Take a Hike and Discover the Secrets to Hiring the Right People

Waimea Grand Canyon

Let’s talk about hiking. I grew up in the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania where we did a lot of walking, hiking, and wandering in the great outdoors. I think that’s why my heart still goes to the mountains, even though I live near the beach. It’s also why I like to hike and explore when we travel to new places. Sometimes my hikes go well, and sometimes not.

On my recent vacation, I also hiked quite a bit. Some of those hikes ended in reaching high points with tremendous views, while one in particular resulted in a towering rock wall that blocked any further progress. The trail was called the Sleeping Giant and it was rated as a moderate hike. The trail description indicated it was two miles, would take about two hours and was appropriate for families and children. The payoff for this hike is the incredible view of the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the center of Kauai and Mt. Waielale on the other. It sounded like the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Except it turned out to be slightly less than perfect. Once out on the trail, even an easy hike can become difficult. When you hike, it’s easy to focus on your footing, and by keeping your focus on the ground, you can miss important trail markers. This is exactly what happened. I missed a critical trail marker. There were clues along the way that I had strayed from the trail. There was no mention in the trail description of huge rocks to climb over or areas where you had to navigate small passages. It said it was good for families with children and I knew these conditions and family friendly were polar opposites. And yet I ignored the clues that something was wrong and kept following a path that became harder and harder to navigate.

After climbing a particularly steep area with large boulders, suffering a scraped knee and shin, I was stopped by a rock wall. (Here’s a picture of that wall.) As I thought about how I ended up here, and felt a little fearful about getting back down the trail without breaking bones or falling down the side of the mountain, it hit me that this situation feels a lot like hiring employees.

Hiring is something that we have to do in business and maybe you enjoy it most of the time — except for those times when things get difficult or go in the wrong direction.

Think about the times your hiring went badly. When you look back, you can usually see where you missed clues that something was wrong. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, right? Especially when you regularly use it to learn and improve your hiring process.

As I think about that hike, it is remarkably similar to how you would go about hiring employees. The first step was asking staff at the resort for recommendations on hikes for my level of expertise. I wanted to understand the trail conditions and whether it was a good fit for my ability. This is critical when hiking a new trail.

Understanding your ability within the context of your environment is critical when you hire. When you know what kind of people and skills you need, as well as the conditions under which they will work, you can avoid being blocked by a rock wall.

Each trail description contained warnings. One was to watch for wild pigs. It seems funny to worry about pigs on a hike; however, wild pigs are dangerous, and there were signs of them everywhere. Another warning was staying alert to weather changes that could turn a safe trail into a flash flood area or a dangerously slippery slope when the red clay became wet.

When you hire, you also need to watch for danger signs. Your dangerous conditions could be a candidate with a short gap in employment that seems reasonable when they explain it, yet something tells you there is more to the story. Or, maybe there is a word or phrase the candidate uses, that seems out of sync with their story. You know something is off and yet their resume is perfect. We’ve seen that perfect resume and hired the candidate only to find out later that we made the wrong choice.

So how do you have a successful hiring experience? It starts with understanding your needs, skills and abilities, and how much work you can do. I often see people put hiring at the bottom of their list when it needs to be a priority. They underestimate the amount of time and effort that has to go into the advance planning. You have to understand your own limitations as well as knowing what you want and need in a candidate.

As I wrote in Rethinking Human Resources, start with an understanding of where you are and where you want to go. Adopt that GPS mindset and use it to guide and direct your actions along the way. Pay attention to trail markers and be on the lookout for them, because when you miss important signs things can rapidly go awry.

In recruiting, it takes hard work to plan your hiring strategy and it’s even harder to put your plan into action and get the results you need. Spending quality time and focus on your hiring needs pays off much like a successful hike will. You reach your destination and are rewarded with some of the most beautiful views imaginable. When you hire, you are rewarded with the amazingly talented people who will be an integral part of your success. What could be better than that?

I challenge you to take a hike and think about how your hiring process could be improved. You might be surprised by what getting out in nature can do for you. Please share your insights in the comments below.

If you feel like it would be helpful to have someone guide you through the hiring process, schedule a complimentary insight session with me today.