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How to successfully hire as a first-time manager

Becoming a manager for the first time is no easy task. Our last article in this series touched on a few of the common mistakes that are made by first-time managers, but there was one in particular that deserves a more detailed examination – hiring.

First-time manager

It’s all too easy to consider hiring as a recruiting or HR function, a task siloed away until a team member hands in their notice or there’s an opportunity to expand. You might help with the job spec at this point or sit in on some later round interviews to cherry pick your star candidate. But the reality is completely different. 

Hiring is your job when you become a manager. You have major skin in the game in terms of finding and selecting talent. We always talk about how vital people are in the success of a business, so it’s imperative that managers understand the process and importance of hiring. 

Let’s get into it… 

1. Define your hiring criteria

The best hiring managers have a very clear idea of what they’re looking for in a candidate. And defining this is absolutely step one in the process. This goes beyond ‘nice-to-haves’ or particular years of experience – the more specifics you can give a recruiter or TA team, the better chance they have of finding someone who will really be up to the task. In his Predicting Success training course on the SocialTalent platform, renowned hiring expert John Vlastelica lists four areas hiring managers need to consider when evaluating what they’re looking for:

  • Skills and knowledge
  • Attributes
  • Achievements
  • Motivation.

As John himself puts it, most of us are strong at defining particular skills, but we need to become just as strong in identifying other areas. We’re talking soft skills here, personality traits, key examples and evidence of ability, their level of desire – these things separate a strong candidate from a weak one. And as a hiring manager, you must be clear about what is required.

2. Refine that job description

Job descriptions can become a confusing dumping ground of detail when not approached properly. Fresh into the role, first-time managers have a tendency to include a swathe of superfluous requirements in the hopes of snagging star talent. But this often only impedes the search. It’s really about finding balance. Our SocialTalent job description expert, Katrina Kibben, reminds us that the average person sees over 3,000 messages every day, so standing out and being concise are two of the most important goals to keep in mind. So here are some tips every first-time manager should adhere to:

  • Write for people, not about work. Remember, there’s a person at the other end of this job spec. Candidate-centric job ads receive 3x the applications as ones that focus on companies or demands.
  • Be clear about what the role entails, and what this candidate will be doing. Vague insights cause problems down the line.
  • Katrina recommends no more than 250 words and seven bullet points – this is the magic amount between detail and brevity.
  • Ensure your job description is inclusive. There are plenty of free tools online, like The Gender Decoder for example, that can help you with this.
  • Overzealous language can hinder just as much as boring text. Avoid your rockstars, your wizards, your unicorns, your declarations that we’re a ‘family’ at this company.

3. The interview is a learned skill

It should become a non-negotiable requirement for all new hiring managers to undertake interviewing training for hiring managers. An ability to interview well can make all the difference, particularly in an environment where talent is just as concerned with how a manager and organization presents themselves. It goes without saying that you need to prepare well for each interview. Understand what you are looking for, model your questions to explore for this, and try not to frame the experience as a way to trip candidates up, but rather give them license to impress you. 

Don’t rely on gut feelings either. Recruiters constantly butt heads with hiring managers who get particular “notions” about candidates. Find the evidence and watch-out for any biases that may creep into proceedings and cloud your judgement. Always remember – diversity is a huge boon for any team and you should always encourage and seek this out. Theo Smith, in his content on neurodiversity on the SocialTalent platform, advocates for creating interview spaces that allow ALL talent to flourish. He states that “getting this wrong is an immediate closing of the door to a wide variety of candidates.”

So, the golden rules: seek training, be prepared, find the evidence, and create an atmosphere of inclusion and belonging.

First-time managers

Learn more about how bias affects recruiting efforts in this blog post.

4. Opt for culture ADD, not culture FIT

Culture fit was a huge workplace trend a number of years ago. The idea that if a candidate mirrored your way of thinking and vibed with an established company culture, the odds were high that they’d be a good match for your team. And while there is some truth to these claims, the reality of this agenda inevitably just leads to homogenized workforces that don’t embrace diversity, innovation, change, and agility. As a new manager, it can be tempting to fall into this trap. Culture is important, but it can’t be the defining factor.

You need to understand that hiring with culture in mind doesn’t mean sourcing people who are all the same. As a tool, it should just focus on how well the candidate’s values match up with the company’s, and not how personal factors align with the current workforce. HBR sums it up well, stating that “people can think differently while still maintaining the organization’s overall values.”

Want to learn more about interviewing for culture add? Download our e-book today.

5. Seek alignment

Misalignment is the root of all evil.” John Vlastelica’s sage mantra rings in the ears of any recruiter worth their salt. But it’s a hugely apt saying for first-time managers to follow also. One of the most important aspects of hiring success comes down to how well recruiting teams, interview panelists, and hiring managers align. So, how do you accomplish this? With an alignment meeting of course!

Before interviewing any candidate, create a get-together to ensure everyone involved in the process is on the same page. This is your opportunity to explain and demonstrate the kind of skills and attributes the candidate should possess. Show the team what good looks like for this role so they can understand the specifics to be on the lookout for. Dive into the process also – how will the interview be structured, who takes what questions, what elements of this job do we emphsize. As the hiring manager, you have the knowledge on this front so be sure to spread that amongst the team. 

There are so many elements to being a hiring manager for the first time. But with some preparation and practice, you’ll quickly understand the importance of this new role. Bad hiring decisions plague many a manager, so taking the time to upskill on how to interview well or researching how bias can impact your decision-making can make all the difference in the long run. And remember to ask for help. HR, experienced managers, TA teams – they’re fonts of knowledge. Cut yourself some slack and be open to learning!

SocialTalent’s e-learning platform is tailor-made for new hiring managers, providing dedicated interviewing and leadership training. Check it out today.

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