5 Questions That Will Change How You Hire

Written by EO Executives on May 28, 2015

Recently I sat down with Jeff Wellstead, CEO of Big Bear Partners and renowned talent management specialist, and asked him five questions about how he consistently recruits great people. The answers and insight he gave me will change the way you think about hiring and setting yourself up for success within the talent market...

Jeff has been there and done it before, with an enviable track record and deep global leadership and management experience through holding various influential HR positions at Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, HP, Oracle, Novartis, Symantec, SpinVox and Kantar ITP.

In part one of our conversation, Jeff discussed recruiting in a high growth environment and in this section I’ll be picking his brains about how he hires the right people, ensures cultural fit, interviews candidates and chooses the right recruitment partner. 

1. How should you set up your recruitment process to consistently hire great people?  

You need to know as much about your own company's challenges and cultural DNA as you then need to know about what sort of external talent will help your company achieve its future vision.  Your recruitment partner is about as core to your success as your CFO, COO or SVP Sales.  Understanding all the aspects of creating a solid process in terms of People, Process and Technology when it comes to recruitment is essential as it's the funnel through which your most expensive and riskiest investments are filtered.  Querying employees about what drew them toward your company vs. away - and understanding the psychological 'buying' triggers is also essential as it is a window into the reality of your Employer Branding - and you need to be prepared to be very critical of yourselves such that you can constantly improve upon your corporate window dressing.  Don't go on cost alone - you always get what you pay for.  Fail fast and learn fast.  Adapt quickly to changing markets, know your competitors and build talent pipeline every week - adjusting your targets for anticipated internal requirements (replacements or net new additions). 

If you meet the most amazing person in a particular function, and you don't quite have the need - start the process of attraction anyway as if you were planning on hiring them.  Also do background checks and get informal references lined up in addition to those provided.  Think one year out - who will you need by then and why?  It might take you that long to find the diamond you're looking for.  

2. What measures did you put in place to ensure cultural fit?  

Know your company first.  Culture is a funny thing.  Often it comes about unintentionally based on the perceived behaviour of your top leadership team - usually under stress.  Employees watch to see how they react to challenges and then emulate that behaviour as they see it as what will make them successful. 

Cults of personality around one or two people are dangerous as the risk is very high in that this is often unrepeatable, incommunicable, and not scalable.  Intentionally defining what culture you wish to bring about is great, as long as your top leadership team embrace that behaviour and live it every day.  Once defined and understood - you need to break that down into key core anchors that are easily communicated and understood - with examples as to how the organisation supports people who exemplify that behaviour regularly.  Then you can query potential candidates as to how they see themselves matching up against that cultural setting - by providing recent examples as to where they have exhibited that behaviour and why.  If they fail to convince you that they will embrace or fit into your cultural norms - walk away regardless of past successes.  They won't last more than 3 months and are not worth your expenditure.  

3. How did you hire the right leaders who could cope with the growth of their teams?  

By understanding their previous and most recent track records in dealing with challenges similar to your own.  If I was going to lead a team of Navy Seals into a night time desert engagement, I would be sure to pick guys who have been there and done that several times before - and lived to tell the tale.  I wouldn't pick guys who just came off of a water-based, day time search and rescue mission.  I would want seasoned professionals with recent experience who are able to convince me that this is the sort of challenge they embrace, the difficult they seek to render harmless, and the mission that pumps up their adrenaline.  Experience trumps salesmanship every time.  Results are the measure of my level of commitment to the right person.  

4. What's the best interview question you’ve asked or been asked?  

I love it when someone looks at me authentically and asks, "So tell me your story."  They want to know a lot more than what my life story is...They want to know if I'll panic that the question wasn't well structured for a quick and tidy response.  They want to know how my mind organizes information, sifts through thousands of memories to filter only the most pertinent ones.  They want to understand my cognitive function, to make sure I can manage to string a series of life events into a coherent story line such that my life makes some sort of sense, and ensure I don't get lost or distracted in the process.  They watch my non-verbal cues to ensure I'm not lying or embellishing - I'm looking straight at them, engaging them, keeping their attention whilst sharing what is important and relevant to the conversation.  They are watching to see if I'm off with the fairies, waxing poetically and romantically about my fascinating existence, or if I'm on point, focused on delivering an intelligent synopsis of my background that is germane to the context of the interview.  They also are listening to see if I'm going to fit into their tribe - on the basis that the things I highlight, the issues I discuss and the challenges I've overcome are the same sorts of things they deem important within their tribe. 

Always be prepared to tell a story; smart, engaging, fun, with plenty of telling facts about your successes - and an equal discussion about your failures and how you learned and overcame them along the way. 

5. What changes have you seen in the recruitment industry, what do you like, and what would you change?  

I'm seeing a gold rush mentality that attracts thousands of would-be fee seekers draped under the false pretence of promises they can't hope to fulfill.  Marketing is getting smarter as many recruitment agencies are picking up the hot, new lingo associated with advanced human capital management - but seldom achieved.  The good news is that the cream is rising to the top and winners who are relying on results to tell their stories are standing out amongst the rest.  Just like venture capitalists are able to show who they've invested in and what has become of their portfolio - top recruiters are doing the same - and those are the trusted leaders I'd do business with any day. 

I'm also seeing an interesting trend wherein company execs are relying on their own social and professional networks to recruit directly the individuals who they've worked with professionally and successfully through the years.  So the role of the recruiter is changing.  The specialist who can show me superstar, transformational change leaders are the recruiters who are worth their weight in gold.  The world of work is about to change so dramatically, that execs with transformational experience and have successful experience of leading change over and over again are the future of key talent.  The rest I can hire off of LinkedIn.

What Next?

Getting your recruitment strategy sorted by downloading our essential 'Talent Hiring Strategy Checklist' to help you agree your vision, mission, value proposition and the key behaviours you are looking for from new recruits.

Talent Hiring Strategy


About Jeff Wellstead

jeff_wellsteamJeff thrives on and has outperformed in the face of start-up, turnaround and growth challenges. He is now leading his own consultancy working with emerging technology companies with hyper-growth and global expansion in the B-to-B SaaS Cloud, mobile platform and data analytics sectors, primarily headquartered in North America and Europe. 

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn

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