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Hiring the Right People: They Call Them Red Flags for a Reason

Hiring the Right People is the Most Important Thing Managers Do.

I serve as an HR resource for an 80-person, professional services firm.  As a result I interview candidates for the company’s most senior roles.  Last week the Managing Partner and I were having breakfast with a potential candidate who was being considered for a Partner role at the company.  My client wants to retire in five years and is looking for the right person to whom to transition his book of business and in time, his share of the company.  It’s a huge decision.  He and his Partner started and grew this company.  It’s their life work.

We asked the candidate why he wanted the job and how it fit into his career plan.  And as he was talking, my client turned to him and said, “This decision is way more important to me than it is to you.  You can make a mistake here.  I can’t.”  His comment was incredibly wise.

When a professional takes the wrong job, it’s a career blip – a disappointment and an inconvenience.  It will surely impact the person’s self confidence and make him question his judgment.  But unless it’s a habit or he stays in the wrong job for years, it’s not incredibly expensive or damaging.  But making a hiring mistake, especially at the most senior level, is very expensive and very damaging to an organization.  Training people is expensive, and each new hire impacts the company culture.  Employees who come and go impact the remaining employees’ perceptions of the organization.

The right employees will be successful, in a box, under water, with their hands tied behind their backs.  Without support, projects will take longer, but the right employees will succeed.  The wrong employees – who either can’t do the work or don’t want to – won’t be successful no matter how long you spend coaching them or how much money you spend training them.

Hiring the right people is the most important thing managers.  Yet most of us see hiring as a burden.  It takes too long.  We don’t have time.  And perhaps we don’t know how.

As William Ury said in his book Getting to Yes, “Go slow to go fast.”  Good hiring decisions are deliberate and disciplined.  Disciplined hiring managers know exactly what they need and say no to candidates who can’t or won’t do those things.  They follow interviewing best practices by asking behavioral questions and listening keenly for what’s said and not said.  They watch body language – comfort and discomfort.  They use scenario-based interviews, giving candidates a chance to demonstrate whether or not the candidate can do aspects of the job.  And they do a mean reference check.  But most importantly, disciplined, hiring managers don’t let an urgent need or fear of losing the headcount drive their decision making.

The company’s vision for the future and strategic plan drives hiring decisions and the pace of those decisions.   Red flags are not ignored.  “Maybe it will work out” or “I have some concerns, but we’ll see” result in declination letters.  Good hiring decisions are disciplined, deliberate, patient and thorough.
“Go slow to go fast.”


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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