How to Fire Before You Hire and Find the Right Person for the Job

Hiring new employees can be challenging, confusing, and, in the long run, expensive. But when you use “knockout” interviews, you’ll be able to hire the right person for the job without wasting time, energy, or resources.

Hasty hiring brings eventual firing. These wise words should be the mantra for every organization hiring from today’s overcrowded job market. Especially if your company’s current hiring process consists of putting out a job posting, sifting through résumés, and hiring the first person who doesn’t throw up a major red flag during an interview, it’s time to consider a renewed approach. One that will save you time and money and help you hire the best of the best.

Making poor hiring decisions will cost both your company coffers and your company culture dearly. It’s much better to be temporarily short-staffed than to lower your standards. Learn to use the interview process to knock out the candidates who aren’t the right fit for you, and you’ll end up with a new team member who will be an asset to your brand, your morale, your momentum, and your productivity for a long time to come.

The purpose of a knockout interview is to eliminate candidates from consideration using smart, rigorous, values-shaped standards, and to do it without wasting time. Knockout interviews help upgrade hiring from an inclusive process to an elimination process, thus saving your most valuable resource—time. To that end, knockout interviews are invaluable.

The knockout interview begins before you ever meet a candidate face to face. In fact, your goal is to avoid face time with as many applicants as possible. As soon as you receive the first stack of résumés, you should start looking for reasons to cut individuals from consideration.

This method may initially seem somewhat ruthless and cutthroat—certainly not in keeping with Christian grace and mercy. However, a closer look at the Bible reveals numerous warnings to prevent even the smallest bit of false teaching or vulgar values from entering into your organization because one bad apple truly does spoil the entire bunch. It’s much more prudent to identify undesirables before they’ve landed a position on your payroll.

Plus, from a financial standpoint, hiring hastily can be extremely expensive. Think about it: If you have to let someone go, you’re facing numerous expenses, including administrative costs, possible severance pay, and possible unemployment compensation. Then you’ll have to pay for attracting a new candidate and providing training for that person. And all the while, you might have to pay others overtime to complete essential tasks. When you look at it this way, it becomes pretty clear that when you’re more discriminating upfront, you’re a better steward of your organization’s resources.

I used to think that I needed to talk to a lot of people in order to find a great job candidate. Over the years, though, I’ve changed my philosophy. Frankly, it’s exhausting to speak to a lot of people if they are the wrong people! I now judge the strength of my organization’s interview process by how few folks we meet face to face.

Ultimately, because of the knockout interview process, I am assured that the handful of people who make the cut are likely to possess the right stuff, and to add to my organization instead of costing it.

If you would like to put the knockout interview to work for your own organization, read on for five things to keep in mind:

Look for an ability to be faithful in the little things. When it comes to hiring a new person to be a member of your team, no detail is too small to overlook. The fact is, how well a person performs on the little things is indicative of how well she will—or won’t—perform on the big things. And you can start to evaluate this capability as soon as the first batch of résumés lands on your desk. As you read through them, consciously look for reasons to put some of those résumés in the “reject” pile, keeping in mind that you want to uphold your organization’s standards of excellence.

Look for use of professional language and correctly spelled words. If these aren’t present, it’s a reason for disqualification. Recently, my organization hired a new administrative assistant. One application for the job had multiple spelling and grammatical errors. Knockout! One person sent emails in all lowercase letters. Knockout! And unbelievably, one person even spelled his own last name incorrectly in one spot, which was a definite knockout! I knew that we didn’t want these sorts of slip-ups officially representing our company.

Make sure the candidate has the basic ability to do the job. After you’ve cut the dead weight from the résumés you’ve collected, it’s time to start conducting phone interviews. In addition to making sure that candidates communicate clearly and respectfully, your task at this point is to ensure that they can fulfill the non-negotiables of the position.

You may want to ask applicants about whether they’re available to work certain days or hours, or if they’re comfortable performing specific tasks. If, for example, you need someone to work Saturdays and a particular applicant is unable to do so, why would you want to wait until he has come to your office and wasted your—and his—time to discover this? A phone interview is the time for these kinds of knockouts to happen.

Let them do the talking. When conducting face-to-face interviews, many employers try to put interviewees at ease by doing most of the talking and spending much of the interview telling the candidate about how great the company is. However, your job as a leader isn’t to have a friendly chat—it’s to assess an applicant’s character and competency. Specifically, you should avoid:

  • Talking too much—you need to learn about the candidate, not vice versa
  • Having a time-wasting, good-old-boy, get-acquainted session
  • Conducting the interview as though it were a casual conversation
  • Degrading the interview into a sales pitch

There’s no need to intimidate or to be unduly overbearing toward an interviewee, but keep in mind that your objective is to evaluate her past accomplishments, because past performance is much more telling than past experience. Dig into her life and try to determine what her key traits, such as character, talent, attitude, energy, and drive, look like. Those are the things that will strengthen or weaken your team, not how glibly she can carry on a conversation. If you don’t hear the candidate articulately expressing these critical components, then it’s time for another knockout.

Look at their journey, not their location. Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge a job candidate by his location on life’s ladder. Do not judge applicants strictly by the station they have reached in life. Dig deeper and determine what he overcame to get where he is. The fact is, some people are given a generous head start in life, while others have been forced to negotiate potholes, obstacles, and stumbling blocks.

I’m not saying that you should disregard people who have had an easier road through life. Simply acknowledge that they may not have had the opportunity to face certain challenges that can forge strength of character and develop persistence. It may be that the best candidate was born with the proverbial silver spoon, but in order to find out, you’ll have to dig deep. You won’t be able to judge this strictly by the impressive job titles on his résumé.

Share your core values before hiring. The objective of the knockout interview model is to find a reason to say “no” to a job candidate. By sharing your core values with applicants, though, you may find that they “knock” themselves “out” for you. Share your organization’s core values and behavioral expectations before extending an offer. Let applicants know that you have non-negotiable standards for integrity, teamwork, attitude, attention to detail, etc. Then describe what these behaviors look like in practice, and be honest about the consequences for not living up to these standards.

Frankly, many people are repelled by character-driven companies with high ethical standards. Whether on a conscious level or not, they realize that their selfishness, dishonesty, and the like will be discovered. It’s better to let these folks turn away voluntarily before they’re on your payroll, where they’ll infect attitudes, lower morale, and undermine your own credibility as a leader.

Ultimately, knockout interviews work because they force a candidate to show through her actions that she has initiative, that she really wants a job, and that she would like to work for your organization in particular. And since these techniques reveal whether a candidate is prepared or not, they’ll prevent your existing team members from having to bail out an unqualified newcomer. Knockout interviews give you, as a leader, the power to serve as a sentry for your organization and to protect and preserve its culture, values, and people.

About the Author:

Dave Anderson is author of How to Lead by THE BOOK: Proverbs, Parables, and Principles to Tackle Your Toughest Business Challenges (Wiley, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-470-93628-3, $24.95,, is president of Dave Anderson’s Learn to Lead, and has given over 1,000 leadership presentations in thirteen countries. He is also the author of How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business; If You Don’t Make Waves, You’ll Drown; Up Your Business!; How to Deal with Difficult Customers; and the TKO business series, all from Wiley. He and his wife, Rhonda, are cofounders of The Matthew 25:35 Foundation, which helps feed, educate, and house under-resourced people throughout the world.

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