We all hate to fire someone, though Donald Trump seemed to relish the role and George Clooney got pretty good at it in Up In The Air. It’s definitely safer to say we all hate to be fired. But sometimes it’s simply not our fault, or the fault of the employee and their output or performance on the job. Sometimes the problem begins on the front end, with the hiring process.
I have been fired twice in my life. The first came at the hands of a 20-something VP (my same age at the time) to whom I reported to.
Today I would simply find a way to work with him, or around him, as the others in the office seemed to be able to do.
But I was proud and principled and pushed back continually. I didn’t win too many battles, and I certainly didn’t win the war, and I was ultimately pushed out the door (wow, not only alliteration with this post, but rhymes as well!).
In that case I would say the fault was indeed with me. The role of this boss was clearly defined, as were the expectations of how I was to act and perform my job. I could choose to like and follow those expectations – and this boss – or I could go elsewhere, which I did, though not voluntarily.
The second scenario is quite a bit different.
I was tiring of the crazy hours that go with working in TV news, and decided to settle down with an account management job at a large PR agency.
It didn’t take very long before I found a position I thought was perfect for me, and vice versa, and I embarked on a fairly long and rigorous hiring process.
The first involved the submission of my portfolio, writing samples, etc. That took me to a phone interview with the human resources department, and then it was an actual writing test, the first one I had ever done for a prospective employer.
It was intense and quite involved, but I felt it did a really good job of simulating exactly the type of work, under the same deadline pressure, I would have to perform for that company in that role.
The results of the writing test came back and they shared with me that I received one of the highest scores ever!, and they would like me to come in and meet with the president of the agency.
In that meeting, I was VERY transparent and open about my weaknesses, as well as my strengths. There were things about this position that involved dealing with a notoriously difficult client that I felt would make excellent use of my interpersonal skills.
There were also some very distinct processes this agency used in terms of budgeting and estimating and forecasting that I told them I wasn’t going to be strong at. Not because I am stupid, I just simply didn’t have much experience with numbers to that point.
In fact, I made that point over and over again, that there would need to be at least an element of handholding, at the outset, but that if they showed me how they like to do things once, they wouldn’t have to again.
They ultimately tendered an offer sheet, I countered once, and then we signed off. The wild card though was that I had yet to meet the VP I would actually report to, since he didn’t actually work at the company yet, and was resigning his current position to jump ship.
But that was only a formality. We’re sure to like each other, right?
Well, upon meeting my new boss, my gut told me we weren’t a fit. And I’m sure he would tell you the same thing about me.
Upon meeting my new boss, my gut told me we weren’t a fit. And I’m sure he would tell you the same thing about me.
We had both invested so much time and effort to get to this point though, how could either of us call it off?? He didn’t want his first unofficial act to be “firing me” before he was actually hired. And I liked so many other aspects of this job I was sure I could make it work somehow.
Guess what? It wasn’t a fit and it didn’t work out.
This person, my boss, kind of resented the fact that I didn’t have lots of traditional agency experience, and he didn’t think he should be the one to train me. “It’s not the years, it’s the miles,” he always told me.
And he most certainly didn’t respect the other non-agency experience I did have, such as being a TV news reporter for 15 years, experience that allowed me to excel in some other areas such as media relations.
He also refused to show me how he wanted things done before the fact, though he was willing to go on and on and spend plenty of time telling me how wrong I did something after the fact.
So there was some pain there, and eventually another firing, though they technically couched it as a layoff due to the economy.
This second scenario was completely avoidable. Looking back on it, there was a complete lack of alignment all the way from the original job description, to HR, up to the head of the agency and then down to this VP for whom I actually worked.
It wasn’t that I was bad at my job, nor was it that my boss was bad at his, we just weren’t right for each other.
I know this is not always a simple fix, even if we know the issue. I mean think about it, when was the last time you heard “our hiring team has talked over the details of this role and we all agree on what we’re looking to find in a top candidate.”
Still, I think there are some things you can do to give yourself, your candidates, and your clients or company the best chance of success.
Position Plotting: Hold conversations with as many decision makers as possible, including hopefully the person this candidate will actually be reporting to and working for. Understand some of the “have-to-have” and “nice-to-have” requirements for the role. This is where you think also about company culture and who might be a fit and who is not.
Job Description. All searches begin with a job description, which will define the requirements for the role obviously. I encourage you to think about these each time you write one, even if you have filled this exact same position or req before. This should be a living, breathing piece subject to improvement and change.
Mid-Point Checkup: Now is a good time to be very deliberate about alignment within the hiring team. A picture of both core competencies as well as soft skills of prospective candidates should begin to emerge. Make sure there is consensus, buy-in and sign-off on the part of decision makers before continuing.
Recruiting: So now the easy part, huh?! Finding and attracting top talent. But then that’s your core competency, right?
Updates: It is so easy to get caught up with the busyness of our lives sometimes we don’t do a very good job of communicating where we are in a particular process. Whether the decision makers are your company, or a client, make sure you are making time to come together, or for you to give regular, ongoing updates about the status of your searches and hiring.
Adding some rigor and deliberateness to the front end decreases the odds there will be a “You’re Fired” some day on the back end.