multiple rounds of testing before they are even granted an interview.

Then there’s the interview itself. My ex-employee reported to me about several interviews he had recently gone on and his dismay at the way he was treated. In a couple of cases the interviewer (in one case the founder of an online company here in Chicago) was incredibly discourteous, subjecting him not only to awkward and rude questions but outright hostility. This is no way to treat anyone, let alone someone who has made it through a prior round of interviewing.

This takes me back to the idea of being a mensch. What I have observed, and what I have heard of other managers and other companies is the increasingly dehumanizing process of identifying candidates, vetting candidates, and interviewing candidates that seems to be the trend at many small businesses and startups. This doesn’t mean that your company should abandon online assessments, nor should you rethink the way you design your interview process – it just means that you should be human in your approach. Remember the people applying for the job are people. They are not computer programs and they are not online tests. they are individuals who, for whatever reason, are looking for work and they are deserving of your respect, your kindness, and your compassion.

I don’t want to go into best practices for hiring – we’ve written about it before and you can read up on that elsewhere – but I do want to share a few thoughts on a few simple things you can do to make the process more humane; in short, how to be a mensch!

1. Write a great job description.
This is where it all starts. A great job description will get you great candidates. This is not to say that you won’t receive more than a fair share of resumes from completely unqualified people, but it does mean that you should receive some winners, too. After all what you are looking for is a great match; the perfect person to fill that job. To attract that person, you have to bait the trap – and the bait is a job that she or he really wants. I hear from manager after manager that, assuming a candidate meets the basic qualifications for the job, the most important quality they are trying to find is a good cultural fit. With the right voice, your job description can convey a great deal about your company’s culture, making the position even more attractive to applicants who will fit in. So, don’t be afraid to let your company’s personality shine through when writing that job posting – send a message even before they send a resume.

2. Treat people with respect.
Every job seeker knows the pain of the form letter rejection and every interviewee can tell their own story about that awkward interrogation they were subject to. We’ve all been there and we can all remember and it does not have to be that way. If you are harvesting resumes to a specific inbox, set up a nice auto-reply to let applicants know that you received their resume and will be back in touch soon. And then, follow up with each of the applicants even if they don’t qualify for an interview. A simple, personal, (and quick) note to every person who submits an application goes a very long way to making them feel respected. These notes can and should get more detailed and more personal with each layer of your process that a candidate gets through. For instance with unqualified applicants who will never make it to the second level, a few sentences of a polite thank-you template will suffice. But for candidates who were selected to go further through your hiring process, even if they are not granted an interview, a deeper explanation is required and a larger thanks due for the effort they put forth to apply. 

3. Say “Thank you”
About that phone call I mentioned above? Every single person who applies for the position deserves a thank you from you. But those that you bring in for an interview deserve even more. The appropriate action for interviewees who do not get the job is a phone call from you. No matter that they were not hired; if they got that far, an email will not suffice. Whether you interviewed 2 people or 20, take the time to call every one of them and thank them for their time, for their interest, and for their effort. Remember that they have even more at stake in this process than you do, remember that they gave of their time to go through your hiring process, and (most of all) remember that it is a person on the receiving end of the call. Be a mensch.

Photo: Nonsequiturlass