Smart hiring: five tips for finding the right person for any job

Some strategies -- like knowing how to spot negativity in a potential hire and avoiding it -- apply to hiring in any field.

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    In this file photo taken April 27 job-seeker Julian Richards fills out an employment application during a job fair in Tacoma, Wash. In the current economic climate plenty of people are eager for work - but knowing how to find the right person to fill a position can be tricky.
    Ted S. Warren/AP/File
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About once a day, I hear from someone who lists off a bunch of their investments, says that they don’t think their financial advisor is doing a good job with their money, and asks me what they should do.

My first advice to them is usually to dump their advisor and handle their investing themselves. It’s actually incredibly easy to do this given all of the investment tools available to people online today.

Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of good financial advisors out there that actually do help people through tough spots and get their finances straight. However, there are a lot of mediocre ones out there that just sit on a person’s money drawing a commission while doing nothing for them. Even worse, there are some truly poor ones out there who actively do you a dis-service.

Here’s the thing, though: that statement is true of anyone who provides a service, not just investment providers.

When you hire someone to mow your lawn, some of them will do an immaculate job. Some of them will do a job roughly equivalent to what you will do. And some of them will drive the mower over your rose bushes.

When you hire a plumber, some of them will fix the problem you called them for in a jiffy and fill the remaining time performing maintenance. Some of them will fix your problem and then loiter. Others will attempt to fix your problem and wind up flooding your basement.

There are great people, there are mediocre people, and there are awful people, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish.

In fact, it doesn’t matter what the task is – as long as there is a minimum level of qualification (and I mean minimum), the biggest difference between the people you hire is the kind of person they are. Are they the person who goes the extra mile? Are they the person who is there to collect a paycheck (which is fine for some jobs, but not for others)? Or are they the person who is grossly negligent?

I have a few little tests that I use whenever I hire someone for any purpose, whether it’s an accountant or a gardener.

First, never hire someone going door to door. Find out about services independently and contact the service provider yourself. I almost always use my social network first to ask for leads before turning to the “Russian roulette” game of the yellow pages.

Second, get away from negativity, fast. One key thing to ask someone when you’re thinking of hiring them for a task is what they expect from the customer. This is usually an open door for a negative person to start blasting away at some of their “awful” customers from the past. If you start hearing this kind of negativity from anyone you’re considering hiring, back away quickly.

Third, ask them what they can do better than a competitor. If they can’t come up with anything, then they likely don’t pride themselves on their work, so if you don’t get an answer, reconsider your choice. If you’re proud of your work, you can almost always come up with some element that you do well.

You should also ask them about their experience. If they can’t quantify their experience in any reasonable way, then be wary. Many people will put up a big false front of experience just to try to get a job, which is inherently dishonest. I’d far rather hire someone new who admitted they’re new than someone who tries to vastly overblow their experience, because honesty is key when you’re hiring someone.

Finally, describe the job you want them to do and ask if they’re up to it. If their immediate reaction without asking any sort of follow-up is “Yeah, sure, no problem,” then I get nervous. That means they’re claiming to be able to easily do something without knowing what it is. This can be fine for things like mowing a simple yard or replacing a kitchen faucet, but if the job seems complex to you at all and they’re not asking any follow-up questions, consider someone else.

If a person manages to get past these five red flags for me, I’m usually at least somewhat confident in hiring them. What red flags do you have when hiring someone?

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