Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hire Personality, not Experience

In the past year we experienced a lot of turnover for a small staff. Mostly people leaving for better positions (all were part-time and found lucrative full-time jobs), while there were also a couple of terminations.

The people we lost were excellent team members. But we had brought them on one at a time, spaced far apart. The prospect of replacing so many in such a short time was daunting. It seemed that as soon as we replaced one person we were looking for another. But it all worked out. The new hires have been tremendous. In choosing so many so quickly, it reinforced some simple but important hiring lessons.

The first lesson is that "relevant experience" is unimportant. None of our new hires have ever worked for a church before. I prefer it that way. It means that they don't bring bad church habits with them.

Our most significant hire was in the position of Director of Family Ministries. I deliberately refused to consider anyone with experience as a Presbyterian Christian Educator. The Presbyterian Church has lost 75% of its membership in the past 50 years. Clearly we failed miserably at transmitting the faith to the next generations. I did not want to hire anyone who was steeped in a culture that clearly failed our children and grandchildren.

We came across an applicant who had been a faithful volunteer in her church. Alas, she is not Presbyterian. Or even Reformed. What about theology, you ask? Well, she is devoted to Jesus. And that is what we are teaching grade-school kids. I doubt that many 6th graders are concerned about Calvinism versus Arminianism. She has great energy, is very organized and detail-oriented, and loves kids. Her other work told me what I needed to know about her personality: she is a personal trainer. She coaches people. That's what we needed: a coach.

Which leads to another lesson: experience is important when it reveals personality and character. Look at what they have done in both work and hobbies for what it says about personality and character.  Are they talented pianists? Nobody becomes good at a musical instrument without focus and perseverance. Do they have a track record of success? Success is a habit. Do they have weird knowledge about a wide range of subjects? That is a person with the gift of curiosity.

Too many employment descriptions focus on the job, and not the personality of the ideal employee. If you're thinking about hiring someone, ask yourself: imagine the ideal employee, and then list the personality traits you imagine she would have. Then hire for those traits, not the skills. When you read a resume and interview a person, think about what they have done in terms of what it tells you about who they are.

Put simply: none of us need an experienced mountain climber on our staffs per se, but if someone who climbed Mt. Everest applies for a job with your organization, hire them. You need someone who has climbed Mt. Everest.

You can teach skills, but you can't teach work ethic. You can't teach a person to be a team player (not easily, at least). You can't teach someone to be teachable.

Experience only gets you where someone has been before. If all you want is maintenance, then hire experience. If you want progress, hire the right person, and let them figure out the rest.

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