Would you hire yourself?

Main illustration: Jillian Adel

That’s right, would you offer yourself a job at your company? It’s a question every interviewer should ask themselves.

No, this isn’t some theoretical mental exercise. It’s actually a powerful question to ask yourself when you’re looking to expand your team but find yourself paralyzed with options.

When you are a small but growing company or team each additional hire has a disproportionately large impact. If you’re still at a really early stage, a bad hire has the potential to set you back several quarters and possibly even blow up the whole company. Even at a later stage, bring on the wrong person can really damage the growth of a team or a function. Faced with such high stakes, it’s no surprise some people struggle to make a decision – either good or bad.

Asking if you would hire yourself is a great way of snapping out of it and questioning if you have set the bar unrealistically high. It’s a technique I’ve used myself as a hiring manager. It’s at least in part inspired by Andy Grove, the legendary Intel boss, who literally wrote the book on Silicon Valley management style Only the Paranoid Survive.

Rather than asking would he hire himself, Grove considered what would happen if he and Intel CEO Gordon Moore were fired. The new CEO would come in and quickly and unemotionally make the decision that the two experienced execs were agonizing over – to exit the memory business, which Intel was founded on, and focus on microprocessors, an emerging technology. With emotion put to one side Grove and Moore did just that and cemented Intel’s place as one of the giants of the technology industry.

Resetting your brain

To be totally clear this is not about pattern matching so that you end up with a team of “mini-me’s”. Asking if you would hire yourself is also not about whether you are an exact fit for the role you’re trying to fill. You’re not or you wouldn’t be trying to recruit someone, right? But in my experience it does reset your brain and focuses you on three critical factors.

  • Empathy for the candidate
    Think of all the people who gave you a break or believed in you during your career. Does this person just need the same chance?
  • Hiring for potential
    As Des has pointed out before trajectory is more important than current state. Wouldn’t you prefer to get someone on your team who’s growing and learning, over someone who is coasting through a role they’ve done many times before? Thinking about your earlier career path can really help throw this into focus.
  • Setting a realistic bar
    This is not an excuse for lowering your standards. But what it does is make sure your bar is practical and reasonable and not set for a mythical candidate you are unlikely to ever find.

The results might not be quite as dramatic as Andy Grove “firing himself” but this one simple question can really help focus your mind. While making a bad hire can set you back several months, the longer you go without hiring, the longer you’re not expanding and growing at your full potential.