Three Ways to Hire Great People


Successful managers know that recruiting the right people to work for you will make or break your business, while poor hiring decisions can cost three and five times the person’s annual salary! Mistakes are expensive in terms of the effort and money that is paid and lost, the time that is wasted that could have been invested with a better candidate, as well as the demoralization that occurs in a company with high employee turnover.


Here’s how companies like Google avoid these expensive hiring mistakes. We call it the “law of three” for interviewing candidates:


Always interview at least three people for a position. Even if you like the first interviewee and feel that individual is suitable, discipline yourself to interview at least two others. Many large companies will not hire a person until they have interviewed ten or fifteen candidates for the spot. The more people you interview, the greater the selection of choices you will have, and the more likely it is that you will make the right choice.

Interview the candidate you like in three different places. It is amazing how the personality of a person can change when you move the interview setting from your office to a coffee shop across the street. Candidates will usually be at their very best in the first interview. If they were pretending, the veneer will quickly come off in subsequent meetings.

There is another important reason to change venues for each meeting. That’s exactly what many employees need to be able to do to be successful in their jobs: They will have to work with many different types of people in many different locations.


Have the candidate interviewed by at least three different people for a post-game review. The more people on the team who buy-in to the selection of a particular candidate, the better chance that the staff will have a vested interest in helping the new person be successful.

One of the best interview strategies you can use is called the SWAN formula, named after John Swan, an executive recruiter. These letters also stand for Smart, Works hard, Ambitious, and Nice. This may sound Pollyannaish, but it’s a good, practical prescription for hiring. Here’s what we mean:


  1. Successful people are smart, especially when it comes to the skills and competencies required for their specific job. This is what Jim Collins meant in his business classic, Good to Great, when he wrote about “getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.” People who have a gift for their particular job tend to work faster, make fewer mistakes, and are more productive.


And how do you tell if a person is “smart”? Simple. They ask a lot of questions. The questions should demonstrate a passion for your business and, depending on the job, the skills that are necessary to succeed in that role.


  1. People who actually want to “work hard” are more successful at their jobs. The basic rule is that “people don’t change.” A person who is unaccustomed to hard work is not suddenly going to transform under your supervision.


“Chances are nowadays that you’re going to be working far more than forty hours a week. Most leaders spend fifty, sixty, seventy hours a week — weekends and holidays — in today’s competitive environment,” said Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s best executive coaches. “You had better love what you’re doing when you’re committing so much of your life in the office.”


  1. Candidates should be “ambitious” and able to demonstrate to you why they want this particular job. Find people who are anxious to be effective and ambitious about this assignment, not some future promotion or benefit. They have to live for today in that job, not chase the flame of future possibilities. The more that the job candidate looks upon the potential job as an opportunity to perform well and then move ahead, the better he will do the job from day one.


  1. “Nice” people are a nice fit for this specific job. When we say “nice,” in this case, we mean people who are positive, cheerful, easy to get along with, and supportive of others. They fit within the culture of your organization. Their beliefs are in alignment with your values and the customers your organization serves.


To insiders, finding a nice fit for the job means you have found a person the team can trust and enjoys having around. Depending on the culture of the organization, that might mean someone who behaves with polite formality in a law office or who can snap a towel in the locker room.


At Google, “We beat on each other hard during my interviews,” CEO Eric Schmidt remarked about his early conversations with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. “We tested each other’s intelligence, our ambitions, our beliefs, our integrity. They kicked my assumptions about everything! We took each other to the mat. And we respect each other more for having done that. Part of our company culture is to continue to test each other’s commitment to making Google great every day.”


Great teams are composed of diverse, impassioned people who may have only a few things in common: SWAN. They are smart and savvy, hardworking, ambitious, and nice in a constructive way that adds value for their coworkers and customers.