Losers Exist. Don't Hire Them

by Bryan Goldberg

December 5, 2012

original article on PandoDaily.com

loser resume

About a year ago, my sales operations team needed to hire an Account Manager. We had a handful of candidates in the interview pipeline, but one of them had far more relevant experiences than the others. So we interviewed him first, in hopes that it might save us a bunch of time.

He passed the first wave of the gauntlet, earning positive marks from a Director in our group, and he was also well reviewed by the peers who he would be working alongside. “He's been doing this for five or six years, and he can definitely achieve what we need from him,” was the consensus.

But then it was time for him to interview with me. I didn't ask him very many questions about sales, advertising operations, invoicing, collections, or any of the handful of other tactical skills we wanted. I just grilled him on the bottom fourth of his resume — you know, the one about hobbies and college.

And when I asked him about his BA in English, which he had earned about five years earlier, he got nervous. “What was your favorite century of English literature,” I asked. But he hadn't really focused on any particular era. Nor did he have an opinion.

“Did you have a particular affinity for poetry, drama, old novels?” He punted on that one too.

“Well, what was your favorite book? Or your favorite author?” He stared at me somewhat blankly.

“Oh, well, there were a bunch. None that really jump out at me right now. It was kind of a long time ago, you know? My memory is a bit hazy,” he said with a chuckle, before talking about how fun college was. I laughed politely, wrapped up the interview in 15 minutes, and informed the team that we would not be hiring this candidate.

Many fine professors and senior executives have written books about team-building and how to be a great manager. At some point, I will write about this meaty topic for PandoDaily. But here's an amuse bouche until then:

Don't hire losers.

They might be able to do the job for which they are hired. But that is not good enough. Especially at a startup where you are able to hire a lot fewer people than you would like.

As it turned out, we eventually did find someone for that position, with a lot less relevant experience. But she learned the job in about six weeks, and her upside enabled her to take on a lot of the unforeseen — and valuable — tasks that the previous candidate would have stumbled around.

And the good news is that it's really easy to detect losers. Here are some things you can ask a potential candidate to find out:

These sorts of questions are great, because they can help identify winners even amongst the nervous, “I don't interview well” types of people who may warm up and shine on the job. And I've hired a lot of great people who don't interview especially well. But when I jump into the above questions, they are able to speak eloquently to how dynamic and thoughtful they are as people.

Lesser managers will try to stump candidates with horrible brain teasers along the lines of “Describe a time you got into a bad situation and resolved it effectively?” — or crap like that. Those questions are not necessary. All you will do is filter out some good people who have not yet mastered the art of the interview.

But if a candidate can't even tell you why they liked their last job, or what they got out of their college experience, or any of the million other questions that speak to their basic humanness… Then no amount of experience will make them valuable.

They are losers. They are out there. And you should not hire them.