Chief Operating Officer, 10+ Years of Digital Marketing Experience
March 15th, 2019
In the last three years, IMPACT has grown from 23 people to a team of 65. And we’re not done growing.
We didn’t pick just any 42 people to add to our team. We were, of course, extremely intentional on hiring for culture and skill.
Last year, as I moved into my new role as VP of Services, I became much more involved in our already established hiring process for recruiting top-performing marketers. It became my responsibility to staff up our services team, which comprised the majority of the hires we did last year.
Over the course of 2018, I interviewed well over 500 people. It’s crazy to think back on it, honestly.
When my parents would ask me how work was going and what I was doing, for 6 straight months, my answer was, “Good, just doing a lot of hiring.” Actually, I’m still saying that.
That’s an insane amount of interviewing, but we’re selective for good reason: to keep our culture intact and to provide the level of service our clients deserve.
I wish I could say I got it right every time. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.
When reflecting back on where I went wrong, I began to seeing a strong recurring theme.
No matter how smart, how personable, or how experienced an applicant is, they will fail 100% of the time if they lack self-awareness. Period.
You Can Do Everything Right...and Still Get It Wrong
At IMPACT, we are vigilant in iterating on our hiring process to make sure we continue to hire great folks.
IMPACT isn’t the first place I’ve ever worked or the first hiring process I’ve been apart of. I’ve worked for one of the top professional employment organizations (PEO) in the country, which has incredible talent and a process of their own.
However, when I went through IMPACT’s process as a candidate and now as someone on the other side of it, I’ve been blown away at what a small team of people has been able to develop.
Every detail is thought through. We even survey every candidate that doesn’t get hired to keep getting better.
Despite sharing what we’ve learned, we continuously iterate our process.
I recently wrote about an exercise Natalie Davis, our VP of Talent, and I did to learn from some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past.
The gist of it was assessing and verbalizing the positive traits of our team, and the negative ones that some of the employees who have left in recent years shared, to determine the best questions to ask and how to test for these traits in our hiring process.
In doing this exercise, it was clear the most positive trait our team shares...and we weren’t actively looking for it in our hiring process.
Having a beautiful hiring process and asking good questions isn’t enough. We had a gaping hole in the whole thing because we weren’t listening for the key indicator of success.
Until we began emphasizing what we were really listening and looking for - self awareness - every hire was a gamble.
A True Story: What Happens When You Don’t Hire for Self-Awareness
Here’s an example of how not looking for self-awareness came back to haunt us.
We hired someone early last year who was super active in our Facebook Group, IMPACT Elite. This person had gone to our booth at INBOUND to meet us, interacted with our team on social media, created really great content, etc.
They were a marketing superstar, so when they decided to apply at IMPACT, we were pretty excited.
Despite their great reputation, I still went through our typical hiring process with this person.
I had assessed their skill level to be lower than that of most our team, but because they were so passionate and connected to our team already, we offered a position and salary according to their skill level, and set the expectation that this person was working their way into the full role.
Culturally they seemed like a great fit, so I (pompously) felt we could teach the rest.
This person left their old job, started with us, and the first two weeks went fine. They were doing basic onboarding tasks, so no red flags jumped out immediately.
As it became time to work on billable work, that’s when things came crashing down.
This person struggled when a process or template wasn’t provided to them. They couldn’t finish their work on time and weighed their team down who had to cover for their low velocity.
But the biggest problem they had: they didn’t think they contributed to their own issues.
It was everyone else’s fault why they weren’t able to finish their work and contribute to their team. They had tough clients. They didn’t have clear enough instructions. They weren’t onboarded well enough. Name any excuse in the book, this person said it.
As it became clear the excuses were just that -- excuses -- I felt like an idiot for hiring this person, and also weirdly betrayed.
Running the hiring process is akin to dating. I thought I had gotten to know this person. I thought we were on the same page that they had room to grow and needed to put in the work.
Then they start on this team and totally bomb. WTH?
But upon further reflection, it wasn’t on them though. It was on me.
I missed all the signs or quite frankly, didn’t look for all the signs to show that this person would never grow because they already thought they were better than they were, and could not take feedback.
It was unfathomable to them that they could be a reason for their own failings.
A Bad Hire Goes Beyond Financial Pain
Every leadership/hiring article out there states the financial implications of a bad hire.
What they don’t say is how much it sucks when it’s your responsibility to hire a great team and the second and third order effects of when you fail to do so.
First and foremost, I drained our team’s resources by having them spend time interviewing and then training a bad-fit hire - not to mention all the documentation they had to do when we knew we needed to make a change.
Secondly, I prolonged the amount of time it took to get my team the help it needed. Not only did that particular team have to cover for this hire while training and later firing that person, they had to continue to do so while I went back to the drawing board to get them some help.
Thirdly, I wasted my own time. I could have been working on more proactive and helpful projects for the company and instead, I spent another few months interviewing again and again.
Lastly, that bad hire was a person - a real human with a family, with bills, with goals. I helped put them in a position where they now had to worry about money and what they would do next in their career. That weighs on me more than anything.
I hate all of those feelings, and they could have been avoided if I’d prioritized self-awareness the way it needs to be in the hiring process.
So how do you do that, you might ask?
How to Test for Self Awareness in the Hiring Process
Think of all the opportunities you have to learn about your job applicants throughout your hiring process. You most likely have a few of the stages below:
Initial interview or screen
Final interview/Job offer
If your process is more in-depth, you probably have a few additional interviews with the team or the manager of the new hire thrown in as well.
This is ample time to learn about a candidate.
Just like inbound marketing and conversion forms, you can ask deeper questions as you move along the hiring process.
For example, the application may not be the best place to ask your really tough questions. In a way, you could scare off bad candidates, but you could also come across the wrong way and scare off good ones too.
However, you can ask something to reveal the level of self-awareness of your candidates in each stage.
In our online application form, we don’t go right out and ask “Are you self aware?” We actually don’t ask anything that explicitly comes across as such.
What we do ask is for a candidate to check all the tools and tactics they consider themselves experts in - yes, we purposefully use the word, “expert.”
If a candidate checks every single box...come on. Not even Bob Ruffolo, or Marcus Sheridan can say they’re in expert in everything.
That’s a red flag for us.
We also note if they check off things like HubSpot, yet have no HubSpot experience listed in their resume or they admit they aren’t well-versed in another application question. If their experience contradicts the application, that’s another red flag in self-awareness.
If you don’t do this stage, read this section anyways and figure out when to incorporate the following type of question.
To avoid inadvertently coaching our current job applicants how to ace the interview with us, I’m going to provide a question we sometimes ask, but not always. I have another question I always ask that yields similar results as the one I’m providing here, but you can get the premise.
I like to ask the candidate to describe something that made them uncomfortable at work in the past.
An example of this is “Describe when you had a bad boss or co-worker.”
I don’t care that the person had a tough boss or backstabbing co-worker. What I want to hear is how they describe the situation and if they take any responsibility themselves.
I also want to hear personal growth from the situation - and bonus points if they acknowledge after growing they realize that it really wasn’t that bad of a situation and they were too short-sighted to see that at the time.
If all I hear is complaining about someone else with no self-reflection or development from it, that’s another red flag.
We treat our full interview as basically a culture interview.
We ask a little bit about marketing, but knowing we do an activity next that makes it very clear to us if a candidate knows their craft, we can maximize this interview to make sure it’s worth everyone’s time to continue.
In this half hour interview, I have 8 questions that I ask every time, knowing I will ask follow up questions to their first response and dig as deep as a I can to make sure the candidate can thrive in our environment.
All 8 questions are culture-related questions.
This often feels weird to the candidate, but we tell them upfront what kind of interview it is and that we will ask very little about their marketing experience. I strongly suggest you do as well if you shift how you run your interview to get in front of candidate concerns.
I touched on one of those questions in a previous article. To summarize here, we ask, “Describe a time when you were tasked with something you didn’t know how to do and how you overcame it.”
Believe it or not, I’ve had someone tell me they’ve never not known how to do something in a job…
Can they think of a time when they didn’t know how to do something? (Eliminate them if they can’t.)
If they can, did it take them a really long time to think of it? (If so, this is usually a red flag for lack of self-awareness. Be mindful though that they could also just be nervous.)
Did they take meaningful steps to overcome it? (Major bonus points if they took what they learned and taught others in the company.)
The Hiring Activity
Regardless of what you do for a hiring activity, my favorite way to snuff out self-awareness here is to ask the candidate to critique their own work.
There’s no magic trick on how to do this. Simply asking for their opinion of themselves and how they did can reveal a lot about how they see themselves.
After hearing their personal assessment, I provide feedback and gauge how they take it. If I hear lots of excuses or things like “normally I don’t do it that way,” type of responses, that’s a good signal they may struggle in the self-awareness department.
Final Interview/Job Offer
We’ve had candidates do a great job up until this point.
They’ve interviewed primarily with me, someone they see as a leader in the company, yet when they get to the final stage, which is actually a peer/team interview, this is when lack of self-awareness can creep out.
We’ve seen this manifest in a few ways:
The candidate is super lackadaisical with their team, giving the impression they only cared to look good to the “boss” and are in it for themselves.
When they are with their peers and their guard is down, they admit they don’t know as much as they said they did. This sounds good at first for self-awareness, but if they didn’t realize lying upfront would be an issue, then that’s as low in self-awareness as you can get.
They beg and campaign for the job to their peers. What sounds like excitement at first crosses over to lack of self-awareness of the whole point of the interview - to allow the team to get to know them and to give them a chance to know their new team. Instead they look like bullet #1 - self-serving and don’t show a genuine interest in others.
Walking away at this last stage could be really hard to swallow. You’ve made it this far in the process with a candidate. You’ve spent a lot of time and maybe even money if it’s an in-person interview, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s still just that -- an interview.
You need to be willing to walk away at all stages if you sense any red flags in self-awareness.
And if you have read this far and still aren’t sure why....
Guard Against Lack of Self-Awareness Like Your Business Depends on It...Because It Does!
There are plenty of ways you can develop your own test for self-awareness. The most important thing is you do test for it.
If someone can’t see themselves as having any faults, they are un-coachable.
They are the ones who become stagnant while everyone else grows past them.
They are the ones who poorly represent your business.
They are the ones who make your managers run in circles, deflating their resolve.
They are the ones who create counter cultures.
They are the ones who run your good talent out of the company.
You must weed them out of your current team and prevent anyone with lack of self-awareness from every joining your team again.
The future of your team and business depends on it.
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