Thomas Brooke

Smart Hiring: Always Have a Backup

Rhetorical question: If you had an effective person in a key role one or two quarters sooner, would that make a significant difference to your business?

To put the question another way: what is the opportunity cost of falling in love with one candidate?

This article focuses on a vitally important principle in the hiring process that is frequently missed: always have a backup. This starts at the beginning of the process with an expectation that you will keep AT LEAST 2 qualified candidates in the field until the very end. Even if one seems by far the favorite – don’t rule out #2 until the #1 candidate has actually shown up to work.

As a business leader, you’re never just “filling a position” – you’re trying to advance your company’s ability to reach growth goals, or profit goals, or product development goals (which lead to revenue and profit growth), or whatever. So the longer you are without a key person, the harder it gets to meet those targets.

It is vital to plan the actual hiring process effectively, to manage risk throughout and especially at the end, to ensure a successful outcome.

A recent search is a perfect illustration of why this is so important.

  • Our client (company President and significant stockholder) knows they are underpaying for a key role on their executive leadership team.
  • The entire ELT interviews a field of three candidates and picks one they want to offer the position.
  • They also keep #2 in the mix. We maintain close contact with both.
  • Candidate #1 negotiates pretty aggressively – even though she knew in advance what the limitations were – and over a week is taken up back and forth on questions.
  • Eventually verbal agreement is reached; however they fail to fully close the deal promptly in writing.
  • At the very last moment – while waiting for the agreed offer in writing – candidate #1 receives unexpected offer from another company she had been interviewing with, for significantly more $$, and drops our client.
  • Ouch.
  • Everyone vents, tries to put Humpty Dumpty together again, fails.
  • We approach candidate #2 who is thrilled with the offer, accepts on the spot, and starts as soon as the pre-employment check is complete.
  • We are back on track within 2 days of the initial problem and in the end, the actual on-boarding date is sooner than it would have been for candidate #1.
  • Successful candidate is thrilled, and our client can get back to being the President, delegating the key responsibilities and significant administrative burden of this vital position.

Most executives have experienced the pain of not having a backup candidate for a key role at some point – and you know how much internal time and resources are wasted having to go back to the beginning of a difficult search. How much is the combined executives’ time worth that was spent on the interview process? Not to mention, the delay in developing and implementing your strategic initiatives?

The takeaway here is that you have to PLAN at the beginning that you will keep multiple active candidates engaged. Communicate this to all stakeholders in the decision process and all interviewers. Otherwise, people tend to fall in love with one and make all the others “less than” – which is a very risky strategy indeed.

Taking this a step further, the difference in outcomes between having a backup and not having a backup is even more significant when applied across the organization’s hiring top to bottom. A front line supervisor or QC person can have a substantial impact on profits if they improve first-time quality, for example, or help drive Lean initiatives in your company at grassroots level in the plant. Smart hiring process should be an explicit part of your talent acquisition strategy.

So, next time you’re hiring, remember this true story and… Always have a backup!

"Great partner on several international searches."David Wolf, Former VP International Sales, Carboline

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