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Michael Hess’ Philosophy on Hiring

In Hiring Strategy — by Recruiterbox

Michael Hess is the Founder and CEO of Hotdog Yoga Gear and Skooba Design . He also writes for CBS News on small business issues, hiring and culture. Below he shares his thoughts on hiring for small businesses:

Finding Employees

For anything other than very basic labor, in my experience, traditional help-wanted ads are the least effective way to find employees. In fact I can’t think of the last time I found a good one that way. I will say that we have had some success with Craig’s List (which I guess you could say is the modern day equivalent of a want ad), but the downside is that most job postings get inundated with responses, and at least 80% of them will not be suitable or qualified for the job.

I have literally posted ads for a photographer and gotten responses back saying “I don’t have any experience in photography but am open to any job you may have.” If you are willing to sift through stuff like that to get to the few good candidates, it is possible to fill some jobs successfully this way.

For most companies, by far the best hires come from direct referrals – either from friends/colleagues who worked with the candidate before, or (as is often the case in my company) student placement office recommendations. There’s no substitute for someone who’s “pre-vetted” and has as many unknowns eliminated as possible.


I have never used a formal interview process – contrived questions get contrived, often robotic or rehearsed answers, and rarely show the real person. For me the best interview is like a casual conversation between equals. Of course I cover critical, job-specific information, any questions on the resume, etc… but for the most part I want the candidate to be him/herself, at ease, honest, and open. I want to get to know the human being with whom I might be spending most of my waking hours.

Hiring Decision

Two words: Culture fit. Once you get past basic, presumed qualifications, culture fit is all that matters. I’d rather have someone who’s an “8” on skills (unless I’m hiring doctors, which I’m not) and a “10” on personality, than the other way around, any day. Skills can be taught, learned, improved — personality can’t. Personality is what determines how a person will fit in with the culture of your organization, and that is largely what will determine whether that person will be truly happy and successful there, and whether you’ll be happy with him or her.

The “Honeymoon”

All of the above being said, one thing I’ve learned over 20+ years as an employer, no matter how good or thorough your hiring process, you will never (ever, ever) truly know a person until the day he or she starts working for you. So the best you can do in the hiring process is verify necessary skills/qualifications, check references, interview for personality (to get as close to the “real person” as you can), and very often, go with your gut.

Visualize that person walking in the next morning and talking to you, or asking questions, or meeting colleagues. If you do all these things and have good instincts you minimize the chances of a “honeymoon surprise” (and I don’t mean the good kind).

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