16 Tips to hire people who will do more than fill an empty seat

Tip #9 — Look for "culture add" instead of "culture fit"

16 Tips to hire people who will do more than fill an empty seat

Business Strategy


One of the most important things you’ll ever do as a leader is to hire people. Hiring the right person will positively impact not only your team’s productivity, but the job satisfaction of your employees, the happiness of your clients, and your company’s long-term profitability.

And the costs of hiring the wrong person are astronomical. Mis-hires conservatively cost one-third of that person’s annual salary. After accounting for indirect costs like training time, lost customers, and team disruption, some estimates even say that mis-hires could cost six figures.

For many reasons, hiring is an activity that amplifies good or bad decisions. The ripple effects last for years.

I’ve had the chance to interview hundreds of people. I’ve hired exceptional people, and I’ve hired some duds. These 16 tips have proven to be effective for me and my fellow hiring managers:

1. Look for people who are humble, hungry, and smart.

In his book The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni advocates for hiring individuals who demonstrate three characteristics:

  1. Humble ​- They put the team and clients ahead of themselves.
  2. Hungry ​- They relentlessly dig to solve problems and learn new things.
  3. Smart ​- They are able to think creatively, exercise good judgment, and act with emotional intelligence.

Regardless of what role you’re hiring for, you should look for individuals who exhibit these three things.

2. Identify specific characteristics needed for your team.

Every role demands additional specific traits. As the hiring manager, you need to know your team and what they will need from the new hire. Perhaps the team needs more technical job knowledge. Or perhaps they need a particular trait like optimism, candor, or kindness to balance out the rest of the individuals on the team. It’s your job to identify those specific characteristics.

3. Separate your NEED LIST from your WANT LIST.

Before bringing anyone in for an interview, decide exactly what you’re looking for in a new hire. Work with your recruiter to develop a list of needs and wants for candidates.

For instance, if you’re hiring a Customer Service Representative, you may decide the person needs ​to have some past service experience and you also may ​want ​them to have a technical background within your industry. In other words, it’s not a deal-breaker if a candidate has never worked in your industry before, but it would be if they had never worked in a service role.

Separate your needs from your wants, then use those lists to create a basic checklist or grading rubric to use when evaluating candidates.

4. Use the same rubric for all candidates.

We all have biases of some sort. Many of these biases are not conscious choices, yet they impact our actions in subtle, dangerous ways.

One of the ways you can root out bias is by using the same grading rubric to evaluate every candidate. The more specific you can be about the criteria for a grade (i.e. what separates a “5” from a “4”) will help you and your fellow interviewers remain more objective throughout the hiring process. The better your hiring rubric for the role, the less you’ll need to rely on intuition and snap judgments, which could introduce unconscious bias.

5. Prepare for every interview.​

I’ve sat through dozens of interviews where someone asks a question that has already been answered in the candidate’s cover letter, resume, or application.

Interview time is precious, and the easiest way to waste it is by failing to prepare for the interview.

Set aside 15–30 minutes before each interview to read through the candidate’s job packet. Familiarize yourself with their background and what questions have already been covered in the phone screen and prior interviews (if applicable). Preparing for each interview is important; make time for it.

6. Resist snap judgments.

It’s easy to form snap judgments from what you see or hear — whether on paper, on the phone, or in person. You may think someone’s resume is poorly formatted, their work experience is inadequate, or their college grades were abysmal. You may meet them and immediately conclude they are too self-assured, too shy, or too ambitious.

Be open to surprises. It’s a problem if you never change your mind after forming an initial impression of someone.

7. Hire people — not resumes.

“Hiring people is an art, not a science, and resumes can’t tell you whether someone will fit into a company’s culture.” -Howard Schultz

My company Gravity Payments has a recruiting motto, “We hire people — not resumes.” That motto is a great reminder that there are many things more important than someone’s resume.

Look for capability and skill set rather than background and experience.

Here are a few good rules of thumb:
Potential > Experience
Passion > Pedigree
Character > Personality
Industrious > Ivy League

8. Don’t hire your clone.

At times, you’ll be instantly drawn to a candidate. They will feel right, and you may not be able to explain why.

Sometimes, your positive emotion may be due to the fact that you feel a kinship with that candidate. Perhaps you went to the same school, pledged with the same fraternity, or played the same sport. That shouldn’t matter. Don’t hire your clone. Refer to point #4 above regarding unconscious bias.

Hiring clones of yourself is the surest path to creating a homogeneous, uncreative organization rather than a diverse, innovative one.

9. Look for “culture add” instead of “culture fit.”

Companies often talk about whether someone is a good “culture fit.” That mentality can lead to serious bias and lack of diversity because people end up hiring others who look and sound like them.

You want a diverse team full of people with unique ideas. Think in terms of whether or not the person will ​add to your existing culture and make it better.

10. Don’t let interviewees use business jargon.

Many people use business buzzwords because they think doing so will make them sound intelligent or sophisticated. However, most buzzwords don’t convey much real information.

As the interviewer, you should avoid jargon and encourage the candidate to avoid it as well. Rather than permitting the candidate to talk about “streamlining the business” and “offering innovative people solutions,” make them tell you specifically how they made processes more efficient and solved people issues in their past company.

11. Ask some indirect questions.

Brainstorm creative questions that will help you see whether the candidate exhibits the desired traits or has the relevant experience for the job.

For example, notice the difference between these questions:

“Do you think you could flourish in a fast-moving, autonomous environment?” → ​“What is your ideal work environment?”​ or ​“Describe your ideal workday.”

“How do you typically function under stress?” → ​“Give me an example of a stressful situation you’ve faced recently.”

“Do you see yourself working here?” → ​“From what you’ve seen so far, what do you like and dislike about our work culture?”

The questions on the left are limiting, more closed-ended, and imply a right answer and a wrong answer. The questions on the right allow you to hear a more complete and honest answer from the candidate, which will give you more information to decide whether they’re the right fit.

12. Ask follow-up questions.

“There’s only one interview technique that matters… Do your homework so you can listen to the answers and react to them and ask follow-ups. Do your homework, prepare.” -Jim Lehrer

Regardless of how good your questions may be, you will inevitably need to dig deeper and ask detailed follow-up questions.

The best insights of any interview often come from follow-up questions rather than initial questions. Take the time to pry further into the candidate’s answers to understand their full perspective and learn more about how they make decisions.

13. Find a way to see the person in a job setting.​

It’s often useful to see the candidate perform some type of job-related task. Consider including a role-play, homework assignment, or job-related exercise as part of the interview process.

14. Debrief and self-assess after each interview.​

Take the time to give and get feedback from the other interviewers after the interview process. Doing a quick retrospective will give you insights on where you need to prepare more, ask better-worded questions, or dive deeper with more follow-up questions.

15. Avoid groupthink.​

After each interview round, ensure every interviewer has a chance to share their feedback without their impression getting biased by other interviewers.

You can minimize groupthink in a few ways. One way is to ask the most junior interviewer for their opinion first so they aren’t influenced by the senior interviewers. Another way is to have interviewers individually fill out a scorecard before they debrief with the other interviewers.

16. Sleep on it.​

Sometimes it’s best to consider your decision overnight. If you’re not excited about the candidate the next day, that could be a sign that they’re not the right fit.

Hiring is an activity that amplifies good or bad decisions. The ripple effects last for years.

Remember that the cost of a mis-hire is really high. It’s better to spend more time to find the right person than to rush into a decision because you really want to fill a role.


Bobby Powers is the Head of Learning & Development and People Analytics at Gravity Payments in Seattle. Before working at Gravity, Bobby managed an international client services team at a multinational SaaS company. In his free time, Bobby reads over 70 books each year with a deep focus in business, leadership, and personal development. He shares his insights with others by writing on Medium and his personal website, BobbyPowers.net.

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