There were 3 major signs that I had made a bad business hire. If you see any hints of these red flags, think hard about making an immediate personnel change.
So, looks like you have two engineering degrees and an MBA? That’s cool.
I don’t care. Anymore that is.
A resume is full of self-reported accomplishments. A bunch of titles and credentials. A timeline of past experiences. But, can a resume tell me how well a candidate can actually do on the job?
Some resumes are ‘shiny’. Too-good-to-be-true, checklists of titles and accomplishments. They are distracting, and staring at them for too long can result in a severe case of credential awe.
I had credential awe once. It led to a poor hiring decision that was detrimental to my company.
We needed a biz dev guy.
Someone with enough previous experience to hit the ground running and hustle for our tiny startup. After searching for a few weeks, I got a shiny resume in my inbox from a guy we’ll call Paul.
Paul’s resume looked a bit like this:
- Overcame incredible hardships as a kid
- Won a bunch of national-level competitions
- Top of his undergraduate engineering class
- Master’s in Engineering
- MBA from a prestigious school
- Previous experience with titles similar to what I was looking for
I felt like a kid who just got everything on his Christmas list.
I invited Paul to a coffee chat, where he strongly expressed interest in joining. I was amazed that someone so accomplished would want to join my comparably unaccomplished startup.
I brought him in for a full day of interviews. Paul did well. Not stellar as I had hoped, but it didn’t matter. Blinded by credential awe, I had already made up my mind to do whatever it took to bring him on board. I even had a couple of our investors give him a call to convince him that Kloudless was the place to be. After brief negotiations, he signed his offer. We high-fived. Talked of grandeur.
The honeymoon wouldn’t last.
RED FLAG #1: Paul, Title Hunter
Kloudless is a meritocracy. All new employees receive the lowest position title for their functional role and move up as they deliver results. I make this clear at the moment a candidate receives the offer letter, and I reiterate it during new hire orientation.
Two weeks into the job, Paul pulled me aside after a Friday all-hands meeting. He wanted to be COO.
In hindsight, I’m not surprised. While he was negotiating his offer, he made it a point that he didn’t want to be just plain old “Business Development” at Kloudless. He wanted to be COO.
Having to say ‘No’ to the same request did not make me happy.
Having to say ‘No’ three more times over the next month was infuriating.
RED FLAG #2: When did we hire a big company exec?
At a small startup, you expect everyone to contribute to anything they can. Doesn’t matter if the task is big or small, interesting or menial. The success of the startup is your core responsibility.
No task was too big or small for Paul to delegate. He seemed especially averse to activities that required any work that didn’t involve him talking at a whiteboard. Even with a consistent stream of feedback from weekly 1-on-1’s, I couldn’t break his habit of never completing tasks on his own.
He was a C-level executive at a big company. He wanted to make all the high-level decisions, but not participate in any of the hands-on execution.
RED FLAG #3: Lots of talk and very little walk
Paul was the king of buzzwords. You could tell he was getting his daily TechCrunch fix. Not that buzzwords are a bad thing, but Paul would throw them around to gloss over discussions and talk down on others. It was as if he felt the need to constantly remind everyone that he was the experienced business guy here.
It wasn’t just the vocabulary. He’d say things like “Oh, I know [your pick of big name investor here] from a party. It’ll be easy to bring him on.” In Paul’s time at Kloudless, he killed one business deal (that I had started and handed over to him), got one business lead (which he lost a couple months later), and zero (0) new investors.
Ultimately, all this fancy talk was used to hide his inability to get real stuff done (See Red Flag #2).
So, I fired him.
The culture mismatch itself was enough reason to part ways. Throw in the lack of tangible results and sprinkle on some unpleasant arguments over a silly (and undeserved) title. Well, that just made the decision trivial.
We had enough in our back pocket to recover, but a hiring blunder like this can tear a small startup apart.
What other red flags have you seen from employees that are looking out for Number 1?