Why you shouldn’t hire with your gut

At some point, when your game company is thriving and growing, you’ll have to hire new people. Maybe there’s too much work for your current team, or maybe your operations have grown too complex to manage yourself. Maybe it’s both. Unless your company has an HR department or you work with a recruiter, chances are it is up to the founders to manage most of the process.

In this position, you’ll be the one who has to make time to interview candidates, and make a decision on whether or not they are a good fit for both the role and your company. Especially in smaller companies, whether or not someone “fits” is ultimately determined by one thing: a founder’s gut feeling.

What’s at stake

Making the right call is critically important, as the cost of a bad hire can enormous. According an oft-quoted figure from the US department of labor, the cost can exceed 30% of an employee’s first year of earnings. You’ll have wasted precious time and resources getting them up to speed and integrated into the team. Then, you will have to do the same thing all over again for whoever eventually replaces them. And that’s just the financial side.

Bad hires can also have a detrimental effect on team morale and performance. For example, if they are under-performing, their team will have to pick up the slack either on top of, or at the cost of their own work. Neither is something you want. Or, consider what will happen when you hire someone that doesn’t fit the company culture. Friction is all but guaranteed, and the resulting negativity can quickly spread to your other employees.

Gut feeling is not enough

Clearly, the stakes are a lot higher than simply getting butts in seats. The question is, how do you recognize a truly good candidate? How do you know if someone is a good fit for both the role and the company?

If you’re pressed for time and resources, you might be tempted to base your decision on a gut feeling. You know the company well, and you might even have a good sense for people. Yet, research shows that relying on your gut allows all sorts of personal biases to creep into your hiring process. Great if you’re looking for like-minded followers; not so great if you want employees who can challenge you and push the company to new heights.

Luckily, there is a lot we can do to minimize the influence of personal bias on the hiring process. By doing so, you increase the odds of hiring someone who is an objectively good fit for both the role and the company. Here are 4 practical tips to consider for your next open position.

4 tips for a better hiring process

1. Do interviews in tandem

Let’s start with a practical one. Simply doing interviews with two people will go a long way towards minimizing personal bias. Since you’ll have to discuss with your interview partner, you have to make your thoughts and feelings regarding the potential hire explicit. In doing so, you might find counterarguments for some of your biases that would otherwise have gone unchecked. Interviewing with two people invariably leads to a fairer assessment of the person in front of you; both on a professional and a personal level.

2. Assign homework

Have potential hires do an assignment. This can be a technical assignment for developers, or an analysis or presentation for roles like sales or marketing. You can create an assignment for virtually every possible position in your company. Just make sure it’s something that will really help you to assess how well they understand their area.

3. Focus on competencies

For most roles, you will be asking more of your employees than just domain knowledge. For example, you need customer service people to be good listeners and customer-focused, and sales people that are assertive and know how to negotiate. While some of these competencies can be taught, others are much closer to personal traits. You either have them or you don’t. Take a look at the chart below, taken from the Topgrading approach, and really think about which competencies are needed for the position you’re trying to fill. Then, be sure to interview potential hires on how they would rate themselves on these competencies. Ask them about specific situations in which they’ve had to exhibit these competencies. Be sure to pay special attention to the required competencies in the yellow and red columns, as deficiencies in these areas are much, much harder to correct than green ones.

4. Culture fit

I’ve said before that core values and the culture you build on them are one of the most important elements of any company. Your core values what matter most to you and your company. Any employee that doesn’t get and embrace them will stick out and cause friction eventually. Because of this, your core values should be a central part of your HR cycle, and you should introduce them as early as a first interview. Take time to discuss your company’s core values, and ask the potential hire to describe specific situations from previous roles where they exhibited these values. This will give you a much better idea for how well they will fit into your company culture in the long term.

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