Landis: What Does It Mean to Hire Smart?

authors Christopher K. Landis | June 16, 2021

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins revealed a key to great companies. They prioritize “getting the right people on the bus.” This is a fact of business.

Having the right people on your team is a force multiplier for your company and having anything less than the right people on your team can often be a detractor. Making the wrong hire can cost you money and a lot of heartache.

How Do I Find the Right Candidates?

Start by establishing a consistent process for your talent acquisition efforts. Make sure your job advertisements display a consistent brand message, have ample detail and are placed on the appropriate job boards.

Develop an interview process that is consistent across all your candidates. Write out interview questions for your interviewers to ask, so you can compare responses of different candidates in an apples-to-apples way.

Cast a wide net. Make sure your job ads reach as many prospective candidates as possible. Work your personal network and encourage your employees, friends and family to refer people who might be a good fit.

From there, winnow down your options to a handful of promising candidates whom you want to interview. Interview those candidates in depth. Ask them questions that showcase their ability to think on the fly and any other skills that are critical for the job.

For high-level positions, take a prospective candidate out to lunch to see how they behave in a social setting and how they would represent your firm socially.

How Can I Attract the Right Candidates?

Be sure your firm is a place where the top talent wants to work. Top talent seeks opportunity, a place to learn and grow. Top talent wants a culture that makes work enjoyable and allows them to feel good about what they do.

Build a culture in your firm of openness, equity and opportunity. Incentivize creativity and be open to it. Ensure your leaders recognize their team’s accomplishments.

Beyond your culture, make sure you have a compensation and benefits package that helps you attract and retain top talent. Make sure your salaries are on par or above industry standards. Make sure your benefits packages are competitive and that they are tailored to what your employees want.

Which Qualities Should I Seek?

Always hire to your company culture. Most work-related skills can be taught but a person’s personality can only change so much through sheer will. Create a brand that represents your core principals and competencies. These are characteristics you want every employee to exemplify—a willingness to learn, a strong work ethic, a positive friendly attitude and strong communication skills.

If a candidate has traits that match your culture, they will be driven and willing to learn what they need, so they can be successful in their role and will be thankful and motivated by the opportunity to prove themselves. The ideal candidate offers both the personality traits and the subject-matter expertise/experience that you want.

If you find yourself forced to pick between candidates who have only one or the other, go with the candidate who will best add to your company culture. In the long run, you won’t regret it.

Why Is Hiring Great People Hard to Do?

Unfortunately, the average small business owner is often too busy to devote enough time to hiring. Their focus is on sales or the execution of operations to deliver on sales, or on smoothing over some public relations snafu. The fact of the matter is talent acquisition should be the No. 1 priority of a small-business owner, with sales a very close (almost tied) second.

For small businesses, it is often hard to find top talent because the firm does not have strong branding or has a limited reach. Often you hire the “best candidate you’ve seen” even though they are not a perfect fit; they are just the best you have seen so far, and you needed to hire someone two weeks ago.

To ensure you get the most qualified candidates, you need to continue to develop your employer branding on your website and job websites such as LinkedIn and Indeed.

Top talent wants to work for a firm they believe in, can stand behind and can offer them growth opportunities. This starts at the top. Your company must reward innovative, proactive thinkers and doers.

What Do I Do First?

Prioritize talent acquisition work in your week, carve out a few hours for it and dedicate yourself to it. Start by creating or updating your firm’s talent strategy. Identify your core values, develop consistent employer branding across your job advertising platforms and develop your process.

From there, get the word out. Early on, you will likely get your best candidates from word of mouth because they have already been somewhat vetted by your network for cultural fit. Keep culture as a focus in your interview process and sell the opportunities for growth at your firm.

Throughout this process ask yourself, “Is this the right person to have on the bus? Is this the right seat for them?” If you can answer yes to both questions, then you know what to do. QR

Christopher K. Landis, AIA, owns Landis Construction in Washington, D.C. He brings 30 years of remodeling design, construction and management experience to this series of columns for the magazine. You can reach him at

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