How to Hire Someone for a Job You Don't Know How to Do

How to Manage Employees

When you're the boss, you're in charge of managing -- and hiring -- a whole team of people, some of whom will likely hold jobs you've never had, in departments you've never fully grasped. If you came up through marketing, for instance, you might have little understanding of finance. And if you came up through finance, you might know zilch about web design. Still, it's your job to recruit and lead the troops. All of them.

"But how do you do that when you don't even know what the role involves?" asks Fast Company contributor and Hatch Apps co-founder Amelia Friedman. "You need to hire your first IT professional, yet nobody on your team is an expert in technology. You're trying to find a general counsel, but you don't even know how to differentiate the good lawyers from the bad."

So what's a leader to do?

"Ask them to break it down for you." Friedman says. "Remember, just because you're not an expert doesn't mean you can't still run a valuable interview. It's important to learn enough to ask the big-picture questions about the positions you're hiring for. If intellectual property law is a critical component of an incoming in-house lawyer's role, ask them what their strategy will be on that front. If you're concerned about tax treatment, ask your controller candidate about how she'll reduce your liability. You might not understand their answers 100 percent, but you'll likely get a sense of whether the person knows their stuff -- especially when you're assessing them against other candidates."

Also, references are your best friend.

"When in doubt, pick up the phone," Friedman concludes. "I run at least three references for every person we hire, and I double that when we don't have an expert in their role in-house. Ideally, you would go further than the list that they send you -- after all, smart candidates will likely give you a list of people who will say good things about them. Try to talk to their direct supervisors at each of their last few roles, and even colleagues or direct reports. Those 360 perspectives are critical to the big picture of the candidate."

More Tips:

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?
Contact Successful Meetings Editor in Chief Vincent Alonzo with your "How To" ideas.