Saturday, July 20, 2013

Learning how to hire #2: Advice about hiring new lab members

I just went through the month-long process of hiring a first research assistant for my new lab. If navigating the posting of a position through HR was tough, what followed was even tougher. Partially thanks to Craigslist (see here), we ended up with almost 200 applications in 4 days, got them down to 10 viable candidates for phone interviews and 6 candidates for in person visits. This decision also involved dozens of phone calls to references and a lot of thinking about defining the responsibilities of the position and the required experience and how much training should be involved. Overall, it was very informative and we are really happy with our selection.

I tried to follow some of the advice I had received in the past from senior investigators (here and here) about taking my time and being mindful of my "gut feeling", but a recent series on LinkedIn from Joel Peterson, the chairman of Jet Blue, has a lot of great insight on the 10 biggest hiring mistakes.

Mistake #1: Hiring yourself. Diversity is good to bring balance to the workplace. You just want to make sure that all personalities gel together. You also cannot expect that everyone will be just like you and have to accept individual differences.

Mistake #2: Hiring too fast. Take your time hiring and finding the right person for the job. This has been repeated to me many many times by countless people. Do not rush to fill your empty lab or you will risk hemorrhaging cash and not being able to start on your best foot.

Mistake #3: Hiring the resume, not the person. Someone may look great on paper, but may not fit the culture or the energy of your lab. The first few people are incredibly important in defining the way you want your workplace to feel: vibrant and exciting? fun and relaxed? focused and ambitious? Peterson puts in terms of "brain and heart", you want someone smart and motivated, but also someone passionate about the job at hand. One more post I wrote about establishing your lab culture here.

Mistake #4: Interviewing on autopilot. Do not just go through candidates all in a row without a strategy.  I interviewed 8 people on the phone in one day and by the end of it I was completely exhausted. Because HR asked me to be consistent, I developed a script for what I was going to say about the position and for the questions I was going to ask and I took notes on all the answers, and that was my saving grace because by the end it all blended together. I took notes on qualifications, but also "gut feeling" on whether the person would be a good fit. The in-person visits were split in several different days so that we really had the time to talk to the candidates and better explore insight or inconsistencies coming from the previous chat.

Mistake #5: Lazy reference checking. Always always check multiple references ON THE PHONE and ask difficult questions if necessary. This may be by far one of the most important things. Firing people is difficult and emotional, but for some reason firing people in the lab seems sometimes impossible and is always messy. I have seen a lot of horrible situations where the fit was just not right and where information may have emerged from candidly talking to the references. During my own recent hiring, I received tons of honest feedback positive and negative which greatly informed my hiring decision.

Mistake #6: Freezing out your team. The entire team should be involved in the decision process and I may add, people should have power to veto a hiring decision. For a large (40 person) lab, my postdoc lab had an amazing combination of people who for the most part got along well, which is very rare for such a group. One of the most important features of the hiring process was that we all participated in it and talked to candidates, took them out for lunch and got to know them a bit. Everybody's opinion was considered and that was very important in making sure that only great people got in.

Mistake #7: Only hiring inside or outside. By definition in science you almost always hire from outside because people cycle through as they rise through the academic ranks. Moving around is favored and people are discouraged from remaining in their PhD lab for a postdoc. But continuity has its benefits and there are positions that may require more continuity and better knowledge of your institution.

Mistake #8. Blowing the first 90 days. This is another very important one! The way someone interacts with the team and absorbs the lab culture is dictated during their onboarding process. The culture you want them to absorb and the techniques you want them to master will become the focus of the training period and the way your new hire performs may depend on this.

Mistake #9. Focusing on money. If you wanted a high-paying job, you wouldn't be in academic science, but the lesson here is to provide rewards and positive feedback that go beyond compensation. In his great book about motivation, Drive, Dan Pink discusses Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as important driving forces in employee motivation. See my post here for using these forces in the lab.

Mistake #10. Not firing a bad hire. Firing often seems impossible for scientists and a lot of "lab horror stories" revolve around people who should have been fired years ago (or not hired in the first place). I am not looking forward to this and I really hope it never happens, but it is so much easier for all parties involved to end things quickly and ease a transition to a different position.

Hope this is helpful. I will definitely try my best to avoid these mistakes.

No comments:

Post a Comment